In the midst of Austin’s barbecue renaissance, most patrons spend their time in line thinking about the combination of meats in which they should partake. Sides, when discussed, are often thought of as a less essential component of the ‘cue experience. Though sides will never replace brisket, the pitmasters and cooks at these restaurants often take the same level of care with their accoutrements as they do with their prized brisket and ribs.
We sampled sides at a number of Austin’s best BBQ spots without any meat to accompany them. While this drew quizzical looks and smiles from the counter, it also emphasized that many BBQ establishments are serious about all of their food. To help you choose sides wisely, we offer a winner (or two) at most of Austin’s popular spots, along with recommendations from chefs, bartenders, and restaurant owners who love barbecue as much as you do.
Freedmen’s (address and info)
Perhaps the single least likely BBQ side on the list, Freedmen’s owner Jim Stockbauer declares the dish a personal favorite. "The smoke changes the composition of the vegetable," says Stockbauer, "and the cheese (herbed chèvre) really balances it." For those more inclined to go traditional, top sommelier Paula Rester (Congress, Maialino) recommends the coleslaw: "I don't believe in sauce. Good barbecue doesn't need it. But I do care deeply about coleslaw, and Freedman's has it right! It’s served in a mini Mason jar to boot."
Smoked bacon-braised collard greens Lambert’s Downtown (address and info)
When Larry McGuire and Lou Lambert have had a hand in the kitchen, it’s a safe bet that side items won’t be overlooked. At Lamberts, you'll also find Austin’s longest BBQ sides selection -- a dozen choices are listed. Of them, our favorite is the bacon-braised collards, a comforting Southern classic that is salty, bitter, smoky, and warming in equal measure. While that may be our favorite, Lambert's partner Larry McGuire lobbies for a dark horse candidate: broccoli. "My favorite side is the spicy garlicky broccoli!" says McGuire. "The flowerets are blanched until crunchy and bright green, then sautéed with sliced garlic & jalapeño, butter, and lemon."
German-style potato salad
Blue Ox BBQ (address and info)
We liked the fact that Blue Ox wasn’t mayo-heavy on their sides. While the beans were solid due to good black pepper spicing and a generous supply of trimmings, the warm potato salad handily won the day. Serving it warm might not be ideal for summer temps, but the mix of potato, bacon, vinegar, dill, mustard, and egg would be a satisfying accent to your fall visit.
Pinto beans Franklin Barbecue (address and info)
We’re gaming the system here, but the beans win mostly because you can sometimes find trimmings in them. They’re prepared in a spicy style, which we also admire. But mainly, they’re a spot to dig for additional brisket.
John Mueller Meat Co. (address and info)
Mueller’s beef ribs are perhaps the most decadent thing on the menu, but the cheesy squash may come in a close second. A gluttonous mix of squash, butter, and cheese, the dish survived from the old JMueller menu, and is every bit as good here. You can simultaneously eat a vegetable and clog your arteries, which counts as a win for many 'cue hounds.
Jalapeño cheese grits Micklethwait Craft Meats (address and info)
Micklethwait wins the prize of "most thoughtful sides" in Austin, with points scored for creativity, flavor, and breadth. From homemade bread to a restaurant-style dessert selection, the tiny trailer over-delivers and surprises. For the grits, the trailer’s kitchen deseeds the peppers before dicing to keep the flavors at a moderate spice level, and uses big chunks of pepper for color and textural contrast. Drink.well. co-owner Jessica Sanders is a big fan: "Grits are an overlooked opportunity to pair with hearty meat. The Micklethwait jalapeño cheese grits are delicious and unique. You don't often see them on a BBQ menu. They are incredibly creamy, with just the right hit of jalapeño spice."
Blue Cheese Coleslaw
Kerlin BBQ (address and info)
Kerlin’s sides veer toward the old school, but the unexpected star is the blue cheese slaw. The creamy, thick slaw of cabbage, carrot, and housemade blue cheese dressing has a massive richness of flavor, and doesn’t skimp on the cheese -- in fact, it seemingly attempts an equal cheese-to-veggie ratio. We like the gutsy move to actually make the slaw’s flavor more intense than Kerlin’s great 'cue -- it’s unconventional, but highly satisfying. Also getting high marks at Kerlin are the pickles. There's a surprising and lengthy spicy, peppery chile kick to the crisp, thin slices, which are seasoned with red pepper, garlic, dill, clove, and cinnamon. Owner Bill Kerlin notes that the cucumbers and dill are grown on-site whenever possible. The trailer takes an aggressive approach and succeeds. Score one for the risk-takers.
Chipotle slaw, pinto beans La Barbecue (address and info)
E Cesar Chavez
Like La Barbecue itself, the sides here are a study in craftsmanship. We love the beans, which have a nice (though moderate) pepper-heat level, complemented by a very thick gravy. La Barbecue’s Ali Clem says the process is simple: "We just soak them overnight in a spice blend, then add jalapeños and cilantro." The results are some of the best beans we’ve ever tasted. The popular choice here is the Chipotle slaw, a dish solid enough to be featured as a recipe in The New York Times. While quite crunchy, the thin-but-peppery, creamy dressing brings plenty of the chile heat that Texans love. Both sides are musts during your next visit.
Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ (address and info)
Housed in an unassuming trailer behind Star Bar, Valentina’s has become beloved by both Downtown office workers and happy hour revelers for their elevated BBQ-Mex. Co-owner Modesty Vidal says there’s no secret to the recipes: "They’re mostly from [husband] Miguel’s mother!" For the elote-style smoked corn, Valentina's smokes full corn cobs on the pit, then cuts the kernels and seasons them with black pepper, chili powder, and salt. The finished side has crema and lime for contrast and acidity, and is rich with a smoky, spicy flavor profile. As a bonus, don’t sleep on the rice here either -- it’s done with panache, and has layered flavors of cumin, onion, tomato, and aggressive black pepper.
Rudy’s (address and info)
This dish is an obvious pick -- nearly everyone in Austin has had it, whether at a picnic or a friend’s tailgate. It's more of a dessert than a side -- there’s cream cheese, whipped cream, and salted butter as glue, with a hint of salt and pepper to keep it (barely) on the savory side. Sommelier June Rodil (Jeffrey's, Josephine House) feels strongly about it: "Though they don’t make my top BBQ list, the creamed corn at Rudy's is just too good. And wrong. But, most importantly, good." Other sides also draw applause from local chefs. Olamaie chef Grae Nonas went to bat for another favorite: "I like Rudy’s Potato Salad. It is creamy and seasoned perfectly every time! It’s nothing crazy or different. But Rudy’s is underrated as a whole!"
Lemon Vinaigrette Slaw
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (address and info)
One of our favorite side-benefits to the second coming of Austin barbecue is that modern BBQ restaurants aren't afraid to tweak tradition. Perhaps the best manifestation of this is coleslaw without mayo -- sacrilege to some, perhaps, but a marked improvement on a classic side. Stiles' version throws shredded cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots together for added color and crunch, and adds lemon zest & lemon vinaigrette for a hit of both acidity and freshness. The restaurant's dressing uses lemon juice, honey, parsley, and sautéed onion oil (applied hot to wilt the cabbage) for a balance of sweet and spicy flavor.
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1. Micklethwait Craft Meats1309 Rosewood Ave, Austin
2. Freedmen's2402 San Gabriel St, Austin
3. Lambert's Downtown BBQ401 West 2nd St, Austin
4. Franklin Barbecue900 E 11th St, Austin
5. John Mueller Meat Co2500 E 6th St, Austin
6. Kerlin BBQ1700 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin
7. La Barbecue: Cuisine Texicana902 E Cesar Chavez in the Good Life Food Park, Austin
8. Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew6610 N Lamar Blvd, Austin
Smoking and barbecuing craft meats, Micklethwait has authentic, Texas country-style BBQ, including specialty homemade sausages that vary daily. This ramshackle, neighborhood spot serves up some of the best meat in the ATX (beef rib, brisket, pulled pork, chops 'n sausage, to name a few offerings), all of which you can enjoy at camp-style outdoor picnic tables with a cold beverage in hand.
This is not your average barbecue joint. Freedman's has a patio and outdoor beer garden that offers a variety of brews on tap as well as a retro soda shop-inspired cocktail list. If you're not a fan of the throwbacks, the $3 tacos, tamales and whiskey of the month happy hour should entice you. Check out this vintage-y, saloon style spot near UT for rollicking night out on the town.
Lambert's Downtown Barbecue, located in the Warehouse District, serves its version of finely crafted fancy barbecue ( brown sugar & coffee-rubbed angus steak, anyone?). Hosting nightly live music and serving over a dozen unique cocktails, a dinner can turn into a night to remember at this bar-of-all-trades. Located in a renovated old-style general store, Lambert's friendly, vintage vibes are sure to impress.
This lunch-only spot often sees long lines of customers waiting to order pulled pork, brisket and other smoked meats. Chef Aaron Franklin brought quality barbecue to Austin that was excellent enough to earn him the 2015 James Beard Award for "Best Chef: Southwest." His BBQ is so lauded that meat lovers from around the world regulalry make a pit stop at this shack-like locale in East Austin.
Located behind Eastside dive Kellee's, long time fire-starter John Mueller serves some of the best barbecue in Texas at this trailer eatery. Grab some BBQ pork ribs or fatty brisket, and feast in blissed-out peace at the picnic tables under blue-and-white tent. While Mueller's meats get top marks, his menu's side dishes are not to be missed-- get munching on cheesy squash, sriracha coleslaw, and more.
Kerlin BBQ is a legendary Austin spot. Seriously, put this place on your bucket list. Routinely named as the best barbecue in the city (and in the country), this trailer slings ridiculous "quality smoked meats" from 11a until they sell out. Line up early and make sure you get your meat sweets in with fall off the bone pork ribs, tasty, tender brisket, and savory sides like blue cheese coleslaw.
This is a no frills barbecue joint is known for their hand made sausage and mean slabs of meat. Behind La Barbecue's fire is veteran pitt boss (which is basically like the General of the BBQ world), John Lewis, who can also churn out whole briskets and racks of ribs to go if you're in a hurry. And did we mention the live music? Yes, every Saturday and Sunday, as it should be in the live music capital.
Further contributing to Taylor, TX's great BBQ emigration is Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. This tavern-like spot hosts its fair share of tasty smoked meats and sides, plus some dope brews (of course). Helmed by a Louie Mueller alum, this spot's taken up residence in the N Lamar shopping center where they filmed Dazed and Confused, a movie that, the older you get... also gets older.