Over the last five years, Austin has experienced a barbecue renaissance (much tastier than the one with all the paintings!) of momentous proportions, which has included a rapid pace of change in the local hierarchy.

Since Austin BBQ is too momentous a topic for any one man (or lady!) alone, we’ve taken a different approach. We turned the voting over to a distinguished panel of chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, and service industry pros with discriminating tastes when it comes to food, service, and atmosphere, with each of them giving us their top five selections (places were awarded 5 points for a first-place vote, 4 for a second, and so forth). Below are the panel’s meaty selections for your next barbecue pilgrimage:

The Salt Lick

8. The Salt Lick, 5 pts

What you're getting: The Family Style platter
This is technically not in Austin, but was the favorite of one panel member, so we’ll gladly honor the pick. Long a favorite of both tourists and locals, The Salt Lick remains an institution: the scenic drive out, the BYOB policy, and the huge crowds all make it an experience everyone should have when visiting Austin. LaV’s Janina O’Leary explains her pick: "The sausage and the sauce at Salt Lick are always consistent. It's an atmosphere we really enjoy."
Seating: Indoor and patio

Dan Gentile

7. Kerlin BBQ, 6 pts

What you're getting: Pulled pork, brisket
The newest entrant in the poll’s top eight, Kerlin’s opening window is short -- stop by before 12:45pm on most days, or they’ll be shut. This is where Central and East Austin barbecue fans go for great quality without the wait. Many regulars recommend the sides at Kerlin to complement the meal.
Seating: Outdoor only, picnic tables

Dan Gentile

6. John Mueller Meat Co., 7 pts

What you're getting: Beef ribs, sausage, brisket
It’s not hard to argue that John Mueller is responsible for the current Austin barbecue renaissance. A hard-living, mercurial personality, Mueller has battled through the closure of John Mueller’s B-B-Q and a rift that led to his departure from JMueller BBQ (which is now renamed La Barbecue). Barbecue hounds all agree that when Mueller is on his game, he’s as good as it gets, particularly with his signature beef ribs. Some days are better than others here, though, which is why JMMC ranks just below the top tier.
Seating: Outdoor only, picnic tables

Dan Gentile

5. Freedmen’s, 8 pts

What you're getting: Pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket
Housed in a historic building near the University of Texas, Freedmen’s is firing on all cylinders of late. In addition to great meats, the restaurant scores bonus points for a spacious and welcoming patio and a solid craft cocktail program. Pitmaster Evan LeRoy takes a more chef-centric approach to his menu than most others on the list -- while you do order meat by weight, you can also get starters like smoked beets with chèvre and balsamic, sides of house-made pickles, or smoked and grilled veggies. 
Seating: Indoor and patio

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew

4. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, 15 pts

What you're getting: Beef ribs, brisket, pork ribs
The local favorite for convenience and comfort, Stiles Switch has ample air-conditioned seating and little to no line. The quality of the food is rock-solid, as is the thoughtfully curated selection of beers from folks like Firestone Walker. This is a great place to go when you want excellent ‘cue without the hassle factor. Service is efficient and friendly, and the location is great for both Central and North Austin residents.
Seating: Indoor and patio

Dan Gentile

3. Micklethwait Craft Meats, 23 pts

What you're getting: Sausage, beef ribs
Micklethwait stands with the top tier of pitmasters in terms of quality, but also differentiates themselves by focusing on their sausage offerings and taking a more artisanal approach to their menu. The trailer serves homemade bread, and often has off-menu specials like pork chops or esoteric sausages. The trailer has recently expanded their hours -- you can actually get dinner service -- and also sports some excellent side items and dessert offerings, assuming you can find the room.
Seating: Outdoor only, picnic tables

Dan Gentile

2. La Barbecue, 38 pts

What you're getting: Everything, especially the beef rib, brisket, and sausage
The difference between Franklin and LA is razor-thin: pitmaster John Lewis once worked at Franklin, and also worked alongside John Mueller before the falling out between Mueller siblings. Lewis is a master of his craft, and the word is out: once the "non-tourist" option for quality ‘cue, La now sports lengthy lines and a large fan base. It’s tough to find any fault with the offerings, which border on the otherworldly at times.
Seating: Outdoor only, picnic tables

Franklin Barbecue

1. Franklin Barbecue, 39 pts

What you're getting: Everything, especially the brisket, sausage, and pulled pork
The winner by the slightest of margins, Aaron Franklin’s bellwether continues to attract lines up to five hours long. The restaurant recently closed temporarily to expand their kitchen space, but re-opened just in time for a visit from President Obama. Franklin’s brisket is simply one of the best things you can eat in the state of Texas, and his consistency is a model for the craft. Eating here requires planning and patience, but brisket fans should accept the challenge at least once.
Seating: Indoor and patio

Others receiving votes: Live Oak Barbecue, Mann’s Smokehouse, Rudy’s, Iron Works, Bowie BBQ (Whole Foods Market), Green Mesquite.


Our panel:

Jessica Sanders, drink.well: Jessica Sanders is co-owner of North Loop’s popular cocktail bar and restaurant drink.well. She is also the secretary of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild.

June Rodil, McGuire Moorman Hospitality: After successful stints at Congress and Qui, June Rodil now heads the beverage programs at MMH, which include popular Austin restaurants like Jeffrey’s, Perla’s, Lambert’s, Clark’s, and Elizabeth Street Cafe.

Drew Curren, ELM Restaurant Group: Drew Curren is the executive chef at the ELM group’s 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, and Arro. A fourth ELM restaurant focused on Italian food will arrive later this year Downtown.

Janina O’Leary, LaV Austin: Janina O’Leary is head pastry chef at East Austin’s acclaimed LaV restaurant. 

Josh Loving, Half Step: Josh Loving is one of Austin’s perennial favorite bartenders. After working at Jeffrey’s, Weather Up, FINO, and Midnight Cowboy, Loving is currently consulting on the beverage program at Olamaie and developing a bar concept.

Bill Norris, Alamo Drafthouse: Bill Norris is the beverage director for the Alamo Drafthouse. He oversees the drink programs at all cinema locations, as well as the Highball, Glass Half Full, and 400 Rabbits bars. 

Paula Rester, Congress Austin: Paula Rester is the beverage director at Congress Austin. She is also currently working on new concepts with David Bull’s La Corsha group, including the upcoming Boiler Nine at Seaholm.

Grae Nonas, Olamaie: Grae Nonas is an alum of Son Of A Gun in Los Angeles and Lenoir in Austin. Along with co-conspirator Michael Fojtasek, he is scheduled to open the Southern-focused Olamaie later this Summer on San Antonio St.

Mark Schmidt, Blackbird & Henry: After a successful run at Cafe 909 in Marble Falls, Mark Schmidt launched the upscale tavern Blackbird & Henry near the University of Texas earlier this year.

Matt Wright, Wright Bros. Brew & Brew: Matt Wright is the co-owner of 78702’s new Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, a craft coffee and beer bar in the former Progress Coffee space.

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Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. The Salt Lick 18300 FM 1826, Driftwood, TX 78619

The Salt Lick has some policies that you're going to enjoy. First, you're going to throw down less than $20 for an all-you-can-eat meat fest of brisket, sausage, and ribs, plus classic sides like potato salad, beans, and slaw. Second, they're BYOB, so you can bring your favorite brews along with you, AND they even have you covered with a winery where you can stock up if you forgot to bring anything.

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2. Kerlin BBQ 1700 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

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.

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3. John Mueller Meat Co 2500 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

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.

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4. Freedmen's 2402 San Gabriel St, Austin, TX 78705 (Utwest Campus)

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.

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5. Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew 6610 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78757 (Brentwood)

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.

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6. Micklethwait Craft Meats 1309 Rosewood Ave, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

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.

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7. La Barbecue: Cuisine Texicana 902 E Cesar Chavez in the Good Life Food Park, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

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.

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8. Franklin Barbecue 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702

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.