The 10 Best BBQ Joints in Austin, According to Top Pitmasters

Where there’s smoke, there’s brisket.

Nicolai McCrary | Micklethwait
Micklethwait Craft Meats | Nicolai McCrary | Micklethwait
Micklethwait Craft Meats | Nicolai McCrary | Micklethwait

Barbecue is a tradition woven into Texas history. Its flavors and techniques reflect the cultures and peoples that helped build the Lone Star state, a tapestry of African, Mexican, and European influences that go into every slice of brisket and plate of barbacoa.

In the rapidly expanding city of Austin, however, flavor experimentation and global influences are melding barbecue into something as modern and layered as the city itself—while still paying tribute to the traditional Longhorn way of smoking. “The Austin BBQ scene has entered into the next wave of Texas BBQ, fully embracing new ideas, ingredients, and techniques all the while respecting the foundation of our national cuisine,” says John Bates, owner and pitmaster at Northwest Austin’s Interstellar BBQ.

The traditional components of Central Texas barbecue sprang up from Czech and German settlers who arrived in the region in the 1800s. Many of these immigrants were butchers, and would smoke their leftover meat in order to preserve it back in the pre-refrigeration days. They started selling these wood-scented cuts to customers, and they eventually became the most popular items in their shops—although their lines may not have come anywhere close to the bring-a-lawn-chair, pre-dawn, wrap-around the block deal you’ll find at Franklin today.

Because there are so damn many oak and pecan trees scattered throughout the area—we feel your pain, allergy sufferers—those are the traditional woods used in Central Texas’ offset smokers. Unlike the spicier rubs and flavorful sauces found in many other barbecue hotspots around the U.S., the flavors here are simple, in many cases just salt and pepper. Covering your ribs in any type of sauce is usually shunned. However, this sauce ban is evolving due to what Micklethwait Craft Meats pitmaster and meat cutter, Carson Dickey, describes as “The ever changing BBQ world.”

Since barbecue is akin to its own religion in the Lone Star state, it makes sense that its usual servings are referred to as “The Texas trinity.” Pork ribs are prepared in an African-American or Southern style. Sausage is usually influenced by Czech tradition. And, of course, there’s the almighty of all meats in the beef state—the famous brisket that dates back to the state’s old time butcher shop days.

Although beef in Austin barbecue joints is as ubiquitous as Stetson hats on the streets, the city’s new wave of pitmasters have been increasingly incorporating proteins outside those sacred standards. And the traditionally slim sides of bread, pickles, onion, potato salad, and coleslaw have been diversifying, too, with picks like burnt ends and black-eyed peas or house-made kimchi that honor the wide variety of peoples and cuisines that have become part of Austin’s melting pot.

We are incredibly lucky in Austin to have such a wide variety of smoked meats in our weird backyard. While you could throw a stick and land on some delicious ‘cue, we got the inside scoop on the best places to get greasy from the local pitmasters themselves. In the list below, they’ll take you on a tour of their favorite spots to indulge when they’re off-the-clock. From the big-ticket names, to, as Distant Relatives chef-owner Damien Brockway says, the “Great array of small producers making some incredible Q,” these are the must-try places for any carnivorous connoisseur.

Logan Crable | Micklethwait
Logan Crable | Micklethwait

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East Austin
The basics: All apologies to brisket, but the true cornerstone of Texas barbecue is the communal experience—friends and family gathered around a sheet of butcher paper, digging in after a Sunday spent by the smoker. Sitting at one of Micklethwait’s picnic tables, nestled between the shade of gorgeous live oak trees, you can’t help but be reminded of this backyard tradition. The causal, friendly atmosphere is guaranteed to evoke nostalgia for childhood cookouts in both native and non-native Texans alike. And then there’s the food. Tom Micklethwait and his crew serve a sensational take on the traditional three-meat plate, piled high with fatty brisket, smoky pork ribs, and their stand-out Czech-style sausage. While the meat offerings certainly tip their hat to the time-honored Central Texas style, their scratch-made sides demonstrate an elevated take on the standards. Don’t miss out on the lemon poppy slaw, which provides the ideal, zesty contrast to the proteins.
What the pitmasters say: Interstellar BBQ’s Bates is a fan of the wide-ranging dishes at Micklethwait. "I love Tom's approach to all from-scratch—the bread is amazing,” he says. ”I love his brisket and all of his sides.”
How to book: Stop by for counter service, call 512-791-5961, or order online for take-out.

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East Cesar Chavez
If you’re looking for a place to chill out, bib up, and smack down on some traditional Texas-style barbecue, look no further than Kerlin. The folks at this laid-back, no-frills truck focus on the simple rub, no sauce trademark that separates BBQ in the Lone Star state from its northern cousins. Their brisket, especially, is the kind that draws people to Austin barbecue—with crispy edges and a tender middle that will melt under the slightest pressure of your fork. Plus, the service is great. Bonus points for those who stop by their absolutely fantastic, recently reopened kolache truck, Kerlaches, where two of Texas’ most famous dishes meet-cute (or, meat-cute if you will) in one bite of their packed brisket and cheddar dough creation.
What the pitmasters say: Brockway from Distant Relatives sings their praises. “Great Texas style BBQ and you can't go wrong with delicious kolaches,” he says.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first serve or pre-order via email, orders@KerlinBBQ.com.

Courtesy of LeRoy and Lewis
Courtesy of LeRoy and Lewis

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South Austin
The basics: The innovative dishes served up at LeRoy and Lewis will make you rethink all your preconceived notions about what barbecue should be—and evoke an even greater appreciation for the cuisine in all its varied forms. This truck fits solidly in the category of “new school,” so much so that the term is proudly part of its official slogan. These mad scientists of smoked meat serve unique dishes you can’t find anywhere else such as bacon ribs, a burnt ends and pork belly combination you’ll dream about for months after devouring, and some fantastic burgers. If that last sentence still leaves you in any doubt that they are worthy of nabbing the number five spot on the prestigious Texas Monthly’s list of the best BBQ spots in the state, showing up to one of their legendary, whole hog cookout days will have you eating your words—not to mention, everything on your plate.
What the pitmasters say: “Best Burger in town. Period,” says Distant Relatives’ Brockway. “And succulent Beef Cheeks that, if you can get to them before everyone else gets them, will have you coming back for more.”
Bates from Interstellar agrees, “I love Evan's creativity, especially the cheddar cheesecake, beef cheeks, and barbacado.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served patio seating or order take out or shipping through the website.

InterStellar BBQ
InterStellar BBQ

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Anderson Mill
The basics: Cue the jokes about meats that are so good they will launch you into the atmosphere. In the case of North Austin’s Interstellar BBQ, however, this isn’t so much a witty, name-based analogy, as it is a (figurative) reality. Recently sitting pretty at the incredibly impressive number two spot on Texas Monthly’s list of best ‘cue in the state, pitmaster John Bates delivers his customers an incredible one-two rocket punch of smoker-fueled flavor in his offerings. Here, you can find both sensational, foundational barbecue dishes, like pulled pork, sausage, and, of course, brisket, along with more modern options, such as the beer-marinated Tipsy Turkey, and pork belly covered with the sweet hint of peach tea glaze. The only appropriate accompaniment to such otherworldly meats is a side of their refreshing tomato and zucchini salad and the decadent smoked scallop potatoes.
What the pitmasters say: Evan LeRoy, pitmaster and co-owner of LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue says, “John’s background as a chef evaluates every single thing on their menu. From the peach tea pork belly burnt ends, to the smoked scalloped potatoes, his execution and balance of flavors is what makes Interstellar BBQ out of this world.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first serve.

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Photo courtesy of Travel Texas

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South Lamar
The basics: It may be located on one of South Austin’s busiest streets, but Brown’s BBQ, parked right outside the neighborhood haunt, Corner Bar, is an undiscovered gem for many who visit the city. However, locals will tell you it's one of the best deals in town when it comes to smoked meats. The solid portions, reasonable prices, and exceptional meat and sides have us hoping that the lack of long lines will actually last. (We doubt it.) And, while the rule of thumb in Texas usually dictates a disdain for sauces, Brown’s is the exception. The sweet and tangy mustard sauce will have you contemplating siphoning off as many filled-to-the-brim to-go containers as your tote bag can handle. Aside from the sauce, the must-tries here are the brisket and beef ribs, as well as, arguably, the best banana pudding in Travis county.
What the pitmasters say: "My favorite beef rib in town,” says Distant Relatives’ Brockway. “And never, never forget to load up on sides as well.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first serve.

Distant Relatives
Distant Relatives | Photo by Anastacia Uriegas

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McKinney
The basics: At his truck parked at Meanwhile Brewing in South Austin, pitmaster Damien Brockway cooks mind-blowing dishes that honor the flavors of the African diaspora and their contribution to barbecue’s culinary history. From the heavily spiced pork ribs, which are our favorite in the city, to the collards that are so delicious even the pickiest palate will have no trouble eating their greens, it's easy to see why the buzz hasn’t stopped around Distant Relatives in the year and a half since it’s opened. Don’t just take our word for it though. Brockway and his crew have already scored a mention in the unranked section of the Texas Monthly list as well as a James Beard nomination. It makes sense considering everything at the truck, down to the smoked peanuts, are seasoned to perfection.
What the pitmasters say: “Talk about bringing your own flavor and spice into Texas barbecue,” says Micklethwait ’s Dickey. “Absolutely love everything they are doing, from the sides to the mains (love the wings and ribs). Anything on special, don’t ask, just go for it.”
How to order: Stop by for first come, first serve.

Courtesy of Rollin Smoke
Courtesy of Rollin Smoke

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E 6th St
The basics: When it comes to eating barbecue in Austin, it’s often the early bird that catches the pork rib. Luckily for every night owl out roaming the city, there’s the Rollin Smoke BBQ truck, which is located in the bar-hopping paradise that is East 6th St. Not only is it there to fill your stomach with something other than Lone Stars after a night of drinking at nearby Hotel Vegas or The White Horse, it is also open till 9 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, so that pulled pork sandwich can refuel you for late-night shenanigans. Their wide variety of sandwich and taco options—including sausage sandwiches, brisket tacos, and a to-go tortilla-wrapped version of the Texas standard, Frito Pie—you won’t have to ask strangers to two-step with greasy hands. And, for the decision-adverse friends among us, the Playboy sandwich is piled high with a quarter-pound of all their meat offerings and topped with a half-link of jalapeño cheddar pork sausage to ensure you won’t have order FOMO.
What the pitmasters say: Interstellar’s Bates simply says, “The carne guisada tacos are bomb!”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first serve.

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Central East Austin
The basics: No discussion of the barbecue scene in Austin would be complete without Franklin’s. Since Aaron and Stacy Franklin opened their original trailer in 2009, the accolades have been rolling in, everything from a James Beard award, to multiple mentions in the Texas Monthly list, an induction into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame, and, even, a New York Times bestselling cookbook. Now, at their brick-and-mortar, the line that wraps alongside their building from 8 am everyday is the stuff of legend—as is their brisket, whose peppery and caramelized crust will make you realize it's actually worth the mythological status after the first bite. Alongside the traditional sides, including potato salad, slaw, and pinto beans, and their award-winning barbecue sauce, Franklin’s still stands tall amongst the best food you can find in the city limits.
What the pitmasters say: “The experience is worth the wait,” says Dickey from Micklethwait confirms. “Amazing customer service and the brisket, either lean or moist, is spot on. Also, they brought back the classic Ruby’s BBQ Dang Pie,” referring to the acclaimed, now sadly-closed, Austin barbecue mecca, Ruby’s.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first serve, or order online in advance for pick-up.

la Barbecue
la Barbecue | Photo courtesy of la Barbecue

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E Cesar Chavez St
The basics: Barbecue is often a family affair, recipes, secret rubs, and cooking techniques passed down generation-to-generation. This idea of “all in the family” takes on an even greater meaning at East Austin’s la Barbecue. Co-owner and pitmaster, LeAnn Mueller, can trace her brisket lineage back to her grandfather, who opened the Taylor, TX institution, Louie Mueller Barbecue, back in 1949. Now, alongside wife-co-owner-and-fellow pitmaster, Ali Clem, LeAnn is combining lessons learned from Louie—as well as her own legendary pitmaster father, Bobby Mueller—with modern takes on meat that is so delicious, there’s never not a line wrapped around the block at their brick-and-mortar. Our personal favorites include the house-made jalapeño sausage that has just the right amount of snap and bite and a side of shells and cheese, their take on mac and cheese, vastly improved by being drenched in smoky queso.
What the pitmasters say: “The jalapeno sausage is the bomb.com,” says Micklethwait’s Dickey. “I’ve always been a lean brisket guy and Ali puts the bark on it. As for sides, get the chipotle slaw, it’s well worth it.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first serve, or order online in advance for pick-up.

Courtesy of Interstellar BBQ
Courtesy of Interstellar BBQ

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Molly Moltzen is a contributor for Thrillist.