Austin BBQ Crawl

As part of our research on opening a BBQ restaurant, my Husband & I decided to visit Austin, Texas, considered to be the BBQ capital for Texas style BBQ. There were about 10 establishments that consistently came up in any Google search that I did on the subject. One that is always at the top of any list is Franklin BBQ, considered to have the best BBQ brisket in the country. I wasn’t sure before going to Austin if this was self-proclaimed or it truly was a fact. However we were prepared to stand in the reported 5 hour wait line to find out. We booked a trip for 6 nights to give us enough time to visit at least two BBQ joints a day and sample their menus. Joining us, was a friend of ours who we have designated to manage the restaurant.

We arrived in Austin in the early afternoon and after getting our rental car, headed to our first BBQ location, La Barbecue which operates out of a trailer in the Good Life Food Park.

la-barbecueWe arrived at about 3:00 pm and were told they were sold out of everything except chopped brisket sandwiches which is the leftover brisket from the morning’s sliced brisket offerings. We got our order and sat at one of the many communal picnic tables they had set up in the park and ate a delicious brisket sandwich. If was about 6 ounces of chopped brisket on a plain white hamburger bun topped with dill pickle chips and white onions. There were two kinds of runny BBQ sauce on the table. One was sweet and the other was a vinegar based sauce. The sandwich was delicious. Tender beef with some peppery bark scattered throughout. A good start to our research. In addition, the employees and owner of the place showed us around their smoking pits and explained how their briskets, ribs, turkey breasts and sausages are cooked and a little bit about the BBQ business. They told us that their Beef ribs are a specialty which usually sell out by 11 and if we wanted to taste the rest of their menu, we should pre-order a few items for pick-up at 10:45 am on Friday morning which we did. On the way to La Barbecue, we were told by our cab driver about his favorite BBQ spot and he assured us it was the best in town. The Salt Lick BBQ wasn’t on our list of must visits but after we settled into the condo we were staying in, we decided to drive out of town to visit this recommendation for dinner. Our drive was about 45 minutes outside of Austin to get to The Salt Lick in the Driftwood area of town, one of three of locations. It is truly out in the sticks among some expensive master planned communities and is about the size of a mini-Knott’s Berry Farm. It is designed for large parties and we were told had we arrived about a half hour earlier that we would have had to wait 2 hours for a table. We were seated at a picnic table in their patio area and ordered Brisket with a couple of sides which in almost all of the BBQ joints we went to, consisted of Potato Salad, Cole Slaw and Pinto Beans. When you walk in the door of The Salt Lick, there is a large horseshoe grill with a couple of guys grilling briskets, sausages, chicken and ribs and it looks impressive. But after getting our orders of brisket, we realized that the brisket we were eating was not smoked and wasn’t even very good. The sides were not even worth finishing. A surprising disappointment considering how our cabbie had raved about it.

The next morning was the only time we had to visit Franklin BBQ and we arrived at about 9:30 am and took our place at the back of the already about 50 person line. The line very quickly started getting longer and by the time the restaurant opened their doors at 11:00 am, the line was around the block.

Franklin3Once the doors opened, it took another 1 1/2 hours to get up to the counter to order. Visiting Franklin’s is a real event. You make friends with the people in front of you and behind you in line. People bring chairs and stream movies, listen to music, read or throw Footballs in the street while waiting. By the time you get to the counter you figure you might as well try one of everything on their menu because this is going to be a once in a lifetime event. My plate could hardly hold everything that I ordered but after the first bite of brisket, we understood why Franklin’s is considered the best. The meat melted in my mouth and took no effort to chew it. The bark was crispy and perfectly seasoned without being overpowering. Their Pork ribs were fall off the bone tender and the homemade sausage was divine. The sides were good as well. I never thought I would say that waiting in line for something for 3 1/2 hours was totally worth it.

Franklin2I also got my picture with Aaron Franklin who was very gracious and took us back in his smokehouse to show us his custom built smokers and explain how he cooks his meat.

The next morning we went out to Lockhart to visit three of the four oldest BBQ places in Texas. We visited Black’s BBQ and had some of their brisket and sides.

BlacksUnlike most of the other BBQ joints who only offer potato salad, coleslaw and beans for sides, Black’s offers about a dozen sides and desserts in a cafeteria style format. Although we rated Black’s brisket as a #3, we weren’t enamored with their sides except the Mac and Cheese. We didn’t eat at Smitty’s BBQ which was the coolest establishment we visited with their black walls coated by many years of smoke and the wood fire that fueled their smokers blazing away on the floor without any security barrier around it. We also went to Kreuz Market.

The next day we took a break from eating BBQ, and drove to San Antonio for the day and visited the Alamo and had dinner somewhere along the river walk. Back to our BBQ research the following day with a visit to Lexington to visit Snow’s BBQ that is run by a 73 year old woman Pitmaster named Tootsie. We didn’t think her BBQ was anything close to Franklin’s, La Barbecue or Black’s. Not very tender or flavorful. We then went to the place that most of the Pitmasters in Austin apprenticed at in Taylor, Texas, Louis Mueller where we had our second best BBQ of our trip and a lengthy conversation with Wayne Mueller, one of the Grandson’s of Louis who is the closest thing to a BBQ whisperer I have ever met. He was so passionate about his product, methods and the legacy of his family on the BBQ circuit, we left very inspired about going forward and seeing where this BBQ thing will lead us.

Mueller2After visiting eight BBQ places and eating at six, we came up with our rankings from best to not so good. Franklin’s, Louis Mueller, Black’s, La Barbecue, Snow’s and The Salt Lick. All the BBQ places we went to had some things in common. They all with the exception of The Salt Lick, smoked their meats slow and low in old fashioned smokers with Post Oak. They all had pretty much the same combination of sides with the exception of Black’s and they all furnished the eating areas in very simple decor. It is all about the meat.

We did other things while in Austin including going to the famous White Horse Saloon, driving out to the German influenced town of Fredericksburg and playing chicken shit bingo at Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon.

Austin is a fun city to visit if you like fantastic Texas BBQ, friendly people, great dive bars, honky tonk music and culture with a quirky sensibility.

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