Austin boasts soooooo much good barbecue, but despite the saturation of old-school salt-and-pepper rubs, not every stack of post-oak-smoked brisket is worth waiting in line for. To separate the moist from the lean, we’ve compiled a list of the best barbecue joints in town. Naturally, these represent a spectrum of different experiences — from revelatory bites worth 200 minutes of waiting, to late-night sandwiches that are best remembered “in the moment” — and each of these establishments has been vetted as ‘cue worth consuming. Go forth and gorge, but maybe lay off the barbecue sauce.
LeRoy and Lewis
New-school barbecue truck, LeRoy and Lewis are making waves in Austin with their unique approach to smoked meats — keep it local, and keep it interesting. Pitmaster Evan LeRoy, formerly of Freedmen’s, chooses alternative cuts like beef cheeks and barbacoa from local producers for tender, flavorful meat sold by weight. The sides impress — hello, BBQ fried rice! — as do the rotating daily specials, like the recently offered wagyu Denver chuck roast from Peeler Ranch in nearby Floresville. And, in true L&L fashion, they’ve created another reason not to skip the most important meal of the day: breakfast bagels made with Rosen’s Bagel Co. bagels and funky schmears like chopped brisket or jalapeño popper cream cheese (house bacon, smoked jalapeño, Cheddar).
Legacy Eastside businesses are a dying breed, but Smokey Denmark’s — a family meat-processing operation — isn’t going anywhere. Despite 52 years of sausage-making, it’s still largely off the radar of the average diner, but the BBQ trailer out front is making a serious push to turn customers’ heads. It took a couple years to hit its stride, but the barbecue has officially cracked the top tier of Austin trailers, thanks to near-perfect execution of all the classics, a jalapeño cheese sausage that’s in a league of its own, and a world tour of regional sauces.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
In the world of Texas barbecue, going fusion is a dangerous play. Half steps into other cultural cuisines like Micklethwait’s barbacoa are one thing, but putting tacos on the menu is another — and Valentina’s is proof that it can work to wondrous effect. The owner was a fixture at Ranch 616 for years, before settling at the truck’s current home in South Austin, where he’s now cranking out arguably the best smoked meat south of Lady Bird Lake. It’s worth the trek for the homemade tortillas and smoked corn alone, but we can’t get enough of the smoked carnitas taco, or brisket that makes a serious case for the virtues of mesquite. And don’t miss the smoked corn, either.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
Arguably the best quality-to-wait time ratio in town, Micklethwait has, over the past three years, found the perfect sweet spot between paying homage to old-school Texas barbecue and innovating enough to turn the heads of traditionalists. The brisket pops with fat and post-oak smoke, while the pork spare ribs cling to the bone with just the right pull. Beyond the standard fare, you’ll find rarer offerings like pulled goat, barbacoa, and a beef rib that won The Austin Chronicle‘s “best in town.” Perhaps most importantly, though, the cheese grits vie for the title of best side in the city.
The last five years of barbecue in Austin have come to be defined by post-oak-smoking trailers, salt-and-pepper rubs, and colossal lines. But back in 2006, when Ruby’s chopped beef was the best the city had to offer, Lamberts burst onto the scene with something different. It isn’t “real barbecue,” in the sense that you’re not ordering by the pound or eating off a cafeteria tray, but for smoked beef after 2pm, it’s hard to beat the coffee-rubbed brisket, not to mention the crispy wild boar ribs, one of the city’s best happy hour appetizers. Bonus points for Lamberts new Saturday and Sunday brunch from 11am to 3pm — think oak-grilled hanger steak with egg in the hole — plus the ability to wander upstairs to hear a bearded musician any night of the week.
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