If you’re heading to Austin, Texas, there’s a strong chance you’re not just coming for the superb weather, exciting festivals and awesome live music – you’re looking for a taste of that famous Central Texas barbecue.
"It’s a must when you’re in Austin," says Katherine Wise, communications manager at Visit Austin, the city's tourism organization.
Whether you’re staying north, south, east or west of downtown, there’s a barbecue pit that’s definitely worth a visit. With so many moutwatering options, U.S. News asked local experts to recommend a few top places that will satisfy meat connoisseurs.
“La Barbecue is one of the best barbecue places in town," Wise says. With local, hormone-free, grass-fed beef and an owner with an excellent barbecuing pedigree, La Barbecue has made its mark on smoked meats since opening in 2012. Formerly a food truck, this establishment moved to a brick-and-mortar location in East Austin where it now sells its excellent brisket ($20 per pound), sausage ($4.25 per link), beef ribs (market price) and pork ribs ($17.98 per pound).
[Read: The Best Hotels in Austin.]
You don’t have to wait in line to enjoy barbecue at local favorite Freedmen’s, which is housed in a historic building in West Campus. Top dishes include the brisket ($10 per half-pound), pork spare ribs ($9.50 per half-pound) and the Holy Trinity Plate: a pork spare rib, brisket and house-made sausage ($25). Don’t forget the sides, like the house-made pickles ($4.50 per half-pint), and dessert, like the smoked chocolate mousse ($5.50 per quarter-pint). The bar side serves more than 160 whiskeys as well as vintage cocktails, beer and wine. And the large outdoor beer garden offers a relaxing area to chill and enjoy your ‘cue.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
“Lamberts is fantastic," says Angela Ashley, former assistant front office manager at the South Congress Hotel. It's a fancier barbecue option that has table service and takes reservations. Another barbecue restaurant occupying a historic building, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue in the Second Street District offers a full menu, including options for nonmeat eaters, plus wine, beer and cocktails. Try the natural Black Angus brisket ($19), natural pulled pork ($17) and house-made jalapeno hot links ($16). Lambert’s baked mac 'n' three cheeses ($8) and smoked bacon-braised collard greens ($8) are worth a bite as well.
Stiles Switch BBQ
A fun, old-school vibe flows through Stiles Switch BBQ, which sits in the Brentwood neighborhood. Focusing on Texas craft beers and smoked favorites like jalapeno cheddar sausage ($3.75 per link), brisket ($10 per half-pound), beef ribs ($22 per pound) and Texas Frito pie ($12.50), Stiles Switch BBQ is ideal for travelers looking for a down-to-earth Austin experience. Go for the meat plates, which offer a choice of one to three meats ($12.50 to $19.50) and two sides like corn casserole, spicy Cajun slaw and "hawg rub" fries.
[Read: 9 Must-Try Austin Steakhouses.]
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Travelers on the hunt for tacos should look no further than Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Hailed for serving some of the best breakfast tacos in Austin, Valentina's sells meaty favorites like The Real Deal Holyfield ($7.50) and Ultimate Bean & Cheese ($5) that will fill you up and have you ready for a day of sightseeing. The smoked brisket taco ($5), sausage ($14 per pound), beef ribs ($20 per pound) and pulled pork ($18 per pound) shouldn’t be missed either at this outdoor-friendly southwest Austin spot.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
An East Austin gem, Micklethwait Craft Meats sells its barbecue from the window of a vintage trailer. The establishment makes its meats and specials in-house, including its brisket Frito pie ($10), pork ribs ($18 per pound) and pulled pork ($14 per pound). Tasty sides include jalapeno cheese grits and lemon poppy slaw ($3.75 for 8 ounces). Cheesecake brownies, made by an Austin bakery, cost $4.
Terry Black’s Barbecue
Large indoor and outdoor dining areas covered in corrugated sheet metal give a comforting farmhouse feel to the Bouldin Creek neighborhood’s Terry Black’s Barbecue. Owners Mike and Mark Black also come from a line of well-regarded pitmasters and carry on their family’s smoking legacy with brisket ($18.98 per pound), sausage ($14 per pound), turkey ($16.98 per pound) and pork ribs ($16.98 per pound). Green beans and mac 'n' cheese (5 ounces for $2.25) should make their way onto your meat plate, along with the mini pecan pie and banana pudding ($2.25).
The list wouldn’t be complete without perhaps the most acclaimed spot for smoked meat in Austin: Franklin Barbecue. Wise says be prepared for a long line when you visit, "but once you get in the door, it’s totally worth it.”
[Read: 5 Austin Breweries to Visit.]
Known around the country for its phenomenal brisket ($22 per pound), Franklin Barbecue also serves up favorites like ribs ($19 per pound), pulled pork ($19 per pound) and sausage ($14 for three links), plus the Tipsy Texan sandwich ($8). Classic sides like pinto beans and slaw ($3 for a single serving) are served along with pecan pie ($5) and lemon chess pie ($5).
Ashley says that while Franklin Barbecue has a lot of buzz, it's not the only great place in town. “A lot of people ask about Franklin Barbecue, but there are other fantastic barbecue options that don’t eat up your entire day,” Ashley says.
To experience more of what Austin has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
15 Best Foodie Destinations in the USA
Ellis graduated cum laude with a bachelor's in English from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Texas Freelance Association, Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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