[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he state of Texas as a whole takes enormous pride in its barbecue, but Central Texas-home to the city of Austin and the surrounding Texas Hill Country-has made an especially strong impression on the national BBQ conversation. This region's particular specialty is smoked brisket, a cut of beef from the cow's chest and pectoral area that was once discarded by butchers but is now lauded by barbecue enthusiasts for its juicy, tender texture and rich flavor. Austin, the Lone Star capital, is a particular hotspot for top-notch BBQ joints that specialize in brisket, and we've rounded up 11 of the absolute best within city limits, listed in geographic order from north to south.
Our recommendations begin with a relatively new arrival to the Austin barbecue scene that has nevertheless impressed local BBQ aficionados enough to earn Austin's top spot on Texas Monthly's Best Barbecue Restaurants list in 2021. Pitmaster John Bates chooses prime brisket (the highest meat grade) and smokes it low and slow with mild-flavored post oak logs. The result is a beautifully-cooked brisket with luxurious texture, meaty flavor accentuated by smoke, and melty, buttery fat. Ask for the "burnt ends"-these crispy pieces of brisket meat and smoked bark are especially worthwhile.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
East Austin is the city's unofficial barbecue center, with numerous top-rated BBQ establishments located within just a few blocks. One must-visit east side spot is Micklethwait Craft Meats, a food truck parked in a grassy lot alongside a bottle shop and beverage bar modeled after a mid-century ice house. Pitmaster Tom Micklethwait's post-oak-smoked brisket is the stuff of local legend, thanks to its robust bark, vivid red smoke ring, and flawless balance between meat and smoke.
Anyone with even a casual knowledge of Texas BBQ is familiar with the iconic Franklin Barbecue, an East Austin restaurant with such high demand for its brisket (and other smoked meats) that visitors start waiting in line at 7am, setting up lawn chairs and coolers and essentially turning Franklin's parking lot into a brisket tailgating party. This pre-meal pomp and circumstance might seem over the top, but once you take a bite of pitmaster Aaron Franklin's legendary brisket, you'll understand all the fuss. Franklin's brisket has an appealing chew, but the perfectly-smoked meat and fat also melts in the mouth, making for an indulgent bite that represents everything that foodies love so much about Texas barbecue.
B. Cooper's BBQ
While many of East Austin's other BBQ joints are commonly known (and can therefore feature lengthy waits), B. Cooper's BBQ is an off-the-radar spot that local workers and residents are happy to keep at least somewhat secret. But once you know about this food truck parked on a pretty and serene lawn-which opened just before the pandemic-it'll be hard to keep from telling your friends about pitmaster Blaine Cooper's luscious smoked brisket. Cooper uses prime briskets and smokes them with post oak in a quaint "smoking trailer" behind the truck, and he gently seasons the meat with salt, pepper, and paprika to give it an extra level of flavor without overwhelming the meat and the smoke.
This mega-popular East Austin BBQ place spent several years as a small pop-up operation in the back of a Quickie Pickie convenience market, but owner and pitmaster LeAnn Mueller and her partner Alison Clem were ultimately able to move La Barbecue into a stand-alone restaurant, which provides visitors with a very comfortable setting for digging into their trays of exquisitely-smoked brisket. Mueller comes from Central Texas barbecue royalty-her family owns and operates Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX, a decades-old restaurant known as the "Cathedral of Smoke"-and her stunning slow-smoked brisket made with organic prime beef and served on butcher paper more than lives up to the Mueller family's legacy. Don't miss La Barbecue's sides, either; their zippy potato salad, spicy chipotle coleslaw, and rich mac & cheese made with shells and queso are ideal partners for the brisket.
Just a few blocks down from La Barbecue, you'll find Kerlin BBQ, a food truck that's rightly celebrated for its classic Texas-style brisket, but is arguably most famous for a signature dish that showcases the brisket in an unexpected way. Kerlin's "kerlache" is an inspired hybrid of two very Texan specialties: smoked brisket and the kolache, a Czech pastry consisting of a dough pocket usually filled with jam, fruit, and cheese. Kerlin instead fills their kolaches with smoked brisket and cheddar. This deliciously savory "kerlache" became so popular that the Kerlin team decided to open a separate food truck solely devoted to this dish, which can be found several blocks north of Kerlin's original location. But you can still get the kerlache at the OG Kerlin, and it's a perfect handheld way to enjoy some of Austin's finest brisket.
Like Franklin, Terry Black's benefits from enormous name recognition outside of the immediate Austin area. Also, like Franklin, Terry Black's makes a brisket that justifies its reputation. This barbecue restaurant near Zilker Park features a fleet of smokers in its backyard area, where very detail-oriented BBQ chefs carefully monitor their 12-hour-smoked briskets and their sizable supply of post oak logs. Everything is done with great care and commitment, and you can taste that dedication in the brisket itself. The smoke works well with the natural taste of the meat, and the simple salt-and-pepper seasoning used at Terry Black's highlights those flavors rather than eclipsing them. But most of all, Terry Black's brisket excels in the texture category. It's tender and tongue-coating, with just the right amount of chew and crunch from the exterior bark.
Parked right in front of Corner Bar on bustling South Lamar Boulevard, Brown's BBQ is the ultimate hidden-in-plain-sight BBQ truck that rewards those who know about it with brisket that would merit lines down the block. The Brown's team are masters of rendering brisket fat; each bite of their brisket retains maximum moisture and richness, and the distinct black pepper notes of the brisket crust lend a welcome spiciness.
LeRoy and Lewis
Pitmaster Evan LeRoy of LeRoy and Lewis says that his South Austin food truck parked at a popular coffee shop/beer garden offers "new school BBQ and old school service." The brisket served at LeRoy and Lewis is clear evidence that this philosophy works; LeRoy sources his premium meat from small, local, and ethical purveyors, and he smokes it with just salt and pepper as seasonings, allowing the flavor of the brisket to speak for itself. LeRoy and Lewis's brisket is so highly-coveted by Austin BBQ fans that the truck serves it only on weekends, giving it a "special occasion" vibe.
This barbecue truck stationed at a brewery in Southeast Austin is only in its sophomore season, but its remarkable menu-including a truly unmissable brisket-garnered its pitmaster, Damien Brockway, a semifinalist position in this year's James Beard Awards. Brockway's brisket is made in perfect Texas fashion, with a crunchy bark and a tender and juicy interior. Instead of barbecue sauce, he opts for a dipping sauce of smoked mustard butter, which beautifully complements the flavor of the meat and the richness of the fat. For a particular treat, order the brisket in sandwich form-these stacked sandwiches include freshly-sliced brisket, pickled cucumber, red onion, and hot mustard, all piled on a toasted brioche bun.
Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ
Head down to Very South Austin (like, almost-at-the-city-limit South Austin), and you'll find Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ, a longstanding food truck that brilliantly combines two of Central Texas' most beloved culinary traditions: barbecue and Tex-Mex. While most BBQ spots in Austin use mild post oak for smoking, Valentina's makes the somewhat controversial choice to smoke with mesquite, which imparts a much stronger flavor. When done with less expertise, mesquite smoking can easily overwhelm the flavor of brisket. But Valentina's has their method down to a science, and the brisket that they serve has a unique smokiness that nevertheless remains in perfect balance with the salt, the natural flavor of the meat, and the creaminess of the fat.