Austin Prepares to Adopt Rules That Could Kill Off Barbecue in the City

When I first visited Austin for barbecue I was looking out towards Lockhart and beyond. I didn’t expect to find great barbecue inside the city proper. I was skeptical that the sorts of regulations you find in a city would allow for real barbecue pits and smokers, the way you’d need to produce barbecue at a truly great level.

I assumed that Lockhart was the Barbecue Capital of Texas precisely because it wasn’t big city Texas, or big city anywhere.

And yet the city of Austin proper has really shifted the gravity of barbecue in the state.

Franklin Barbecue is generally regarded to have the best brisket in the world. I think it’s great, technically perfect even and using a good cut of meat.

But I actually prefer Black’s in Lockhart and certainly adjusted for the hours-long waits.

The point here isn’t which barbecue is best, it’s that great barbecue is possible inside a city. And not just at Franklin — there’s La Barbecue, for instance, among the best in the world.

(Black’s even has an outpost inside the city limits but the actual barbecue is made in Lockhart and driven to Austin.)

Austin is on the verge of killing itself off as a cluster for the world’s best barbecue, because there are residents who complain about the smoke.

This is exactly what I would have expected to be in place from the get go, which would have prevented the barbecue renaissance in Austin from taking place in the first instance. Now that they’ve built it, they are willing to destroy it. The biggest players can certainly afford to attenuate their practices, but innovation in barbecue (the kind done in food trucks at places like La Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats) won’t be possible for new startups.

The best barbecue you get in cities comes from the likes of Danny Meyer. That’s great in a place like New York, but it’s not the stuff of a vibrant and competitive, experimental cuisine.

That should benefit Lockhart, maintaining its relative importance. There’s little reason today for Austin visitors to make the drive. That may change.

In Lockhart they embrace places like Smitty’s

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. La Barbecue is gearing up for a S. Congress location. I think the plan for these types of places is to smoke the meat somewhere far east, away from heavy residential areas, and truck it into town. Since they always sell out this works very well. Kent Black’s shop on Guadalupe and 32nd is an example.

    And Franklin’s lines are just comically bad. To the point where it’s not worth it. I think it’s mostly clueless out of town visitors who do that.

  2. Please look up air pollution and PM 2.5 and PM 10. That may help understand why it is an issue. I love smoking meat as must as everyone but I understand the concerns.

  3. Just checked it out on Google Maps. Franklin is 328 ft. away from the nearest house. That’s well over the 100ft. limit they’re proposing. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Except those close to the exhaust pipe of a barbeque restaurant. Then you may not want to breathe at all.

    Also, just had Aaron Franklin’s BBQ in LA this week for a special pop-up. It was pretty spectacular.

  4. BBQ smoke smells amazing….for a little while. After that it’s like anything else that you get too much of and have no way to escape from.

  5. For many of us that have fought wildfires, grass, brush and timber, we have little desire to be around a simple wood burning fire. My brother fought fire for the USFS, and I worked for CalFire. Many years ago while searching for a home, I knew I had no interest as soon as the front door of one home was opened. It reeked of smoke. Kudo’s to the smoke masters that are moving their pits to less developed areas.

  6. It’s becoming a recurring theme with me and Austin–I long for the late 70’s -early 80’s when no building could be tall enough to obstruct the view of the Capitol , and nobody would wait hours for BBQ. I’m amazed by peoples’ patience there these days.
    Don’t get me wrong…the massive tailgating on game days is a definite improvement, and frankly the BBQ I get at those little fests tastes just as good washed down with Tito’s vodka.

    Things I don’t miss :getting arrested the day following my failure to show up to pay a traffic ticket, and 6th Street as a hooker haven.

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