The Very Best Barbecue Spots In Austin Right Now

Here’s the lowdown on the best barbecue in Austin. I’ve lived in Austin for about a decade and get asked all the time by people visiting the city – and there are a lot more visitors than there used to be! – what barbecue they should seek out while they’re here?

Central Texas barbecue is a very specific style, and in my view it is the best style. It’s all about the meat. If there’s sauce, it should only be for dipping, but the meat should be great enough on its own that you wouldn’t want to cover it in sauce. There are regional styles where the meat is just a sauce delivery vehicle, but I don’t think of that as barbecue.

  • Most places you stand in line, bus your own tray, the barbecue is served on butcher paper
  • You eat with your hands
  • Traditional accompaniments are bread, onions, and pickles

If you go to some of the big website lists you’ll get stupid inclusions, like County Line Barbecue which would only be listed by someone that’s never actually eaten there or Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue which isn’t a top 10 barbecue spot but does serve a niche role: best barbecue in a proper sit down restaurant with full bar (it isn’t as good as it used to be, but still belongs in the repertoire). So here’s how to think about where you should go.

The Best Places Today Aren’t The Ones That Were Best Years Ago

The best places change so it’s important to know if the advice you’re getting is up to date.

When I first visited Austin for the barbecue eleven years ago, Lockhart was still a can’t miss stop. You had Black’s, Kreuz, and Smitty’s as the holy trinity of smoked meats. But Kreuz was already in decline, really just doing good sausages (they regularly overcooked the brisket). Smitty’s had become too inconsistent – still some peaks, but never guaranteed to deliver. Black’s was a standout. Sometime around the time that Black’s opened their second location, in Austin proper, the main location in Lockhart stopped being quite as good.

Black’s opened because a dissident family member opened Terry Black’s in Austin. And Terry Black’s is.. okay, but wildly overrated.

Classic Central Texas: Franklin, La Barbecue and Micklethwait

The center of gravity has shifted away from Lockhart, and into Austin itself. More than a decade ago Franklin Barbecue had already become known as one of the best in the world. It’s high quality meat smoked to technical perfection.

franklin bbq

The challenge with Franklin of course is the lines. You have to turn up early, and if you’re not far enough ahead in line when they open they might run out of the meats you want. It’s a great place to go for tailgating with friends, sit in lawn chairs and drink beers while you wait to get inside to buy meat.

During the pandemic I did Franklin often because they were outstanding with takeaway. You can still do order ahead with minimum order, but they can sell out for that weeks in advance on certain dates. I never recommend not trying Franklin, but the hassle factor can lead you elsewhere. And there are plenty of other great places to go.

The standby next places to recommend have been Micklethwait and La Barbecue, very consistent and far more accessible. You won’t go wrong with either! Although I’m not a big fan of the sides at La Barbecue, the meat will done perfectly in classic Central Texas style.

Micklethwait and Franklin are within half a mile of each other in Central Austin. La Barbecue is more East Austin, and the closest good barbecue to the airport.

The Great New Best Barbecue Austin Spots: LeRoy And Lewis, Interstellar

There are two places that these days I like even more than La Barbecue: LeRoy and Lewis, and Interstellar Barbecue.

LeRoy and Lewis is fantastic but a bit less traditional. Order the beef cheeks and the cauliflower burnt ends. A food trailer since 2017, they’re finally opening a brick and mortar. Worth experiencing but in my view it shouldn’t be your only barbecue stop.

InterStellar BBQ nabbed the number two spot in the latest Texas Monthly ‘Top 50’ list, though the list itself has lost some credibility as it seeks out more of the new and has become less about great. Right now InterStellar may be doing the best barbecue, anywhere in the world.

There’ll be a line even on a weekday when they open, and the line doesn’t move as quickly as it should. Show up a little before 11 a.m. opening or expect to wait half an hour.

interstellar exterior

You’ll enter and wait in line to place your order for meat at the counter, then shift to your right for sides and pre-prepared desserts. I’d add that while at many spots the sides are mediocre (not LeRoy and Lewis, but many places), here they are quite good. The mac and cheese and the potatoes are especially good.

interstellar barbecue interior

Here’s the menu:

interstellar barbecue menu

You’ll place your order and have your meat sliced in front of you, then you’ll order sides and pay. They have both an indoor dining room and an outdoor dining space.

intersteller best barbecue austin

intersteller barbecue pork belly

The brisket is very good. Technically perfect, even. The ribs are excellent. The pork belly absolutely blows my mind.

Two things they had on special on my most recent visit were also out of this world – a frito pie sausage, and it really did taste like Frito Pie inside of a sausage. Oh was it amazing. And smoked duck, which was cooked perfectly cold smoked and not at all overdone, drizzled with a cherry sauce. Are you even kidding me?

interstallar tray best barbecue austin

InterStellar is way to the North, nearly to Cedar Park. Ironically it’s less than 10 minutes from Hyatt’s Miraval wellness retreat. LeRoy and Lewis is near St. Edwards University and South Lamar.

Other Places

Distant Relatives is ok. It’s a food truck at Meanwhile Brewing and I’ll eat it sitting outside while my daughter plays on the toys there. But I wouldn’t seek it out. Again, give Terry Black’s a miss unless you happen to be right there anyway. Lambert’s is where you go with a reservation for a sit down lunch and a cocktail. I bring out of towners here regularly.

Check the hours and days of operation of wherever you’re going. Some, for instance, may be Wednesday through Sunday. Most open around 11 a.m. Traditionally you want to go early in the day, when the meat is freshest, and places generally sell what they have until it’s gone. So just because a barbecue spot is open in the late afternoon or evening doesn’t mean they’ll have all of their meats anyway.

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. The Friday content we needed, Gary. Thanks!

    Per airports, I’ll still live 15-20 years in the past and say I still love Salt Lick bbq for some amazing breakfast tacos and a mimosa on a mid-morning flight out of AUS (not that their airport bar was there that long ago…). But.. I know the real place is quite touristy these days and nowhere near the cutting edge Austin food scene these days…

  2. I have to say Franklin’s and Interstellar are great. Smitty’s in Lockhart was a big disappointment. Black’s brisket was good but awful ribs.

  3. Dont know but the photo from Intersteller with the stains on the scale and how the meat being weight was directly put on scale without lining or plate I’m finding bit offputting!

  4. In fairness, Roberto,
    Everyone knows Delta’s theoretical A350-1000 order will vault ahead of United in every international metric (real or actual order books be damned), including ‘best bbq’ served south of the Chattahoochee , north of the Suwannee, west of the Mississippi, or basically any Colorado river in existence. In fact, Delta expects to outgrow United and AA Down Under in terms of BBQ or Shrimp on the Barbie (or really any part of the Pacific if you have NO Idea how unit costs work, like Tim) since they no longer have ANY partners down under to hinder their growth potential now that they have the smallest mileage program and alliance in SoCal (unchanged since about ever btw).

    It goes without saying that any Texas bbq served near the Colorado river doesn’t deserve consideration since Delta has no meaningful presence there (after retreating and throwing up a white flag of surrender to AA from their only Texas hub while filing bankruptcy — then throwing up the same white flag in AUS when AA beat them to a focus city there…) and hence, the geography doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of bbq.

    But, if it did, we’d expect the sky club in AUS to make any bbq FAR better than anywhere else in Austin as you connect (basically always) in ATL from your Austin “focus city” (not that any Delta customer can actually get into that Sky club on a normal basis anymore).

    But I digress… who knows… maybe Tim enjoys a heavy vinegar sauce for whatever inedible meat he eats to make it taste better. That wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to know Tim enjoys a vinegar-based bbq. It would actually make a lot of sense to know he’s someone that aged to enjoy… anything with vinegar and bitterness.

  5. @Sco – good food, for sure. I’d rank it below LeRoy and below Insterstellar, also it seems like it belongs on a different list in a way as its tradition is further afield from this one IMHO

  6. What are your thoughts on Salt Lick? I know not in Austin and have opened locations a number of places, including airports, but still find original to be a good experience

  7. Gary does a good job with metro Austin recommendations. Add Stiles Switch on Lamar in North Austin. Louie Mueller in Taylor is still a great old school place. Hays County BBQ is the place for San Marcos, with San Marcos BBQ just across I-35 for a great value (slightly less good BBQ, but great prices). 2M Smokehouse or Two Brothers BBQ for San Antonio.

  8. @Jon Z – reasonable recommendations, Stiles Switch is a good place but not the equal of those I’m recommending here. Taylor is just a long way away! But no disputing it!

  9. This might be the most accurate and helpful post I’ve ever read on this blog. As someone who goes to Austin several times a year for work, experience has taught me the importance of choosing barbecue lines wisely. Terry Black’s is a zoo of hipsters– tasty but hardly worth the impossible parking and long wait. I’ve been looking for an alternative for months– and thanks to this article, I’ve found a few. Thanks for the insights.

  10. Thanks for the recommendation, Gary. Micklethwait was really outstanding! It’s also remarkable how the neighborhood around Micklethwaith has transformed itself from the sad state it was in the early 90’s.

  11. @MaxPowers Fair point, but your BBQ to shrimp equation is off. Delta is better. Forget the math. Delta is better. Delta is better. Delta is better. Now if you want to get serious about the 737-10 seat config being the most premium config out there, we can talk. 24 J seats! It’s so groundbreaking! Who has ever planned on having that many J seats?! I mean, AA & UA have plans for 32+ premium seats on their 321XR, but Delta bought 339’s for 100Mil a pop, so both should just cancel their orders and bow down to DL. The A350-1000 order will happen! Tim is more successful than Jon NYC. He throws out 10 things and they all stick!!!! HND slots, DCA slots, the A35K order from 2020, 35L’s being the lowest seat cost but still maintaining premium revenue, the AUS expansion at DL’s pace will not be rushed…..

    0-6 Timmy! Go Jon NYC.

  12. I’ve tried most of the places in Austin and Terry’s Blacks is still my favorite. Trying to pick the best Texas BBQ is like arguing with a Chicagoan about which deep dish pizza is best. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

  13. Really lucky to have had a friend take me to Cosmic and try LeRoy and Lewis on my first visit to Austin. Went back this past January and nothing else quite compared… need to give Intersteller a try thanks for the tips Gary!

  14. I live right down the street from Interstellar and have been there several times. The sides might be a good option but for meat I’ll take La BBQ every time.

  15. Great list. My only comment would be that the one time I went to Micklethwait 6 months ago it was a big disappointment. To be a great BBQ spot in Austin, you have to be consistent. Which is why I agree with you not putting Stile Switch in your top level.

  16. DId the BBQ neat-up with friends a few years ago in AUstin. Got to Franklins line by 8 am and by 2 pm got to the inside to find out many things were gone.. The problem that I saw was only one person taking orders and only ONE Person CUTTING THE MEARS..–the real issue if they had 2 at each station could have gotten people thru earlier and closed earlier… But I guess they wanted people to wait all day.. NOt great customer NO-Service

  17. Randomly, my daughter and her fiance are literally at LeRoy and Lewis as I write this. Too funny.
    I also like Terry Blacks and the original Salt Lick. Franklin is still my favorite. Hot tip (pun intended) on Franklin…you can order to-go…in larger amounts. You still have to wait for them to cook it but you don’t have to wait in line.

  18. Terry Black’s – overrated and like eating a shaker of salt

    Blacks in Lockhart- currently a disappointment

    Always satisfying and solid – I can remember when it was surrounded by gravel parking lots- but I didn’t think anybody could hate on Ironworks this much (not even mentioned)? It’s not their fault that they’re by the the convention center now

  19. On the top 10 list of BBQ joints in Austin, the difference between 1 and 10 is so small that there is no way I’ll wait in line for 15 minutes or more, especially during the summer. Want to impress an out-of-towner, stop for gas at Rudy’s and eat there. Just like the service on SWA, Rudy’s rarely disappoints and often exceeds one’s expectations.

  20. Ironworks, Broken Spoke and Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse . . . sometimes you go there just because you still can.

  21. Couple of my favs are Moreno BBQ in South Austin across from Crocket HS. Browns BBQ on S. Lamar in the parking lot of corner bar. Went to the new Valentina’s and was not impressed. ProTip there eat at the bar and avoid the line.

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