The best of Central Texas BBQ in 51 hours
Starting at 8am Friday morning and ending at 3pm on Sunday, my good friend Matt and I explored the best of Central Texas Barbecue. In between we waited in line for almost 8 hours, travelled nearly 800 miles, ate almost 11 pounds of meat and drank a lot of coffee! Embarking on a quest like this requires both rules and restraint. We’d originally only planned on hitting 11 spots, but we quickly found ourselves with emergent barbecue on the map and ended up trying some new and frankly, fantastic spots. We had rules we had to hold each other to; in order to sustain this feast we settled with testing the holy trinity of Texas Barbecue at each location. Our order was 1/4 pound of fatty brisket, 1 pork rib, and one original sausage. Bread, pickles and onions were the only acceptable sides. We broke the rules a few times, but generally kept it between the lines. It was a hell of a journey and these are our findings below.
Friday, Oct 31 — 08:09, Franklin Barbecue in Austin
We arrived at Franklin BBQ with the goal of eating, what in our previous opinion was some of the best barbecue around. We went over various scenarios in the car on the way from Dallas the previous night on what time to get there. What if we were past the dreaded sold out sign. We’d have come this whole way for naught. We figured Franklin was a priroirty on our list, and we should minimize risk and tackle the crowds on Friday am. We arrived at just past 8am and were happy to be 40th in line. 40th in line on a Friday morning means you’re eating at 12:30pm. So we waited. We met some fun people in line, had some beers and were joined by friend Brandon Thomas on our journey to smoky goodness. Let’s get to the meat.
Our order: 1.25 lbs of Brisket (0.25 lbs lean, the rest fatty), 1.3lbs of ribs (4), 0.3 lbs of pulled pork, 1 sausage, 1 key lime pie, 1 banana bourbon pie
Brisket — A little over (very slightly), outstanding bark, sticky meat candy and truly exceptional smoke (this is what Aaron does best). CP thought the lean brisket was moist and delicious with great beef flavor. Matt B says NO to lean brisket. The rendered, sticky, sugary fat is what is worth waiting for. It’s fabulous.
Pork Ribs -Great smoke, very juicy, good pork flavor but perhaps just slightly over. Great salt/pepper and subtle smoke.
Sausage — Overly beef, somewhat irony (we later found out that they use beef hearts in the sausage), fatty — it’s a unique model, both good and bad. Sausage is very different from classic central Texas style, has a great casing.
Pulled Pork — Salty, fatty, nice to have. Makes a great bite with the sweet and thin table sauces.
Good bread and pickles, but we’re here for the meat.
We were joined at the end of our meal by general manager Benji Jacobs, who is one of the swellest guys around. He told us about Franklin’s new take out window (we’re curious to see how that works) and how they’re currently no at capacity nor are they happy with how they are cooking brisket. Briskets currently come off at 3am (after being put on at 11am) and spend 4 hours resting then 4 hours in a hot box. They’d much rather be pulling them at 7am , but can’t currently work that given their need to cook ribs + other meats. Ribs are 6–6.5 hours. They’re only using post oak, and only salt and pepper on the brisket. They’re spraying the ribs with table sauce to keep them moist, but not using any sugar.
“Sugar blocks the chemical reactions that easily happen when salt and pepper are put straight on the meat where nitrogen, CO2 and smoke can flavor the meat directly” — Benji
Friday, Oct 31 — 15:25, City Market in Luling
We arrived in Luling, Texas to an oil perfumed air and immediately sought relief in the pit room at City Market.
Order was 1/4lb fatty brisket (which was called out as 1/4 beef), a sausage and 1/4lb ribs (which ended up being 3 small, end cuts) as shown below.
Ribs — Great rib bark, though a tad dry. Candy like with a great maillard reaction. Smoky, but not acrid.
Sausage — “Real beef” -matt, ground beef with Italian spices, maybe fennel. Well spiced and cooked nice.
Brisket —Mostly a lean cut, cut thin — very tough and dry but good smoke flavor, not acrid.
Friday, Oct 31 16:10, Smitty’s Market in Lockhart
Ordered 1/4 lb fatty brisket, 1 pork rib, 1 sausage.
Sausage: Loose filling, used to be original favorite, now blah -matt.
Rib: Sauced, a little too much caramel. A tad fatty, slightly over and too sweet. No real smoke flavor.
Brisket: Fatty looks dry. Point + No Flat in smoker. Mild smoke. We found out later briskets are cooked hot 300+ for 6–8 hrs.
Afterwards, met the manager and pit boss “Elvis” — Brisket go on at 6am and come off at noon and they go high heat for a fast cook. Their oak is in a lot behind the store (see below) and might not be fully seasoned. Happily took us around to all the pits.
Friday, Oct 31 18:21 Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart
We were greeted in line by a super drunk dude who had been at the races all day — he and his friends recommended the “Dino Bone” — we passed.
Order : 1/4lb Fatty Brisket, 1 hot link, 1 pork rib.
Brisket — Looked awesome, photographed well, appeared moist. Just a little dry, nice texture but slightly tough. The bark had a weird, acrid taste. Tastes like creosote, possible dirty fire.
Rib — “Candy before the bathroom” — Eating out to in, we got a bad cut and the meat was simply awful. Meat absorbed all the bad flavor, while skin/bark was good. Bad smoke? Bad meat?
Sausage- Really uneven cook, unmemorable.
Friday Oct 31 18:45 Kreuz Market in Lockhart
Arrived an hour before closing. Upon entering an observign those eating, all meat appeared super dry. Surly staff informed us they had NO brisket. We were offered shoulder clod which looked like a boot. Replaced brisket with what looked like a moist beef rib. Also added a pork rib and sausage. Generously given an end beef rib for free, though it had no meat. Game time decision of crackers instead of bread may have made the visit worthwhile.
Ribs: Loved the black pepper! Skin was good, very spicy. Meat was a disappointment.
Sausage- Super black pepper flavor, smoky but an overly chewy casing.
Beef Rib — CP’s choice cut, eating the rib in -> out you were rewarded by sweet meat with good beef flavor and an acceptable rendering of fat leaving a sweet, smoky perfume lingering on the palate. Eating out -> in the bites were tainted by an acrid outer smoke layer on the bark that might have stemmed from a dirty fire.
We both enjoyed the crackers very much, and with the black pepper, we thought were the highlight of this visit to Kreuz.
Saturday, Nov 1 08:50 Snow’s BBQ in Lexington
Snow’s is only open on Saturday’s until they sell out. We had the pleasure of meeting Tootsie Tomanetz, the pit boss and the sweetest, hardest working 79 year old out there. We had pit tours both before and after our meal and noticed the foil wrapped briskets. Briskets go on at 10pm and are wrapped at 6am. Our typical order of fatty brisket, ribs and sausage.
Brisket — Fat was butter — salt, buttery, smoky — all three and everything with subtle. Brisket was a tad dry and just a slight room for moisture improvement. They carve it with an AWFUL ELECTRIC KNIFE. No passion for the product by the people serving in contrast to other restaurants.“The brisket was beefy, reminds him of Sunday Roast Dinner” — chris
Ribs — Small cut (intentional, Tootsie says people like the smaller cut). “Candy, OMG meat candy — beautiful fat render” -Chris. No real meat on the ribs, but could eat them all day.
Sausage — Overcooked (they cook’em hot in 20 mins) and not smoky at all.
Beans -delightful, free! Great sour pickles and raw onion.
Tootsie gave Matt and I a personal tour of the cookers. She’s the sweetest.
Saturday, Nov 1 10:19 Southside Market in Elgin
Went in with low expectations given the commercial facade. Pleasantly surprised. Typical order below. We did get a butchered cut of brisket as shown below.
Sausage -This was Matt’s favorite to this point. Beefy, good black pepper but the casing could have been better.
Ribs: Great candied exterior. Not dry, and cooked well.
Brisket: Horrible cut off a beautiful, fresh brisket. The guy at the counter cringed. Tastes good, not acrid. Could make a great bite, but it took some effort. Nice fat render overall.
In general, great smoke flavors across the board. Pits were not visible.
Saturday, Nov 1 11:05 Meyer’s Smokehouse in Elgin
This place was a detour as seen in the “BBQ Trail” of central Texas brochure. We were driving by on the way out of town, so why not. Known for their sausage making past, it was …different. Typical order as shown below. First time ordering sausage by the pound, Chris guessed wrong.
“Brisket” — This was some cut of beef, maybe? Tasted like pork. No smoke, no oak. Any smoke flavor that was there wasn’t clean.
Pork Rib — Tasted like pink slime. Possibly brined or cured prior to cooking.
Sausage — “it’s alright” — No smoke, but good black pepper
Excellent pickle spear and double wide crackers a plus.
Saturday, Nov.1 12:40 Louie Muller in Taylor
Arrived just in time for the lunch crowd. Line was out the door and we waited an hour to eat. This is what a BBQ restaurant should look like. An old gynasium now stained with years of smoke and soot. It smells delicious, but the smoke hurts the throat and you find breathing hard near the end of the hour wait. “History in/on the walls”
Went with typical order of B,R,S and were treated to a generous burnt end from the counter man.
Sauce is a weird tomato vegetable soup base? Minestrone?
Brisket — Huge deckel with light smoke. Fat needed rendered like 5% more. Perhaps need cooked at lower temps, it all felt a bit dry. Notes of cheddar cheese in the fat?
Ribs — Weird brine, pink paste thing going on. Crazy dry but not overcooked. The rib flap was delicious and a nice snack. Great black pepper.
Sausage — Matt B’s favorite — Bright fat, pork fat? with light smoke. Not super juicy, but moist enough. Casing was good — medium + .
Saturday, Nov 1 17:08 Micklethwait in Austin
Heard about this place before we came, figured we’d check it out. Sold out of all but beef rib, pulled pork and brisket when we arrived. The pulled pork sold out in front of us. Ordered 1/4lb of fatty brisket and cheesy grits.
Fantastic pickles!! — Chris : Homemade bread?
Brisket: We got the end cap. Good, sticky not huge smoke flavor but clean and well cooked. Able to assemble some good bites. Not enough salt! Great black pepper.
Cheesy grits were loved by Matt B — the jalapeños were a nice touch.
Saturday Nov 1, 17:57 Freedmen’s in Austin
Another detour, but this time to a sit down restaurant by the university. There were people there with their parents, and lots of locals. Note: parking in the rear of building. Smoker is on site and in the back lot. We needed drink so 10 year Eagle Rare and 12 year Weller were both poured neat. Typical order with a nice pickle and black pepper foccacia (Chris’s fav).
Nice mustard spicy sauce and good pickle.
Sausage — Beefy Kielbasa with light smoke “ok”
Brisket — Black pepper but needs salt, well rendered and very moist! Big black pepper crust (fried black pepper?) with very light smoke.
Rib — Brined? Similar porky texture to previous ribs with suspicion of brine/curing rub. Very light smoke, good meat candy ends and nice black pepper bark.
Saturday Nov. 1 19:03 Stiles Switch — North Austin
Arrived to a line of Formula 1 fans — line to the door probably meant 25 min wait. Ordered a 3 meat plate with Brisket, ribs, jalapeno cheese sausage (they were out of original) Corn puddin’ and mac and cheese. Fatigue had set in by this point.
Brisket — Very well cooked, moist. Not much smoke.
Rib — Ok, a tad under. Matt didn’t like.
Sausage — Pass
“I might be a sucker for commoditized BBQ” — Chris
Sunday, Nov 2 09:09 la Barbecue in Austin
We arrived to be the first in line. Ate at 11am and had choice of meat. Rewarded with a very nice burnt end. Life changing? Brisket was flopped in front of us. Relaxed and rested from very fatty paper. Bunt ends had exceptional black pepper and were very soft and the perfect temperature.
Ordered 1 beef rib, brisket, 1 pork rib, 1 hot gut. Ordered additional brisket to swap for espresso at Flat Track coffee.
Brisket — Great pepper and salt and maybe something else?? Flawless cook, strong, smooth smoke. Perfectly rendered fat. Delicious and should have ordered more.
Hot Guts — Yellow fat tasted like chorizo. Nice case snap, not as juicy as expected with heavy chili pepper.
Rib — Sauced in a competition style “Blue’s Hog Sauce” Sticky quality with black pepper. Very good cook with minimal candy.
Beef Rib — Delicious, we ate it all. Get one. And more brisket. Always more brisket.
Sunday, Nov 2 11:55 J Mueller Meat Co. in Austin
Forgot to order the cheesy squash!?! John was on the side in a chair. Wished us a pleasant day when we left. Two fantastic snack bites served very hot. A fresh brisket was used for us, made a crunchy thud on the board. Very stiff. Also got a generous center cut on the rib. Wish we had a photo. But we ate it.
Brisket — Tremendous bark, and black pepper. Crunchy! Fat rendered nicely, could use 5% more. Able to assemble some very satisfying bites. Deckel was rendered well. Served very hot!! Coffee in the rub? Needs a tad more salt. Meat toffee and caramel.
Rib — Good black pepper and smoke with a perfect cook. Porky.
Sausage — Very juicy, nice snap and good black pepper.
Sunday Nov 2, 15:30 Rudy’s in Arlington
Rudy’s in a shopping complex. Went in for one last snack. They scraped the bark off the brisket which made us cringe. Typical order.
Brisket — Moist with very light smoke. Wish they had left the bark on. Needed salt and a bit more time.
Rib — Obviously brined/cured. Bad texture, no smoke and a strong candy, fake sweetness.
Sausage — No smoke, over-processed kielbasa. Pass.
The next blog post will cover our thoughts and opinions of the various locations and talk about the shift back to the traditional methods. An early take away is that you don’t need to leave Austin to eat the best barbecue in Central Texas. This trip was a blast and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.