Many claim to know the best BBQ in Austin, and there are plenty of guides to tell you where the most popular joint is. The most popular might be due to how cheap it is though, or how much fat is on it. But what about how the fat is rendered and the consistency of the meat? This is what you look for when discovering for yourself the best BBQ in Austin.
What Effects BBQ:
Franklin’s is known for their spice blend, and for dipping their juicy meat into butter before serving it. All over town, you’ll be able to tell the rub based on how peppery the bark is, and how salty. That bite against the bark will also tell you how long it has been smoked and if it has been oversmoked.
The Smoke Circle
BBQ is made by the smoke circulating around the meat. If the flow of air is off and not trapped correctly then you will get uneven fat and texture. Every bite of fat should be consistent and completely melt in your mouth. If you have to chew it too hard on one bit and then another bit melts way too fast then something could be off on the smoking pit. The meat could also be placed incorrectly in the smoker. Inconsistent temperatures when smoking can also lead to strange textures on the final cut.
If the meat is oversmoked it will taste very smokey and can be due to green wood. This flavor can also make your mouth feel numb and even make you sick. That’s the extreme though. A more common sign is tough meat.
As Aaron Franklin says in his article with Food and Wine Crimes Against BBQ, “To prevent this, it’s necessary to use very dry wood. Franklin prefers to use Post Oak that’s been cured for 9-12 months. This particular type of wood creates very little soot when it burns and imparts a mild smoky flavor to the meat”.
Where to Test BBQ:
La Barbecue is more realistic to recommend because the line is so much shorter, and these ladies, and now men, know their meat. The pitmaster used to work at Franklin’s and the co-owner, LeAnn Mueller is part of the Mueller family BBQ train. Her brother used to be on board then they got into a spat and she changed the to La Barbecue and hired John Lewis who is still the pitmaster.
What to Notice:
The Quality: When John took over he switched to USDA Prime brisket which has no hormones and is some legit stuff.
The Sausage: One of the few places that makes their own sausage.
Everything List Above: Their consistency in texture, fat, and flavor has made me an addict. You can start here and use it as the standard. Their sauce is the perfect combo of sweet and spice without taking over the meat flavor.
Kept under wraps as a secret until they launched, these pits were designed by John Lewis himself.
Freedmen’s is closed for now but will reopen soon. Once they open then this is a great place to try a phenomenal bark with just enough crunch meeting just enough fat. Here there is no line, and the sides are far more epic than any other BBQ joint in town. I especially love their button mushrooms.
What to Notice:
Their Bark: Right amount of pepper, and a bit more of a peppery burst then La Barbecue which gives more of a crunch.
I have a fond place in my heard for Louie’s as he is also a friend of mine. Something about his warm heart and love of people gets into the meat. He is an avid learner and his meat improves every time I’ve gone as he experiments with new techniques. His sides probably actually trump Freedmen’s with his elote and potato salad. He uses large chunks of potato and no mustard. Something about it changes your mouth life.
What to Notice:
The juiciness of the meat. He has a really consistent texture and the fat is rendered beautifully here so it melts without gushing.
BBQ Taco: Valentina’s
I have never had their meat by itself. I just want the taco because it’s so beautiful and the salsa gushes at the same rate as the meat fat and the balance of flavor with even the hint of cilantro is unforgettable. I recommend this place for anyone just visiting so they experience BBQ and tacos all in once place.