2944 East 12th, 472-2022; Mon-Sat, 11am-7:30pm
In existence for only three years, Anderson's has already established itself as a purveyor of among the best brisket in town. Juicy, fork-tender, and infused with smoke, the meat is seasoned with a dry rub that (thankfully) doesn't call attention to itself, and is cooked by an unusual method. Rather than being smoked by a fire at the other end of the pit, which is common in central Texas, or even fast-roasted over hot embers as is typically found just west of here in Llano, the brisket slowly cooks for upwards of 24 hours directly above a combination of oak and mesquite woods in a five-foot tall black steel smoker that Anderson designed himself. Unusual for these parts, but the proof is in the brisket. Case closed. -- J.S.
2330 S. Lamar, 442-8283; 11am-10pm daily
The ribs here are award-winning and that's no surprise. Prepared with Art's special dry rub, smoked long and slow, they were the best to be found on my list. The beef ribs are large and exceptionally meaty, crisp and crunchy on the ends, moist at the bone. Pork rib servings are generous and very tasty. The country-style ribs are a little fattier, but, oh, what flavor! They serve spare ribs on Fridays and dish up the first-prize gumbo on Thursdays. Good sides and puckering pickles, a winning situation all the way around. -- V.W.
900 East 11th, 477-2516
Just east of downtown on 11th Street, Ben's Longbranch Barbecue is a free-standing monument to black cowboy culture and 1960s cinderblock technology. The building is easy to spot -- it could pass for a bombproof bunker used during the Cuban Missile Crisis -- and just as easy to smell from afar. Ben's single dining room (decorated with cowboy murals) operates cafeteria style, with all meats cut to order. They cook a nice brisket, but their daily special, a smoked pork roast, really stands out. Rather than use a more common loin roast, the folks at Ben's prepare a whole Boston Butt roast, a flavorful cut of pork that doesn't pretend to be "the other white meat." Texture-wise, the pork was spoon-cutting tender and fell apart at the slightest touch. Topped with the sweet house sauce and Louisiana hot sauce for kick, this roast could easily qualify for the Pork Lover's Hall of Fame. -- P.J.
6500 W. Bee Caves Road, 327-1742; Sun-Thu, 5-9pm; Fri-Sat 5-10pm
This original location of a very successful regional barbecue chain built its reputation on gluttonous servings of meaty, gargantuan ribs; lean, perfectly trimmed brisket; great side dishes, homemade bread and ice cream. The above outlet offers a full range of grilled items (beef or chicken kabobs, halibut, salmon) as well as the signature barbecue. The perfect place to take parents, tourists and out-of-towners who want a consistent meal, served efficiently with a great view of the sunset over the Hill Country. The County Line on the Lake (5204 FM 2222) serves lunch and dinner and is favored by carnivores who feast on the smoked prime rib. A limited number of standing prime rib roasts are slow-smoked every day and sliced to order. The rare and medium-rare slices sell out quickly, so go early. -- V.W.
5706 E. Manor Rd., 927-2506; Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-midnight
A relative newcomer to the Austin 'cue club, Danny Wright opened the doors to his place less than a year ago. Danny's menu runs heavy on the pig, the most noble of grilled animals. Instead of sterilized baby-back hors d'oeuvres, Danny serves real, pig-sized ribs that hit both ends of the texture spectrum. One end has the meaty, moist layers of smoked pork with just enough residual fat to grease hungry chops. This meaty side is tender enough to slide right off the bone and gradually tapers down to the smaller end with a smoky crust. The bovine barbecue group is well represented by a lean brisket that balances a meaty, moist bottom layer with a slightly fattier top. The house sauce, though not very peppery, packs a lot of flavor without being too sweet. -- P.J.
1400 Barton Springs Rd., 479-0485;
Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri & Sat til 11pm
Long before the stretch of Barton Springs Road between Lamar and Zilker Park became known as Restaurant Row, there was one BBQ joint in the frame building at the intersection, and another where Chuy's now resides. Entrepreneurial Tom Davis built up a thriving restaurant business in an established BBQ location at the busy corner, opened another on Hwy. 183, and a third in Oak Hill. His newest venture will be Green Mesquite at Scholz Garden, opening in the fall. The menu includes items other than BBQ and live music at all three locations on Friday and Saturday nights. -- V.W.
3638 Bee Caves Road, 328-1800; 9am-9pm daily
Not the easiest joint to find because of the no-sign ordinance in Westlake, but the food is worth the drive. Good cuts of meat slow-smoked over pecan and mesquite produce what proud owner Cliff Haigler likes to call "gourmet BBQ": thin slices of lean, tender brisket; moist, juicy pork loin; meaty baby back ribs; mildly spicy sausage, all served with their regular or extra-spicy sauce. Fresh, well-prepared sides like huge, hand-breaded onion rings plus no-diet-nonsense, gigantic slabs of homemade pecan and buttermilk pie with marvelous, flaky crust. -- V.W.
5325 Airport Blvd., 452-3136; 11am-9pm daily
Most long-time Austin residents have at least one story about the Holiday House, every grandmother's favorite local chain. The A-frame location on Airport has a reputation for "flame kissed" burgers in a surreal nautical/quasi-Polynesian atmosphere, complete with a tropical aquarium and shark jaws on the wall. This February they bought a shiny new smoker, put up some cattle skulls, and added barbecue to the menu -- which is, of course, not as easy as it sounds. The fare is pretty much what you'd expect from a burger joint, with all the mistakes typical of a newly-christened pit (ribs not quite smoked through, brisket not trimmed out). The best bet here is the sausage -- from Elgin, of course. -- P.J.
900 W. 12th, 472-9621; Mon-Fri, 11am-2:30pm
West Austin native Joey Sullivan passed this landmark joint everyday on his way to class at the old Austin High School, and when he grew up, he bought it. These days the clientele is mostly ACC students and denizens of the nearby legal ghetto drawn to lunch on the outdoor picnic tables by the enticing aroma of slow-smoking meats. Regulars swear by the smoked pork butt sandwiches and plates of brisket that sustain them through court cases and exams. -- V.W.
100 Red River, 478-4855; Mon-Fri, 11am-9pm
From its perch beside drought-strangled Waller Creek, across from the Convention Center, the Iron Works caters to a varied clientele of name-tagged conference attendees, construction workers, and thoroughly starched office workers. The brisket tends to be inconsistent -- ranging from half-fat to lean and juicy -- probably due to long lines and high-traffic lunch rushes. More dependable house specialties include tender smoked pork loin and Flintstone-sized beef ribs, which are perfect for giving your front teeth a workout. The dining areas (open-air rooms and creekside porches) enjoy the highest ceiling-fan-to-table ratio in the state. Between the ribs and the breeze, you'll never miss the AC. -- P.J.
1814 Harvey (at East MLK), 473-2225; Mon-Thu, 11am-8:30pm; Fri-Sat, 10:30am-10pm
"Be careful, now... take that plate with both hands..." Past the cemetery on MLK but not as far as the airport, Lewis's Barbecue is one of the Eastside's big food finds. The former drive-in, painted a nuclear purple-pink, serves groaning plates of well-smoked brisket and Elgin's Southside sausage floating in pools of tangy sauce. The dining area -- three outside tables chained to the roof support -- fills up quickly at noon, so beat the rush or be prepared to eat standing. For a full-contact feeding frenzy, get the pork ribs -- hefty portions thick with meat and just fatty enough to be interesting -- and a BIG stack of napkins. Even the most cautious (or cocky) eaters should avoid wearing white. -- P.J.
1004 W. 24th, 478-7427; 11am-10pm daily
Proprietor "Smoke" Logan also operates a Research location called Texas Rib Kings with the same menu as this original UT neighborhood spot. They serve both beef and pork ribs, brisket, chopped beef, sausage and chicken breasts. The regular side dishes are augmented by baked potatoes which can be dressed up with chopped beef, sliced beef or breast of chicken. Meats are available by the plate or the pound, and catering is available. -- V.W.
1603 W. Fifth, 320-1541; Sun-Thu, 11am-9pm;
Fri & Sat 11am-10pm
This small, well-established local chain took over a two-time loser location on West Fifth street and turned it into a success with some cosmetic changes and consistent food. Friends in West Austin swear by the moist and delicious pork loin and slices of smoked turkey breast. At $1.75, the Homemade Hot Sausage Wraps are both cheap and addictive. Meats are available in plates, combos, sandwiches and by the pound. Whole briskets, pork loins, turkeys and chickens can be ordered for special family events. So-so cobbler but very good banana pudding. -- V.W.
6701 Burnet Rd, 453-0604; "From Can `till Can't" according to the sign (7am-6pm, daily)
This hard-working father-and-son team have built a loyal following at the outlet in the Travis County Farmer's Market with savory breakfast tacos, definitive chopped beef sandwiches, extra-spicy sausage wraps, melt-in-your-mouth pork butt, and whole, stand-up chickens. Side dishes include a Creole mustard potato salad made with new potatoes, a creamy cole slaw without cloying sweetness, and a homemade banana pudding that sells out every day. Go early for the stand-up chicken. -- V.W.
1807 Rosewood Ave., 472-0076; Mon-Sat, 9:30am-6pm, closed Sunday
Around for 40 years, Rosewood is an Austin institution. Yet you almost never hear it come up in conversations about good local barbecue. And that, to me, is a mystery. For its red-ringed brisket is perfect in texture and powerful with flavor, and its succulent, delicious mutton is unmatched -- not at all "old" or "thick" tasting. The place itself is homey, with fake flowers on the tables and a little black-and-white TV tuned to soap operas. And the staff welcomes you warmly and comfortably, like some motion picture family. If you haven't been to Rosewood, go. If you have but it's been a while, it's time to make your reacquaintance. -- J.S.
601 Montopolis, 385-0136; Mon-Sat, 11am-7pm
We got to Roy's a little bit early in the day. "Right now all we got is beef..." So we were a little disappointed, until we tasted the brisket. This little brown building on the southeast side serves up a plate of PERFECT brisket -- as close to a smoked Holy Grail as you're likely to find. The beef was not only ungodly tender and trimmed with surgical precision, but surrounded by a crunchy crust of rubbed spices and residual smoke. The slices evaporated as they hit your tongue; the flavor was perfect. Pit masters are required by state law to brag about their brisket, but I've never come across a plate of beef more deserving of praise. Roy doesn't have to gloat; the meat speaks for itself. -- P.J.
512 West 29th, 477-1651; Sun-Thu,11am-midnight, Fri-Sat 'til 3am
How can you not like Ruby's? The non-steroid beef, the unconventional sides (sautéed new potatoes with mozzarella and bell peppers?), the cow skull motif, and the photos of blues musicians underneath the plexiglass table tops? What might otherwise seem themey, in the hands of down-to-earth owners Luke Zimmerman and Pat Mares, comes off as authentically eclectic, the perfect combination of age-old and post-modern. Oh, the `cue? Truthfully, I used to find it wanting, especially the brisket. The last three times I've been in, however, the brisket has been excellent. All the more reason to check it out again. -- J.S.
2000 East 12th, 478-0378;
10am-3am Mon-Sat; 10am-10pm Sun
In recent years, Sam's has been the target of something of a backlash. A perennial Austin favorite, I've detected on people's faces and heard in their tones the slightly dismissive air of those who think it's over-hyped. I don't know if this attitude results from jadedness (it's not cool to like what everybody else likes) or from a genuine uncertainty about the food (Sam's is inconsistent). Either way, it's wrong -- plain and simple. Anyone who has ever tasted Sam's ribs and brisket mixed plate when it is at the top of its form could not possibly come away with anything but the glow of a religious experience. It's not always that good. But when it is, it's church. -- J.S.
7008 Hwy620N (at 2222), 331-4888; 10am-8pm daily
If you venture out to Lake Travis on a regular basis, you've seen Smoky J's. More a no-frills snack bar than a barbecue joint, Smokey J's sells a limited range of sandwiches and a few taco types, so don't expect a deep range of side dishes. The outdoor seating area seems designed for low maintenance and high turnover, with picnic tables covered by a simple metal roof. Both the barbecue and the atmosphere are largely missable, but the shack sits on a classic "impulse buy" location -- perfectly situated to fill drive-by barbecue cravings. Objectively, though, the meat falls short of most joints in town, so if you can survive the drive home, you'd do well to wait. -- P.J.
801 Red River, 480-0203; Mon-Wed, 11am-11pm; Thu-Sun, 11am-2am
Though Stubb himself is now smoking meat in heaven, Austin once again has a Stubb's restaurant. Lubbock native and long-time Stubb's friend John Scott endeavors to recreate the legendary tradition at a new eatery in the old One Knite location. He's turned a longtime neighborhood eyesore into a brightly-lit, bustling restaurant and live music venue. The menu features barbecue and comfort food items prepared in a clean, open kitchen. Scott also bottles Stubb's legendary sauce and the meats are napped with generous portions of the dark, spicy, smoky elixir. The brisket was fairly fatty but the meaty beef ribs, spicy sausage, chicken breasts and sliced turkey were first-rate. All due respect to the dearly departed, but I never had grub this good in the old location. -- V.W.