Everyone has an opinion about barbecue. Whether or not you eat meat, cook meat, or sell meat, it inspires people to strike up conversation (arguments, sometimes) and step up their cooking game. Humans have been harnessing fire and smoke to prepare food for nearly a million years, and barbecue is not an American concept by any stretch of the imagination. But around here, the word has become intrinsically linked to a specific style of slow smoking meats, usually to be shared with a group, and the recipes and techniques are cherished like family heirlooms. Barbecue is both a noun and a verb in Texas, but for many, it's also a way of life.
Brisket, in particular, has become a measuring stick for pitmaster knowledge and even the most novice of barbecue eaters grade their meat on a series of factors: How tender is it? How thick is the bark? What spice rub was used? What kind of wood is in the pit and how long was the meat cooked? What is the marbling ratio and from where was the meat sourced?
Here in cattle-laden Texas, there is no end in sight to the proliferation of restaurants serving various kinds of slow-smoked meat. Austin is smack dab in the center of barbecue country and without a doubt we have access to some of the world's best brisket. There's the legendary Lockhart barbecue contingent; there's smoked meat excellence in Luling and Elgin and Driftwood and Georgetown and Spicewood and Pflugerville; there's beloved roadside spots serving up slow-cooked beef en route to Houston and San Antonio. We respect them all, but we want to determine the best our own city has to offer. Which Austin barbecue restaurants do Austinites favor most?
This issue marks the debut of our first ever Battle of the Briskets. The list of 30 contenders took months to finalize, and saw many edits under the watchful eyes of a group of Chronicle people in the know about barbecue. There are two specific qualifying factors: They all have an Austin proper location and they all serve brisket. As for the divisions, we rearranged everything approximately one billion times, but settled on listing by the origin date of the Austin location – from oldest to youngest – and then breaking that list into five divisions of six restaurants each. We named each division for an original member of New Kids on the Block, also in order of oldest to youngest, because why not?
We hope you'll take the time to visit as many of these great restaurants and trailers as possible, and then vote for the best brisket from each division. We'll tally the votes, narrow this big list down to five, and on June 15 we'll announce the five division champs. You'll vote again to crown the overall champion, and on June 22 we'll know which hometown hot spot has the Best Brisket in Austin. – Jessi Cape less
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