Battle of the Briskets

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... more

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

GROUP 1: “Jonathan”

House Park Bar-B-Que

900 W. 12th,
House Park claims to be Austin's oldest barbecue joint, smoking meat since 1943. There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than posting up at an outdoor picnic table and delicately shredding their super tender brisket with a spoon.

Sam's BBQ

2000 E. 12th,
It's easy to see that this 12th and Poquito spot is well-loved from the hundreds of photos pasted all over those cheerful yellow walls. Happy customers smile over plates piled high with barbecued mutton and brisket, complete with sauce spots and slivers of meat stuck in their teeth (which, according to their slogan, are really unnecessary).

Iron Works BBQ

100 Red River,
If you want to eat great barbecue in a historic Downtown building, this is the place you want to be. This family-owned restaurant opened in 1978 to serve "real Texas barbecue" and hasn't stopped since.

WINNER: PoK-e-Jo's Smokehouse

4109 S. Capital of Texas Hwy., Ste. 100-B,
Stick around town long enough and you'll inevitably be invited to a wedding/business meeting/retirement party featuring a pile of PoK-e-Jo's brisket. This local chain is a reliable source of lunchtime combo plates, after-work pork ribs and brews, and celebration-worthy catering.

Donn's Bar-B-Q

2617 I-35,
In the ultimate Austin two-step, Donn's serves both killer barbecue and breakfast tacos. You really haven't lived until you've ended your night with a 5:30am brisket breakfast taco, served by a counterman who's starting his day as your party is just coming to an end.


801 Red River,
You probably have a bottle of Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce in your refrigerator, and you've definitely been to their gospel brunch, right? All this commercialization springs from a well of real barbecue talent, their brisket cooked slow and low. And yes, there's a music venue, too.
GROUP 2: “Danny”

Green Mesquite BBQ

1400 Barton Springs Rd.,
This local chain is the perfect place to take your family when you're not in the mood for hype, lines, or trendy rigmarole. This is some classic Austin barbecue. Don't forget to order a couple of enormous bowls of their delicious peach cobbler for dessert.


401 W. Second,
This Downtown spot is the place to take your recently relocated friends who could use a taste of Texas smoked meat realness. Nestle up on a sleek black banquette, nibble on some crispy wild boar legs, sip on a fancy cocktail, and get down with your bougie self.

Uncle Billy’s Brewery & Smokehouse

1530 Barton Springs Rd.,
Nestled near the Zilker Park entrance that leads you to Barton Springs, Uncle Billy's has one of the nicest patios in town for kicking back to relax in post-swim languor. Listen to live music with a slice of brisket in one hand and a glass of pale ale in the other.


7101 W. Hwy 71,
You can try SLAB's brisket on a sandwich, in a burrito, as a nacho topping, or inside country hash. If you're the health-conscious type, there's also that meat-laden salad. Minimalist, it's not, but it tastes really darn good. Plus, they've got growlers.

WINNER: Franklin Barbecue

Can you believe Franklin made a best of brisket list? Kidding aside, Franklin continues to earn their spot in the limelight and entice us into that legendary line with carefully prepared old-school pit-smoked brisket that's worth the (considerable) wait.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew

6610 N. Lamar,
This Brentwood neighborhood favorite is a reliable source for post oak, market-style meats and ice cold craft beers, serving a tender, fatty brisket whose unctuous flavor is pepped up by the addictive kick of their spicy Cajun slaw.
GROUP 3: “Donnie”

Rollin Smoke BBQ

The brisket at this food truck shines brightest when ensconced in one of their enormous sandwiches – sauce-dripping creations that range from simple (brisket, onion, and pickles) to Baroque (notably the Playboy, which packs a full half-pound of brisket, sausage, and pulled pork).

Brown’s Bar-B-Que

Half of this mobile operation is occupied by an enormous wood burning smoker bigger than most people's cars, filling the air around Corner Bar with the irresistibly sweet smells of burning wood and rendering fat.

Scotty’s BBQ

2730 E Cesar Chavez,
This cheerful little red bus is here to school you on the fundamentals of Texas barbecue, with heavily charred brisket, "dino ribs" that must've been taken from an actual dinosaur, and some of the best creamed corn in town.

WINNER: la Barbecue

2027 E. Cesar Chavez,
LeAnn Mueller (yes, of that Mueller barbecue dynasty) and her wife, Ali, pride themselves on their locally sourced brisket smoked for 14-16 hours. The new(ish) la Barbecue digs inside the Quickie Pickie give you the chance to pair a brisket sandwich with chips, beer, and the most precious Texas summertime side, air conditioning.


2402 San Gabriel,
The century-old building housing this campus area restaurant belies their decidedly modern approach to Texas barbecue. They combine a time honored approach to slow-smoked meat with an of-the-moment focus on sides that makes it one place on this list you might bring a vegetarian. Those smoked beets, y'all.

Micklethwait Craft Meats

1309 Rosewood,
Nobody knows for sure what Michelle Obama thinks of Micklethwait's sweet tender brisket, but she did order it for lunch after her SXSW panel, and really, we can't think of a better endorsement than that.
GROUP 4: “Jordan”

Kerlin BBQ

1700 E. Cesar Chavez,
This no-nonsense Eastside hot spot is home to kickass barbecue and seriously delicious outside-the-box sides (blue cheese coleslaw and jalapeño dill potato salad, anybody?). Pair your lunch with delicious kolaches stuffed, of course, with more of that fabulous brisket.

WINNER: Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

11500 Manchaca Rd.,
If Harry Nilsson were still around, he'd write a song about Valentina's and how they put the brisket in the taco and made you feel better. Take their homemade tortilla-wrapped, lime-brightened brisket and call us in the morning. Doctor's orders.

Keith’s BBQ

12365 B Riata Trace Pkwy,
Served from a roaming school bus, this neighborhood favorite specializes in bringing the barbecue to you, serving up their peppery, chopped brisket sandwich at weddings, festivals, and community gatherings, bringing something special even to the most ordinary weekday lunch.

Black's Barbecue

3110 Guadalupe,
You can go to the Austin location if you're not a road trip person, but the original Lockhart location of Black's has had a line out the door since 1932, and that's a hard record to beat.

Terry Black's Barbecue

1003 Barton Springs Rd.,
Hailing from the famous barbecue town of Lockhart, twins Michael and Mark offer Austin a taste of their heritage with lean, black-barked brisket. You can't go wrong with that baked potato salad and bright green beans either.

Louie's BBQ

4329 S. Congress,
We really don't think you need any more information besides the fact that Louie's serves a loaded baked potato the size of your head, stuffed with brisket, and that tender meat is seasoned with Mexican spices and slow smoked in classic Hill Country style.
GROUP 5: “Joey”

WINNER: Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

217 Congress Ave.,
Located in a renovated historic building, the Austin output of another far out favorite (this one's in Llano), Cooper's is the spot to check out if you like your brisket served classic with an Austin twist. (Barbecued goat, anyone?)

J. Leonardi’s Barbeque

1124 East 11th,
Former UT national champion and NFL defensive back Cedric Griffin teamed up with native Austinite and pitmaster Jerome Faulkner to open this food truck. It's a safe bet that you'll love these fierce competitors' peppery, tender brisket and banana pudding cheesecake.

Texas Ranch BBQ

3632 S. Congress,
Started by the creators of Azul Tequila and Papalote Taco House, this trailer offers fabulous sides (those collard greens are the stuff of dreams), and their brisket is more than just a worthy accompaniment. It's fatty, oaky, and falling apart with the gentlest jab of a fork.

Rogers Boyz BBQ

804 E. Braker Lane,
Folks, we've got four simple words for you: sausage & brisket nachos. This meat-sweat-inducing delight combines smoked brisket, house-made sausage, queso, and a few lashings of barbecue sauce for good measure. It's the breakfast of brisket maximalist champions.

Oakwood BBQ

307 E. Braker Lane,
This beer garden-cum-barbecue joint has a full wall of local beers on tap, just in case you don't find your half-pound pile of extra fatty moist brisket, or their enormous meat combo sandwiches, soporific enough.

LeRoy & Lewis

121 Pickle Rd.,
Dedicated to expanding the boundaries of traditional barbecue with creative, locally sourced sides and meat choices like beef cheeks, porchetta, and fried rice boudin sausages, the good people of LeRoy and Lewis also cook up a mean brisket.

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle