Rating the best bbq places in Austin, Texas

This is a short article talking about every bbq place I tried during my one month stay in Austin, Texas. My usual order is 1/2 lb of brisket and the side can vary based on what the place has (mac n cheese, coleslaw, peach cobbler, pecan pie, banana pudding, etc.).

I tried:

Still on my “to-try” list: (either too far or ran out of time to try)

What I look for in BBQ

The brisket has to be tender. A lot of times in the photos you can tell how dry/tender a piece of brisket will be. That’s honestly all I can base it off of. I’m not going to rate their bbq sauces.

Price is a factor…but it is bbq, it is surprisingly expensive. The cheapest brisket is $23/lb and the most expensive brisket is $34/lb. (Which doesn’t seem like a lot but that means you could be paying almost 50% more at two different bbq places for seemingly the same meat) Some places change prices daily to accomodate demand/supply. I also ate at all of these places during a pandemic so quality can still vary. (For example: Franklin BBQ does not do lineups/indoor dining, you have to order online on their website and order 3lb minimum of meat in your order)

A lot of people like ribs but I almost never order the ribs. Firstly, rib bone have weight. So if you order the meat by weight, you technically also pay for the bone. Other reason is that I usually try these places alone and I can only eat 1/2 lb of meat normally and most places don’t do smaller denominations than 1/2 lb. (So if I want to try other cuts of meat I need to go back to a place multiple times)

BBQ Place Brisket per $/lb My rating (out of 5)
Distant Relatives 36 1
Franklin’s 34 4.5
Terry Black’s 31.98 3
Salt Lick 31 0
La Barbeque 30 3.5
Kerlin 30 4
Leroy & Lewis N/A (varies) 3.5
Valentina’s 30 5
Interstellar 30 4.5
Cooper’s Old Time Pit 29.56 2
Micklethwait 28 3
Rollin Smoke 28 3.5
The Original Black’s 23 1.5
Big Vinny’s 20 4

Franklin BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: 2lbs of brisket ($68), 1lb of pulled pork ($28), 2 sausage links ($8.80) for $104.80.

Franklin’s is the best bbq in Austin. As much as I wanted to hate the most expensive priced brisket (at $34/lb), the very commercialized merch (sold in airports and at their place), and the forced 3lb minimum order (during the pandemic for curbside pickups), it was undoubtedly the best brisket from all of the places I tried.

It was not even close. The brisket actually melted in your mouth and was the best tasting as well. It doesn’t come cheap with $34/lb of brisket, $30/lb for ribs, $28/lb for pulled pork, $28/lb for turkey, and $4.40 per sausage link. The sausage and pulled pork were just good, the brisket really was a standout.

You may notice the above order is massive. I split that with someone else and still had leftovers I packed. In total it was upwards of $100 for the entire meal but it was insanely good. It is famous for a reason. (They had no ribs on the day we ordered, I would’ve liked to try that too)

Rating: 4.5/5

Terry Black’s BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: 1/2lb brisket ($15.99), 1 piece of cornbread ($1), 5oz peach cobbler ($3.25), side of pickles and red onions (free) for $20.24.

Terry Black’s is probably the easiest barbeque to get (the line is usually a manageable length) amongst the popular places, and is a solid option overall. The variety of sides and consistently of the brisket makes it one of the better bbq places. That being said, I think it is just middle of the pack in terms of quality.

They have $1 cornbread (insanely good) and all the side fixins such as cream corn, beans, mac n cheese, etc. and peach cobbler, pecan pie, and banana pudding for desserts.

Rating: 3/5

La Barbeque

Yelp, Menu

My order: 1/2lb of brisket ($15), spicy coleslaw ($3.75) for $18.75.

This brisket was pretty good. It is tucked away in East Austin and doesn’t get too long of a line up around opening. The coleslaw was a bit disappointing. It was just too much pepper and was not a great accompaniment alongside the brisket.

Rating: 3.5/5

Salt Lick BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: Brisket plate which was 1/2lb brisket, coleslaw, potato salad for $21.

This place was very bad. You can tell from the photo it is super dry brisket and biting into it felt like eating plastic. The beans and potato salad just generic tasting and nothing special.

The weird thing was that this place was actually really busy. It is a bit of a drive to get to in South Austin and I was confused why people drive to a place that wasn’t located in Central Austin and served sub-par bbq.

This place isn’t worth going to under any circumstance. The food is bad. It’s one of the more expensive places for bbq and it is clear cut the worst bbq I had in my entire time in Austin.

Rating: 0/5

The Original Black’s BBQ

Yelp

My order: 1/2 pound brisket ($11.50), side of mexican cream corn ($2.59), side of pecan cobbler ($2.59), side of pickles and red onions (free) for $16.68.

Similarly named to “Terry Black’s BBQ”, this was place was not terrible but it wasn’t great either. The brisket had a lot left to be desired and the pecan cobbler just felt really bready. (Not sweet like a dessert) The mexican cream corn was just decent.

I would maybe recommend this place since it was the cheapest bbq option and was still fairly decent. Generally I know bbq can be pricey so I’m willing to just pay more for good meat than to save a little money and get really bad meat.

Rating: 1.5/5

Micklethwait Craft Meats

Yelp, Menu

My order: 1/2 pound brisket ($14.00), banana cream pie ($3.50) for $17.50.

I think the BBQ is pretty solid. The brisket was actually pretty tender. The banana cream pie was a different story and was really bad. It was mind bogglingly bad. It was probably store bought flavourless crust and basic cream with bananas. It was also $3.50.

Rating: 3/5

Cooper’s Old Time Pit BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: 1/2lb brisket ($14.78), 1/4lb jalapeno and cheese sausage ($3.19), jalapeno mac n cheese ($4.19) for $22.16.

This was just okay. Not terrible and it is located downtown Austin. You can definitely do better, but when I arrived at 4pm in the afternoon and for the relatively decent pricing, it wasn’t the worst option. The brisket was a bit dry but this place was not outright terrible. In a pinch, this place is okay, but there are other locations that are better. (those better locations may be sold out at 4pm though)

Rating: 2/5

Rollin Smoke BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: Regular brisket sandwich ($12) and banana pudding ($3) for $15.

I really liked Rollin Smoke BBQ. It was oddly good. It is in an unassuming parking lot beside Cisco’s bakery and bar. There was no line up and their prices are on the lower end (which usually indicates worse brisket).

I think the brisket was actually really tender in the sandwich. I’m not sure why I chose to get the sandwich over just meat by the pound when I went. I guess this throws consistency out the window.

Their banana pudding was also really good. Decent portion for $3 and had a nice banana flavour with a lot of whipped cream and nilla wafers.

Rating: 3.5/5

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: Real Deal Holyfield Taco ($13) and 1/2lb of brisket ($15) for $28.

You know how ice cream cake is cheating where it is both ice cream AND a cake? Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ cheats in a similar way serving both high quality brisket and great tex mex taco offerings.

The brisket is almost on par with Franklin’s. It is also siginificantly cheaper at $30/lb compared to Franklin’s $34/lb. The Real Deal Holyfield taco is a bit on the pricier side but it could be a meal in itself. It is a taco with a 1/4lb piece of brisket, bacon, egg, potatoes, and refried beans. It’s insanely good.

Huge plus that they give you homemade tortillas to eat with your tacos (instead of generic white bread most places give)

I love this place and my only gripe is that it is in South Austin which is really difficult to get to without a car.

Rating: 5/5

Kerlin BBQ

Yelp, Menu

My order: 1/2 pound of prime angus brisket $15, coleslaw $3 for $18. (Subsequent time I went and got pork belly burnt ends $14, and 2 brisket kolaches $10 for $24)

I’ll be up front and say the brisket is just fine. It’s tender but nothing super special. (little bland and needs some salt) The coleslaw is also just normal. Personally I didn’t love the bbq sauce either.

So it sounds like I’m going to give this place a low score. In fact I think this place is one of my favourite bbq places. I’d probably give this a 3/5 on their brisket alone, but their pork belly burnt ends are a much better option and their KOLACHES are mind-blowing.

I talked about the kolaches already in my “Top 5 things I ate in Austin”, but if you didn’t read it, these things are the real deal.

The kolaches really are the star of the show. Kerlin BBQ is ONLY open Friday, Saturday, and Sundays, and their kolaches are even more exclusive, only being available on Sundays. Waiting till Sunday seems daunting, but trust me it is worth it. I recently found out the Capital City Bakery nearby sells Kolache dough, (and Capital City Bakery sells their Kolaches for $5+ while Kerlin BBQ sells for $5 flat).

I think they should charge more for these delicious flaky, slightly soft, slightly crispy kolaches. They are only $5 at the time of writing this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go up in pricing. I see families sometimes order 7 kolaches at a time. (and I’ve even eaten 4 whole myself)

Kolaches are traditionally doughy pastries filled with sweet jams or savoury fillings but these are filled with really tender brisket. It’s incredibly good and if you compare the line-up to get these versus La Barbeque, it’s a no contest. I’m going to get these every time.

Rating: 4/5

Big Vinny’s BBQ

Yelp

My order: The Big Vinny (brisket and sausage sandwich with two sides, spicy street corn and potato salad) for $14.

I had low expectations for this place since it was located in SOCO which really isn’t known for great bbq. I was pleasantly surprised that this place was actually really good. The brisket was tender and you could taste the salt.

For starters, this place gave a LOT of food. $14 seems like a hefty price for a sandwich, but it came with two sides, a large amount of meat in the sandwich, and the regular onions and pickle fixins. The street corn and potato salad was a pretty substantial portion and both were decent.

I’d probably order this again if I was in the SOCO area. For $14 it was a lot of food for even one sitting. (I was getting meat sweats trying to finish it all) Even the base brisket is just $10 for 1/2lb (which is REALLY good pricing)

Rating: 4/5

Leroy & Lewis BBQ

Yelp

My order: 2 meats (brisket and beef cheek) and 2 sides (pork hash over rice and cabbage with sausages) for $23. (brisket is only served on Sat/Sun)

This foodtruck is located in Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden next to the Crux climbing gym.

I truly want to like this place. There is a lot to like, their brisket is solid, the beef cheek is solid, and their sides are pretty great. Where this place falls short are that it has a fairly small portion for the price. On my plate I got about 1/2lb of meat, and the side portions were pretty small. Maybe I was under the illusion of a big portion since I paid $21 (+$2 for brisket as one of the meats) and you get two sides, which on the higher end for bbq places. I got the fixins but those are normally free.

The sides are great. They are unique takes on classic bbq faire. If anything they might be my favourite sides from any bbq place because they are so innovative and delicious. I wanted to try the frito pie or even the L&L burger next time. I just wish I got more of everything and that’s where it lost points.

Rating: 3.5/5

Interstellar BBQ

Yelp

My order: 1/2lb of brisket for $15, 1/2lb of burnt ends for $12, 1 pork rib for $4.38 (1 pork rib was about 1/4lb) for a total of $31.38.

The brisket was pretty good. The fatty pieces were pretty juicy and they gave a good amount for 1/2lb of brisket. The bark was pretty flavourful too.

The pork belly burnt ends here are the standout. It is very reminiscent of chau siu you can get in chinese butcher shops or similar in the soft texture in ramen. It was incredibly soft, and had a slightly sweet, slightly salty flavour. I didn’t eat the pork rib so I don’t know about it.

We did wait 1 hour at this location, so it was a bit of a wait (and we showed up at 10:40). It is also a little far to get to (closer to Cedar Park) so it is a bit difficult to get to from central Austin, but I think it is worth it. Next time I go I want to try some of the sides or dessert options.

Rating: 4.5/5

Distant Relatives

Yelp

My order: 1/2lb of brisket for $18, burnt end’s and black eyed peas for $6, for a total of $24.

I’m going to be upfront I didn’t like this place at all. The brisket is much drier than other places. (You can tell from the photos). It was also the most expensive place (even more than Franklin’s) The mustard butter sauce was just a little too tangy for me, and it didn’t have a bbq sauce as an alternative.

They do give a lot of food. (I’m pretty sure they gave me closer to 0.75lb than 0.5lb) That is also countered by the fact that it is the MOST EXPENSIVE BBQ place I’ve been to, so it cancels out.

The burnt ends and black eyed peas was just a bland side. The pickled carrots and onions didn’t add much ,and I can’t eat peanuts so I don’t know how it tasted.

It is kind of a shame since they are trying something new with the more African American style of BBQ, I just didn’t like it that much. They are located in Meanwhile Brewing, which is a great area where lots of people are having a nice meal in an outdoor setting, but (most?) of the food trucks there seemed a bit more pricey than usual due to the ambience.

Rating: 1/5

Conclusion

These are the places I got to try in my brief stay in Austin. Hopefully in the future I get to try a few more places!

  • Best BBQ: Interstellar BBQ or Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
  • Best sleeper pick: Kerlin BBQ
  • Best sides: Leroy & Lewis BBQ
  • Most cost efficient choice: Black’s BBQ
  • Worst BBQ: Salt Lick BBQ

Bonus

Mini-reviews for BBQ places in Texas (but not Austin)

Pinkerton BBQ

Website

Location: San Antonio

Rating: 4/5

Comments: Located near downtown San Antonio. The brisket was solid and their smoked bread pudding wasn’t smoky but it did taste good.