Barbecue is a big deal in Texas. One of the most anticipated events in the Lone Star State is when Texas Monthly magazine publishes its twice a decade “The Best 50 BBQ Joints in the World” issue.
They are all in Texas. Of course.
Texas barbecue is culture, religion, lifestyle and history, all found in a hunk of meat that’s been slowly smoking over post oak embers for generations.
Central Texas, anchored by the capital city of Austin, is the home to the largest selection of the state’s best and most famous barbecue pits. This is where German and Czech immigrants settled with their Old World meat skills and adapted them to the rugged beef-centric landscape of Texas.
Within an hour’s drive of Austin, in small dusty towns like Lockhart, Lulling, Taylor and Driftwood, you’ll find ancient legendary pits manned by 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation barbecue masters.
Go there. Your life will be forever changed.
Did he just say hipster BBQ?
Within the capital city itself, a new form of barbecue has emerged, what I somewhat derisively refer to as “hipster urban barbeque”.
I mean this is the city that has exploded with an influx of millennials sporting “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers on the backs of their Priuses.
These new urban barbecue places lack the rugged, rustic charms of the century-old pits out in the countryside, but the meat is always top notch.
Get in Line
The other (but much more annoying) distinguishing factor of hipster barbecue is the lines.
Long, long lines.
At some Austin barbecue joints like Franklin’s and Micklethwait, millennials start lining up for lunch at 7am. They just sit there on the sidewalk curb, staring down at their smartphones for four, five hours just to get a slab or two of slow-smoked brisket.
Um…that sounds like fun and all…
…but I have a job.
Sorry. I can’t invest five hours of my life over lunch. Even if I DIDN’T have a job, I’m pretty sure I could find a better use of five hours of my life.
So I’m just not doing it. I don’t care how life-altering the brisket is.
Thankfully, on a recent trip to Austin, I did manage to hit several of the Texas Monthly “Best 50 BBQ Joints in the World” without waiting in line for hours with unemployed millennials.
Here’s how I did it.
206 W 2nd St
Louie Mueller is the mecca of Texas barbecue, visited by every true connoisseur of smoked meat. Founded by its namesake in 1949, the third generation of Muellers now man the pit.
Louie Mueller’s is located in an old building on the main street of this dusty Texas town, just a few miles beyond the reach of the ever sprawling Austin exurban house farms.
This big barn of a building dates back to 1907. It’s been a grocery store, typewriter repair shop, a basketball gym — and home to Louie Mueller Barbecue for the past 70 years.
As soon as the creaking screen door slams behind you, you know you’re about to experience quintessential old-school Texas barbecue.
The unmistakable aroma of oak embers and slow roasting cow and pig fills the room.
The walls are stained brown with seven decades-worth of smoldering aerosol beef fat.
Fortunately, Austin hipsters don’t usually venture this far out. I guess the Lyft ride is too expensive.
That means there was no line at 11am on the Saturday we visited.
The leisurely ordering process allowed us to chat with the patient and friendly meat cutter, but don’t expect a rural discount here at Louie Mueller. The brisket is expensive at $26 per pound, but it’s worth every penny!
You are not paying for a cheap cut of sinewy beef, which is what brisket is before it gets the Texas barbecue treatment.
You’re paying for the value of salt, pepper, hours and hours of slow smoking meat over Texas post oak and the skill of a pit master who knows exactly how to do it right every time.
The result is nothing short of barbecue perfection, meat so tender it can barely hold itself together under its own weight.
I’ll take a Side of Sausage and Shiner Bock
The sausage links here are dense and smoky with a bit of kick. In addition to the regular smoked beef link, I had the special sausage of the day flecked with spicy hatch chilies.
BBQ sauce in Texas is superfluous, but I did dip a few bites of sausage into the beefy, oniony concoction they place on every tray.
But no sides or bread for me. Just a Shiner Bock to wash it all down.
2027 E Cesar Chavez St
La Barbecue is a relative newcomer to the urban Austin BBQ scene, attracting lines of hipsters and BBQ pilgrims alike since 2012.
But the real pros know to reserve their meat five days in advance to avoid waiting in line with the millennials.
When we got there at noon on a Sunday, the line was out the door and into the parking lot. But we blew past the line and straight to the “pre-order” window around back to pick up the order I placed online a few days earlier.
In the great debate between planning or being spontaneous, planning is definitely rewarded at La Barbecue.
Within minutes we were presented with a tray full of sausage, brisket, and award-winning BBQ sides.
Pepper, Pepper Everywhere
The brisket was not quite as fall apart tender as Louie Mueller’s but did have a smokier peppery flavor.
In fact, pepper was the dominant theme of everything on our tray. Peppery smoked sausage. Peppery and spicy chipotle sausage. Even peppery macaroni and cheese.
The chipotle slaw was so peppery and spicy that neither I, nor my wife, could eat it.
I chugged down two hoppy local craft beers just to douse the flames.
Normally, great Texas barbecue needs no sauce. But I found myself squirting some of La Barbecue’s brown sugar tomato sauce onto my tray just to add some sweet to the cacophony of pepper.
1003 Barton Springs Rd
Terry Black’s checks all the boxes to qualify as hipster urban barbecue. It’s less than five years old and just across the river from downtown.
But somehow it has avoided — or failed to attract (depending upon your point of view) — the hours-long lines of jobless millennials.
Only a few folks were lined up at 10:55am on the Monday morning we checked it out. At the stroke of 11, a friendly young guy flung open the front door and cheerfully greeted us hungry early birds like we were teenagers charging the gates on opening day at the local amusement park.
Terry Black’s may be new, but it enjoys the advantage of a long storied family history. Twin brothers Michael and Mark Black are descended from the founders of the famous rough and tumble authentic landmark in Lockhart, the most famous-of-all dusty Central Texas barbecue towns.
Claiming regal barbecue lineage is a surefire way to brand your nouveau BBQ pit with an instant stamp of authenticity.
Get Hungry for a Jurassic-Sized Rib
I opted for the beef rib this time along with a couple slabs of fatty brisket.
A lunch of beef rib is the ultimate carnivore splurge.
First of all, one rib will set you back $50.
Yes. You read that right. One rib = $50.
Second, it connects you to your inner caveman hunter-gatherer when you pick up a bone the size of a tennis racket draped with over a pound of black smoky cow flesh.
Terry Black’s beef rib was a dinosaur bone of charred black crust and moist beef tinged with an appealing smoke ring. The meat just sloughed right off the giant bone.
The brisket here was saltier and less peppery than Louie Mueller’s or La Barbecue and maybe even more tender, if that is possible.
Beefy, fatty and smoky, it was the best brisket of the three.
The sides were top notch too. Sweet and savory cream corn made a nice foil to the overdose of smoked meat. The mac & cheese was gooey with massive quantities of melted high-dollar cheese.
Don’t Forget Dessert
As if $70 worth of meat and sides weren’t enough for lunch, my wife insisted on the homemade banana pudding. It was hard to resist, looking like a piece of art perfectly framed at the very first display in the cafeteria-style line.
I think it’s a Southern law that desserts are always displayed first in all cafeteria lines.
Terry Black knows how to follow the rules without all the drama. The place is organized, clean, efficient and friendly.
In other words, Terry Black’s is the embodiment what millennials — and my wife — like about hipster urban barbecue. And the opposite of those dusty old-school places out in the countryside.
Boasting a royal Texas BBQ pedigree and near-perfect smoked meat, Terry Black’s just might be the best of both worlds.