Austin is barbecue central. And by ‘barbecue’, we’re talking about the succulent, fall-apart-tender Southern American kind, cooked slowly in offset smokers fuelled by post oak wood. Not the Antipodean “throw another sausage on the barbie” kind. Definitely not that sort.
As a cooking method, American-style barbecuing is notoriously difficult to master and eating it is practically a religious act in these parts. Many of the outlets dotted about town amount to no more than a trailer with communal bench seating on an empty plot of land. Some are a tad swept up but generally, don’t come expecting anything fancy in the decor department. It’s just not how they roll around here. But let’s be clear. This is some of the best meat you’ll eat anywhere, anytime, ever. Full stop. And it's the simplest of fare - the meat, for the most part is unadorned, except for that pink ring left on the interior - the hallmark of proper, patient barbecuing. The type of wood used, the type of smoker used, the rub, the cut and quality of the meat and how long it cooks; these all impact the delicious end result. Barbecued brisket, with its resonant, beefy flavour and unctuous rivers of lubricating fat, is regarded as the ultimate test of the Texan pit master. It's the 'national' dish of Texas and if you eat nothing else in Austin, you must eat brisket.
To wash that 'cue down, there’s no shortage of craft breweries and beer-centric bars in the city, where excellent selections of small batch-brewed beers are the order of the day. Cool, but never pretentious, these, like the barbecue outlets, are excellent places to rub shoulders with friendly Austinites. Here’s our guide of where best to get your 'cue' and brew on.
Franklin Barbecue, 900 East 11th St. Tel +1 512 653 1187 www.franklinbarbecue.com
Queuing for food has evolved into an art-form at Franklin. Aaron Franklin, the brains behind the venture, has won worldwide acclaim for his humble little restaurant and local advice is to join the line early; it forms daily, starting at 7.30am. People kill time playing cards, Monopoly or just reading; in winter they huddle patiently under blankets. Service kicks off at 11am sharp and the servers keep carving until the meat runs out. Since opening in 2009, they’ve run out of brisket (which smokes for eighteen or so hours and is sublime when smothered in Franklin’s homemade espresso sauce), early, every day. Even President Obama has dropped by for a serve. So has Kanye West who famously tried to jump the queue; he was told to wait his turn like everybody else. Franklin are known for using hormone and antibiotic-free meats; as well as beef they cook pork, sausage and sometimes, even turkey. Three sides (potato salad, slaw, pinto beans), soft drinks and beer and four dessert pies are the extent of the simple menu.
La Barbecue, 1906 East Cesar Chavez St. Tel +1 512 605 9696 www.labarbecue.com
Served from a food truck in an empty lot, folk patiently line up to score a tray of LeAnn Mueller’s expertly smoked meat. A photographer by profession, barbecue runs in Mueller’s blood; her late father was a revered pitmaster and her approach is strictly old-school. Her brisket, rubbed with nothing more than simple salt and pepper, cooks for up to fifteen hours; she also serves a gigantic beef rib, pulled pork spiked with vinegary sauce and sensational homemade sausage. Seating is outdoors, either at huge wooden picnic tables or perched under graceful pecan and oak trees. There’s free beer on the weekend (yay!), a really warm, friendly crew and cruisy live music. Note that there are a number of BBQ joints in this Austin post code but the aficionados make a beeline for here.
Micklethwait Craft Meats, 1309 Rosewood Ave. Tel : +1 512 791 5961 www.craftmeatsaustin.com
Tom Micklethwait is a self-confessed sausage obsessive and usually has four or five homemade varieties on the menu to choose from. Pork shoulder, smoked chicken, beef strip loin, brisket and, on Saturdays, pulled goat, are some other meat options. Side dishes are inspired, venturing well beyond the usual mac ‘n’ cheese. All the bread is house-made (Micklethwait’s an accomplished baker), as are the sauces, pickles and the sweet pies, such as the oatmeal cream number. Amazingly, everything is cooked out of a tiny 1960’s caravan. Seating is at communal tables set under shade cloth; hanging out here is mighty pleasant.
Craft Pride, 61 Rainey St. Tel +1 512 428 5571 www.craftprideaustin.com
Serving only beers brewed in Texas, the offerings at this hip watering hole rotate, depending on the season and what’s available. With fifty-four taps, you’re bound to find something you like. Not into beer? No worries, they also serve a selection of Texan wines as well. (Yup - they make decent wine in Texas. Who knew?) If you’re in town on a Tuesday night, consider dropping by their Trivia Night With Geeks Who Drink, for some good, clean, local fun.
Easy Tiger, 709 East 6th Street. Tel +1 512 614 4972 www.easytigeraustin.com
Possibly the most tranquil drinking spot in all of Austin, Easy Tiger’s downtown beer garden is situated right beside a picturesque little river. Their artisanal bakery is the source of the menus’ sandwich breads and addictive pretzels - order the German Board (consisting of a pretzel, bratwurst, kraut, cheese and potato salad) or any of the other beer-friendly grazing selections, a drink or two, and settle in for a chilled-out afternoon.
Zilker Brewing Company, 1701 East 6th St. Tel +1 512 765 4946 www.zilkerbeer.com
Over in the historic Eastside, this relatively new brewery is fast gaining a devoted fanbase. Their beers, made in the refined American-belgo style, plus the architecturally-designed industrial space (complete with brew kettles and tanks in the open) are fantastic. There’s a nice neighborhood feeling; it’s the sort of place where locals drop in and everyone seems to know everyone else. You can even bring your own food from one of the food trucks that hang around these parts. If you can't decide what to drink (Extra Special Bitter, various IPA’s, the deliciously refreshing Honey Saison or rich Coffee Milk Stout, for example), they’ll organise a tasting flight of everything.
Hops & Grain, 507 Calles Street. Tel (512) 914 2467 www.hopsandgrain.com
Stumbling in here is like visiting the hippest party in the neighbourhood, with board games stacked and ready to play and cool bands belting out circus rock from the loading bay. On the weekends, a small craft market sets up right outside and pulls in an eclectic crowd. Founder Josh Hare has been brewing since he was 17 and his beers, made with an eye to ecological responsibility (they even make dog treats from used grains and donate 1% of all profits to environmental causes), have gained him a cult following.
Freedman’s Bar, 2402 San Gabriel St. Tel +1 512 220 0953 www.freedmensbar.com
Freedman’s, housed in an atmospheric civil war-era building complete with an antique bar, presents a more upmarket BBQ experience than most other places in town. The whole menu is smoke heavy (smoked banana pudding, anyone?), but really, you’re here for the meat. Their Holy Trinity Plate (a serve of brisket, pork spare rib and sausage) is the way to go, as is the grilled cabbage slaw that's spiked with caraway, coriander, honey and cider vinegar. There’s a beer garden and a patio, plus Happy Hour every Tuesday through to Friday. Oh and a mammoth list of bourbons plus cocktails that are off-the-dial crazy-good.
Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden, 79 Rainey St. Tel +1 512 386 1656 www.bangersaustin.com
With thirty varieties of sausage, the largest tap wall in Austin (one hundred beers!) and a ginormous beer garden, this place really goes off. Their snag flavours traverse the gamut - there’s bratwurst, Andouille, smoked hot dog and currywurst, through to south Texas antelope and venison merguez. They even do veggie-based sausages for the vegetarian crowd. Rainey Street is an historic precinct with oodles of charm and lovely old bungalows. Many, like the one that houses Bangers, have been turned into bars and cafes.