Austin, Texas is one of the top BBQ cities in the world, and the influence of Central Texas barbecue is felt all over the U.S., including here in New York at places like Hometown BBQ, Hill Country, and Izzy’s Brooklyn Smokehouse.
Last weekend, I hit up several of top BBQ joints in the Austin area. I've been to Austin previously for work trips and was able to sample some of the BBQ, but this recent trip allowed me to focus on visiting BBQ restaurants and taking in the culture.
The two spots I dedicated the most time to were Franklin Barbecue in downtown Austin and Snow's BBQ, which is an hour east of Austin in Lexington, TX. I also spent time at Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ, Stiles Switch BBQ, and Terry Black's Barbecue. While I did not have enough time to make it to the legendary BBQ spots in Lockhart (40 minutes south of Austin) or to Austin's La Barbecue, I will go at some point.
Franklin Barbecue lived up to the epic experiences that have been written about for years. The most essential things to know are that no matter where you are in line, you will spend four hours (or more) waiting to get food — and that the line is worth it. I was there on a Friday morning a little before 9 a.m. and ate at 1 p.m. Alternately, Hector and Joe, the first people in line, arrived at 6 a.m. and ate just after Franklin opened at 11 a.m. Franklin has even has posted rules for the line that I wish were posted at every restaurant that attracts a long line.
I was lucky that Franklin did not run out of anything when I came up to the counter at 1 p.m. and I ordered a little bit of everything (see photo above). Just about everything lived up to the hype, with the brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and pork ribs all briefly taking me to BBQ heaven. I was also fortune to be able to say hello to Aaron Franklin himself, the second time I've been able to talk with him after last year's Brisket King NYC.
Since opening in 2003, Snow's BBQ has become a legend. It is Texas Monthly's #1 BBQ joint in Texas as of 2017, and 82-year-old pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz (pictured with me at the top of this story) was recently nominated for a James Beard award. So, with all this prestige, does Snow's live up to the hype? Simply, yes.
Snow's is only open on Saturdays and opens at 8 a.m., so the window is limited to actually experience it. I showed up at 8:30 a.m. and waited in line for 2.5 hours before eating. I met other BBQ aficionados in line, including @bbqtourist and @iam_vchan, and they even teamed up on ordering so we could try every item. One other amazing fact about the line: Snow's serves cold Bud Light to anyone waiting in line who wants it.
The pork ribs and chicken stole the show and were some of the best I'd ever had. The brisket was quite good but a tad more dry than I'd like. Unfortunately Snow's had run out of its fabled pork steak by the time I ordered, but hopefully I'll be able to return one day and I'll show up earlier. I finished my meal with Snow's banana pudding and it was rich and delightful.
Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ
As much fun as it was to wake up and eat BBQ first thing at Snow's BBQ, eating BBQ breakfast tacos at Valentina's was the perfect way to start the day. Valentina's fuses true BBQ know-how with inventive Tex Mex tacos and it works. All of the meats served are given proper attention and the tortillas are fluffy and crispy. I had one barbacoa taco, one pulled pork taco, one brisket taco, one spicy sausage taco, and one Real Deal Holyfield (brisket, fried egg, potatoes, refried beans, salsa). I don't think I'll ever have better breakfast tacos, and I can't wait to return for lunch so I can try even more straight-up BBQ items.
Stiles Switch BBQ
I was so full from other BBQ that I barely had room for Stiles Switch BBQ, but I showed up a little before 5 p.m. and thankfully there was basically no line. (By the time I left, there was a substantial line.) But alas, I still ordered an enormous beef rib and a few sides. The beef rib at Stiles Switch is the type of beef rib you dream about, and as I couldn't get a beef rib from Snow's or Franklin, this was the best beef rib I had on the trip and one I'll think fondly on.
Terry Black's provided one of the most balanced experiences overall, in which you don't have to wait more than an hour in line and you're still able to get great barbecue that has clearly been shown love. The difference here is that the system is built for quality and quantity, with multiple people slicing meat to order and they have you scoop your own side dishes, all of which saves people time. On top of not having to wait, the brisket and ribs were plenty smoky and the sides were worth sampling. If you want to try Austin BBQ, but don't have time to wait for hours, Terry Black's is a good bet.
My trip to Austin was phenomenal, and no joint I visited was a disappointment. I didn't get to visit every place I wanted to due to time constraints, but I will return at some point to dig in further. I'm looking forward to using my Central Texas experiences to evaluate NYC's BBQ scene further and see how Texas BBQ traditions have weaved themselves into the Northeast's BBQ culture.