Barbecue East of Austin | 2017 #ATXBESTEATS City Guide

If you're itching to EAT LIKE A TEXAN, and perhaps avoid the crowds and the traffic of Austin for a glorious half day or so, look no further than about a 50 miles to the east, give or take, and you'll find yourself in the THICK of legendary Texas 'Cue, Taylor, Lexington, Giddings, Elgin, Lockhart, and Luling, Texas-- these are the places where tallest tales are spun, and sometimes the proverbial BS is as thick as the hickory, pecan, or mesquite smoke billowing from overnight smokers. Who does it best? Well, it's a matter of personal preference and sometimes the luck of the draw, but there are some talented, dedicated, hard-working pitmasters that have the strongest say in that equation.

Prepare to get messy. That manicure might take some hits.You might leave with dribbles of sauce decorating your shirt. If you were to unbutton that top button on your jeans, you'd be in good company-- all fine signs you've done it up right. Jeans and boots dress most of the natives, as well as those hoping to look like one, but no one will give your yoga pants a second glance. You will certainly not be the first.

A few things to note:

  • You may never see a plate.  Many barbecue restaurants serve everything on paper-lined trays, and that's just fine by us. The styrofoam plates don't make for great pictures, nor pleasant meat-cutting. Of course your Pitmaster will balk-- he or she will not see the need for a (usually plastic) knife.
  • You'll be asked 'moist or lean'. Moist brisket, is the fattiest. Naturally, it's most flavorful, too.  Lean brisket is the (slightly) healthier option.
  • In addition to the sides on the menu, you'll almost always find complimentary pickles, onions, and sliced bread. That's just how it's done. You'll learn to look for them. Don't ask for whole grain or gluten-free, forevermore.
  • Sauce may be offered, but it's optional at some places, and blasphemy at others. Don't make a big show of saucing everything up if you want to look like 'an insider'.
  • For heaven's sakes, don't wear a bib. Wear a dirty shirt, instead.
  • And please, this is Texas. Don'tfor the love of all that's holyskip the brisket.

Four years ago, a group of intrepid barbecue-worshipping Austin bloggers set out to discover what all of the fuss was about out east of the city. You can find the details (I even wrote a POEM, 'cause 'cue will do that to you) of our inaugural barbecue road trip here. Since that time, I've visited each spot at least a few more times to keep this guide up to date. It's a grueling job, but when you get the BBQ calling, you answer.

Barbecue East of Austin...well that's where the richest legends are told. Family dust-ups have informed barbecue lore out there for decades, but I'll not spoil the fun for you by giving you the skinny on the situation. Perhaps you'll discover that on your own in discussion with strangers-become-buddies-over-barbecue at the communal table you'll share. Or maybe the internet

Below, a summary of some of the best barbecue you'll find out east, On the Outskirts of Town.

Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
206 W 2nd, Taylor, TX ph. 512.352.6206
M-F 11-6 + Sat 10-6 + Closed Sunday

Louie Mueller, the only spot on this list that sports a James Beard award among the soot-enrobed paraphernalia, has been, and continues to be tops on my list, from the very first time I happened into the sleepy town of Taylor and found myself hankering for the best local fare I could find.  Not a thing wrong with the sides, other than being completely out-shined by the meat, as is should be. Upon our most recent visit, Mueller's shared the 'best brisket of the day' distinction, and once they wrestled the bone from me, others agreed their beef rib to be the best we would have that day. Outside of our judging criteria, the baby back ribs deserve a great big honorable mention shout out of their own. Also a key component of our judging criteria-- friendly and enthusiastic service. (Note: See what Texas Monthly has to say about Louie Mueller's, and find where it ranks among their list of Top 50 Best BBQ Joints.)

Snow's Barbecue, Lexington
516 Main St, Lexington, TX ph. 979.773.4640 (Sat.only)
Open Saturday, only, 8am, until sold out

You'll have to get there early if you plan to have what many declare the best brisket in the state, because the line begins before opening, and the doors close when it's all gone. Half of our contingent agreed with the 'best of' raves and reviews, the other half conceding that it was splitting hairs to call a winner. We loved the jalapeno sausage. All agreed that it was definitely worth the drive to join the hungry line of folks licking their chops. Great service that makes you feel you're part of a big family gathering of giddy carnivores.  (see what Texas Monthly, and Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, has to say about Snow's.)

City Meat Market, Giddings
101 W. Austin St. (Hwy 290), Giddings, TX ph. 979.542.2740
M-F 7:30-5:30 + Sat 7:30-4 + Closed Sunday

The first year of this guide, City Meat Market was off our beaten path, but that didn't stop us from trying.  A passenger jump-out from the lead car at the stoplight, found for her trouble that, close to noon that day, the only thing left was sausage, and some satisfied faces, blissful, beaming, even, still seated at the counter. Upon our second visit. We got lucky. In fact we found City Meat Market in Giddings to have our favorite sausage of the day. Man I loved that sausage. See what CNN's Eatocracy, and Texas Monthly have to say about City Meat Market.

Meyer's Barbecue, Elgin
188 Highway 290, Elgin, Texas ph. 512.281.5546
M-T 10-8 + F-Sat 10-9 + Sun 10-7

It's all about the sausage in Elgin, with two popular establishments duking it out for sausage supremacy.  We tried it all at Meyer's, and concluded its coarse ground, black pepper-flecked version Meyers produces as their 'best of plate'.  Don't miss the complimentary beans offered-- they go so well with that sausage on the ubiquitous white sliced bread, onion, and pickle sandwich you'll see diners wrapping up at their seats.

Southside Barbecue, Elgin
Intersection of Hwy. 290 /Hwy. 95 North, Elgin, TX ph. 512. 281-4650
M-Th 8-8 + F-Sat 8-9 + Sun 9-8

Just after noon, the parking lot was packed, and the line to order and pay for barbecue snaked around the traffic controlling stanchions, and overflowed.  Southside Market boasted hundreds--the most diverse crowd we saw, all hunkered down and about the serious business of 'cue-guzzling.  Though the remaining meats we tried were fairly average among the day's offerings (and may I add average in this crowd is still way-above most barbecue offered off of this list of all-stars), the sausage did stand out, and the new version of sweet and sour vinegar-dressed cole slaw, a welcome acidic note in day decidedly rich and, well, fatty, was our favorite of the day. The sauce at Southside was also a stand-out-- a house version with unusual notes of cinnamon and clove was good, and their bold sauce, we found, outstanding.

Black's Barbecue, Lockhart
215 N. Main, Lockhart, TX ph 512.398.2712
M-Sun 10-8, until 8:30 Th-F

If you're in it for the sides, Black's offers the best selection on the trail.  They keep it hot and fresh and ready to be dished by hungry 'cue-ists', and include all the regulars, as well as macaroni and cheese, macaroni salad, green beans, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, Mexican rice, sweet creamed corn, sweet potatoes, apple, pecan, and blueberry pie, peach, blackberry, and cherry cobbler, and even more. Inching further down the line, you'll place your order for meat, and see it portioned before you on a wooden butcher block, worn and warped by the thousands of pounds of meat Black's produces.  Our rumbling tummies were quieted a bit after we learned our one (huge!) beef rib cost over $20, (and, per pound, in comparison, quite reasonably priced, but did I mention, HUGE?) and the moist brisket was the fattiest of the lot, but in all fairness, we did order moist. (see A Few Notes, above). That said, Black's has always taken the award for friendliest service of the three Lockhart locations reviewed, and this day was no exception.

Smitty's Barbecue, Lockhart
208 S. Commerce, Lockhart, TX ph. 512.398.9344
M-F 7-6 + Sat 7-6:30 + Sunday 9-6:30

It was the end of the restaurant day for Smitty's, located in the same charming building off the square for the last 50 years, when we arrived, and the staff appeared to be close to frazzled by the throngs of diners that still filled every seat.  The line for meat was short, and orders were efficiently gathered and charged.  But there's a line for sides, as well, and that sucked the feel-good barbecue buzz right out of me.  Once I reached mis amigos and the first-ordered meat, most were finished, and I was a little grumpy, just like the girl who served my sides. But hungry diners can be a demanding lot, and the end of the day for hard workers isn't any time to expect pleasantries, so get your grub and get on with it, please. In fact, skip the sides altogether if you're in a hurry, and just pull yourself up to that tray of perfectly smoked meat. Smitty's lives up to its hype.

Kreuz Barbecue, Lockhart
619 N. Colorado, Lockhart, TX ph. 512.398.2361
M-Sat 10:30-8 Closed Sunday

If the only bad barbecue is no barbecue, well that's what we got at the ever-popular Kreuz (pronounced Kr-long I-ts)  A full two hours before closing, there was no brisket, no ribs, and no patience for whining about it.  You'll have beef shoulder, and you'll like it. And we did. Except it tasted like Mom's pot roast (which is fabulous, Mom!) but though it's appearance gave us hope, nothing like the crackling, crusted, pink smoke-ringed brisket for which we'd hoped. Four of our procession made it to Kreuz earlier in the day, where the nos they encountered were only the usual for Kreuz; no forks and no sauce, either, because they truly stand by their pit. Our friends agreed that none were needed, and declared Kreuz the best barbecue in Lockhart.  They also agreed that, brisket and ribs, or none, the service was, well, cranky.  But cranky service didn't deter the no-brisket, no-rib eating diners which filled the stadium-sized dining room, still, upon closing. (See what Texas Monthly has to say about Kreuz.)

City Market Barbecue, Luling (no website)
633 E Davis St, Luling, TX ph. 830.875.9019
M-Saturday, 7-6pm Closed Sunday

People whose opinions I trust on matters such as these declare City Market in Luling to have the very best sausage of the bunch, but, sadly, we were not to make it in time to try it ourselves upon that first trip. (Another thing to note about Central Texas Barbecue: It's not for the night owls.)  That HAS BEEN RECTIFIED, as our second, and now third road trip began early, and in Luling! I called in our order earlier in the morning, thus avoiding the line that wound its way around the dining room, out the door, and down the sidewalk just before noon, but they ask that all take-out orders be eaten off premises, so a picnic it was, in one of a few suitable spots around town. See what Southern Living had to say about City Market, as well as Texas Monthly, who voted City Market, Luling among the Top 50 Barbecue establishments in a state full of thousands, and, if you're interested in that sort of thing (I AM, I AM!), a little background from Rob Walsh, author of Legends of Texas Barbecue, to help remember that Luling City Market in Houston is NOT City Market, Luling.

One of those topics that stirs up strong passions as well as smoky fires, barbecue aficionados will have their opinions--let me promise you that. I love hearing them! Even those that don't particularly agree with mine. Where's your favorite brisket to be found? Who makes your favorite side? Who offers the consistently best customer service? The consistently worst? What dirt do you have to dish with us??

Tell it, y'all!

Every smoky bit.

If you've found this guide to be helpful, you might like other current Austin city guides I've curated:

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