15 bbq places in 7 days trip report and thanks for all the help!
Apologies for the delay. I had misplaced my notebook which had notes I took at every meal. Thanks to all the help I received on this post.
My main goal on this trip was to expand my knowledge of bbq. I think I succeeded, it was very helpful to eat so much over a short period of time. I was able to start noticing the little differences. I'm going to put this in chronological order as I think that's the best way. This isn't meant as a definitive ranking for anyone, not even for myself, I recognize how things might change. What it is are the takes of someone learning about bbq and my thoughts during my trip. I hope this can be helpful to others looking to do the same and of interest to more experienced bbq lovers. I'm going to break this in sections to make it easier reading.
Also I really tried not to let sides affect my thoughts as I cared about the meat. That meant I really didn't pay much attention to the sauce either. On the same note, I didn't let surroundings affect me too much either.
My first stop after checking into my hotel and swinging by the visitors center on Sixth Street. Lunch and my first bbq meal in Austin. I got the beef ribs as recommended. I liked how meaty they were but not fatty. I didn't get any smoke nor see a smoke ring. Good pull with the teeth, not too much harder pulling with the fingers. I like my meat with some chew where it's tender but still some resistance when I pull away from the bone. I hate falling off the bone and think that's way overcooked. Overall, I thought this was decent, but didn't blow me away.
Dinner. I got the beef rib dinner. First impressions were not good. Very little meat on the bones. Fatty, lots of burned spots. However when I finally fought past the fatty and burnt parts and found some meat, I did like it better than Iron Works. There just wasn't a whole lot of the good stuff. I was very disappointed with this meal. So far I was striking out in my bbq quest.
Ok, fresh day. My first full day in Austin and I woke up in a great mood regarding bb despite the previous day's misses. Today was going to be a big day. Luling City Market followed by the big three in Lockhart.
Luling City Market
Drove through Lockhart and went straight to Luling. Pulled in not too soon after opening. Got the pork ribs and hot sausage. Liked the pop of the sausage casing. The grind was coarser than expected. Liked it a lot, it wasn't super spicy but I have higher than average heat tolerance. This was very tasty to me.
The pork ribs were wonderful. Good smoke flavor, great texture and pull. Juicy but not fatty. The outer crust broke away to the tender meat under. This was just a great way to start off my day after the disappointment of the previous day.
Flipping the car around after City Market, headed back to Lockhart. Got the fatty brisket and jalapeno sausage. The brisket was very dry and touch. I ate a slice and stopped. I had better luck with the sausage, liked the spices, grind wasn't as coarse as Luling's but still had good texture. Good pop on the casing but I liked Luling's better also. Based on these two items, I wouldn't return.
Down the road for the next stop. Ordered the fatty brisket and pork ribs. The ribs were tough. Good crust on it but the meat was chewy, hard to pull away from the bone.
The brisket was puzzling to me. It was juicer than Kruez's which wasn't hard. But it was tough. I actually had to struggle to pull it apart. I rested both elbows on the table, held a piece in both hands and tried to tug them part. The slice wouldn't tear easily. So far I was pretty unhappy with my Lockhart experience.
I almost passed on this. I was three places in for the day and the last two were duds. I was starting to fill up and I was losing motivation. But I pushed on not wanting to miss the last of the big three. Which for me so far was the small two.
Ordered the fatty brisket and regular sausage. I was happy I made the trip. The brisket was juicy and tender. Loved the flavor of the bark. The smokiness was there. Despite being somewhat full from the day's eating, I wolfed down all of the brisket. However the sausage was a different story. It was the worst of the day for me. The casing had no pop. The grind was way too mushy for me, verging on a pasty consistency. The spicing was good, but the mushy consistency really ruined it for me.
Still this was a good way to finish up a day of tasting The brisket rescued the day for me. Great start with Luling City Market, disappointing middle of the day but good end.
Got here a few minutes after they opened and only a few people in line ahead of me. Ordered the fatty brisket and regular sausage. The brisket was thick cut instead of the thinner slices I had received at the Lockhart places. I liked the bark a lot. Very juicy, good fat but not overwhelming. Pulled apart easily but not crumbly or fall apart. This was easily the best brisket so far on the trip.
Sausage was also really good and the best I had so far for my tastes. The casing had good pop, the grind coarse but not as coarse as Luling's. Good balanced texture of the coarseness to give it resistance but still smooth. Everything was heavier on the pepper side than anything I had so far. I was extremely happy with this visit.
Hit this pace about mid afternoon a few hours after Mueller's. Ordered the chopped beef sandwich and some of the smoked lamb. Good beef flavor, meat was firm with just the right chew for me. The sauce was on the lighter side than expected. I'd consider this a solid sandwich. Wouldn't be a first choice or go super out of the way, but a good stop and great for a snack.
I was looking forward to digging into the lamb since I love lamb but haven't had a lot of experience with this kind of bbq treatment. Alas I was disappointed. It was kind of stringy and dried out. The lamb flavor was very mild and I was expecting a bigger punch. I would classify Ruby's as a good neighborhood place but not a destination.
Even though I was out late at a club the previous night, the alarm woke me with a sense of anticipation. I was highly looking forward to visiting Snow's. On the road while it was still dark, the rising sun mirrored my rising excitement. Got there right a few minutes after they opened and was the fifth party in line.
Ordered The fatty brisket and the pork loin. This was awesome. I loved the bark of the brisket, I liked how the texture which was firm but pliable at the same time. It had a slight sticky chewiness in texture that I liked. The meat was amazing. Soft, tender falling apart but still toothy with a good chew. I did the pull test and it was just right for me. Juicy but not greasy. The smoke flavor was also right on for my tastes. Strong but not overwhelming. I was happily eating every last bite even though this was the first thing I had early in the morning after doing some drinking the night before. This was definitely the best brisket I had on my trip so far.
The pork loin was also tender and juicy, but I found it just a touch on the dry side. Understand at this point I'm splitting hairs. Having eaten a lot of bbq since I came into town, I was slowly understanding the fine nuances. The pork had a good pork flavor and overall still very good.
Got in here before it was too busy in the early evening. Ordered the fatty brisket, beef sausage and pork ribs. Liked the rub on the brisket, I'd put it about the same as Jmueller's. Tender and juicy too. So far it would be Snow's as best, with Jmueller and Live Oak being tied for close seconds.
Loved the rib. Not too much fat. I thought the fat was rendered out pretty well. Well balanced in chew and tenderness. Pulled away with just the right amount of resistance. I'd say the crust wasn't as good as Luling's but I'd put it as the second best pork rib I had on the trip so far.
The sausage was solid. About a medium grind, not as aggressively seasoned as some of what I had. But still very tasty to me. The casing's pop was decent. I'd put it in the upper tier of what I had but not the best.
If I lived in Austin, this place would probably be one of my favorite places easily due to the combination of great bbq, hours of operation and setting. It comes across as a great place to catch up with some friends while eating great bbq.
A new day and end of my trip was closer to the end than the beginning. Yet, I still was excited for bbq and was nowhere near burned out. But a quick interlude of breakfast tacos to break up the bbq narrative.
Walked in right at opening. Got the Migas and the potato, egg and sausage. Forgot to order avocado with the Migas as had been suggested.
Liked the Migas. Enjoyed the seasonings, mix of bell pepper gave it a good texture change with the crunch. The tortilla and salsa also tasty, even if I did find the salsa mild for my tastes. Thought the whole dish was a good balance of all the components and made a tasty whole.
I didn't care for the potato, egg and sausage taco. I found the whole thing on the bland underseasoned side. The cheese didn't have enough saltiness to give the dish enough flavor. Sausage and potato unremarkable, when I tried picking out individual pieces to determine their individual flavor. The potatoes were mushy and bland with no crispyness to them at all.
Came to Sam's in the late afternoon. Ordered the mutton, brisket (no choice of moist or lean), pork ribs and beef sausage. Nice bark on the brisket, pulled apart decently but overall dry and not something I'd get again.
The sausage had a distinctive taste to it that was different from the other ones I've had on the trip so far. I can see how some people would really like it and others wouldn't. Good beefy taste to the sausage but the seasoning wasn't something that immediately appealed to me. About a medium grin and casing had some pop. This wouldn't be my favorite beef sausage but I can see myself getting it as an occasional change of pace.
As mentioned before I love lamb and the mutton's reputation here was one of the main reasons I came. I liked the strong mutton taste but can see how that wouldn't necessarily appeal to a lot of people. The fat was rendered away for the most part. The crust was a bit on the tough side but not enough to detract. The meat pulled away with good resistance and that balance of chew and tenderness that I like. Overall, I was very happy with this selection.
The pork ribs had a good smoke flavor but was way too soft. I didn't like this at all. It was mushy and falling off the bone like it was stewed. Another non repeat.
Another pleasant drive enjoying the countryside and listening to new music I picked up. I was curious about what I would find given the experience I had accumulated so far. Arrived there late morning. Ordered the brisket, pork spare ribs and jalapeno sausage.
In my mind, I was comparing this to the J Mueller trailer. I found the brisket here just a bit better all the way around. Not much but just a bit more. A little more tender, rub and bark better, juicer. But gosh, it would be a close call and both places are just darn good.
The ribs I found just a touch on the dry side and tiniest bit stringy on some parts of it. But overall still pretty good. The fat was rendered off well ad for the most part it was juicy and tender. Good pull from the bone with the tooth or fingers, bit of resistance before giving way. Good stuff, but just some unevenness across the ribs.
Jalapeno sausage, liked the spicyness and overall spicing. Good grind, casing about a medium pop. I liked this sausage a lot.
Headed around the corner and took a couple of wrong turns before finding this place. Ordered the brisket and turkey sausage. The brisket was dry. It was tender, but didn't have much of a bark or any kind of rub in it all. Flavor was ok, not a lot of smoke. This didn't do anything for me at all.
The turkey sausage had a good distinctive turkey taste. Very tight fine grind but the texture was still good and not pasty. Casing was average. Turkey isn't my favorite sausage but this would be another one of those good change of pace. However, overall there was nothing compelling here that would make me go out of the way to return.
My get away day with a late afternoon flight.
Got in line at 10 a.m and there was about 15 people in line ahead of me. Ordered brisket, pork ribs an sausage. Also got the same items to go for taking back home. They were very accommodating in double wrapping the the to go portions and making sure everything was packed tightly and leak proof.
Loved the brisket! Great smoke ring, soft pull apart but not crumbly fall apart. Wonderful juicyness and flavor. The crust and rub was good but not quite as sticky between the teeth as Snow's.
It was just a touch firmer than Snow's I thought but in a good way. Whereas Snows would start to fall apart a few seconds after you held up the end, Franklin's would hold together just a bit more. This translated to a wonderful texture while biting down. Mind you, I'm splitting the finest of hairs here. It would be a lucky and cynical man who would be able to eat either regularly and complain about the differences. Ultimately I think it comes to personal preference as to which would be rated higher.
Pork ribs, the fat was rendered out perfectly. Even the meat and fat around the soft cartilage bones was perfect. The bones pulling out cleanly but still have resistance and not mushy soft boiled texture. Juicy, not greasy. Great crust, that was just a bit more tender than Luling's crust. I thought the meat was better than Luling's too.
The sausage was another winner. Good casing pop, med grind, spicing right for me. I probably liked Luling's sausage just a bit better due to a personal preference towards a slightly coarser grind and liking a bit more snap to the casing. But again, I'm splitting hairs here and would gladly take either version.
This was the airport stand with all the inherent disadvantages of such a location. That said, I didn't care for the brisket I tried. It was ok at best. On the tough side, dry with decent smoke flavor. The main reason I tried it was for the sauce since I heard it was so distinctive. Thought the sauce was thin and tangy and interesting but nothing compelling.
Conclusion and Misc thoughts
Overall, I had a fantastic time on my trip, really enjoyed learning and tasting. I was surprised at how ordinary the Big Three in Lockhart was compared to all the other places I tried. My favorites were definitely Snow's and Franklin's. I think you really can't miss with either one. Just a personal preference when it comes to trying to figure out which is better. Snow's, you'll have to drive an hour early on a Saturday, Franklin's you'd have to stand in line for an hour at least. So there's no convenience factor to make it easier to choose one or the other if someone is hankering for elite level bbq.
On their heels, I'd put J Mueller, Mueller's and Luling City Market for great bbq. Those would be the places I'd go back repeatedly. Finally I have to reiterate how much I enjoyed Live Oak. The quality of the bbq combined with the setting and hours operation would make this a top place for getting together with friends.
In addition to the bbq, I just had a great time wandering around Austin and enjoying the scenery driving to the various towns. I took numerous walking tours around town. Did the Austin City Limits tour, also toured the UT campus. Went to a club every night to listen to great live music from numerous bands. Walked up and down Southco area one night, tried the food trailers. Spent lots of money at Waterloo records. Explored used book stores. Everywhere I went, people were very friendly and helpful. Not a single thing went wrong on this trip, it seemed like the timing just worked out for everything I wanted to do. Thanks again to everyone for all the help.
Love your report! While you are in Austin my brother and sis-in-law (Austin locals) are celebrating his 50th BD at The French Laundry in Napa.
I LOVED when my bro picked me up from the airport a few years ago and said we had a few hours to explore Lockhart BBQ. Black's, Kreuz's, and Smitty's. My report is out there, but that is how the brisket ranked that day...
The first time I tasted Sam's brisket, take-out in town, that was special too.
Hope to be back in your fun and special city soon...
Tried J Mueller this past weekend. Pork ribs tender and juicy with excellent rub. Brisket tender and tasty but dry. Maybe timing is everything. (although they were taking them right off the grill) Could not enjoy the slaw at all - so heavily, needlessly over-seasoned...too spicy to enjoy - oddly flavored otherwise. Mushy potato salad. Takes a LONG time in line - and there were only 4 in front of us. Seems there was only one person who cut everything up. A mystery why there weren't several people doing this.
It was around noon on Sunday. Maybe we were just impatient and ready to eat and any wait would have been too long :>)
I am sure it must be difficult to get every single batch of briskets the same -- just based on differing pieces of meat, how long it's on the fire, how much seasoning, etc.
Did you have the slaw? Like it?