No road trip required: the hill country’s legendary spots have come to Austin.
Smoke. Meat. Fire. Blood. The elements of great barbecue couldn’t be more visceral—or more Texan. The secrets of successful ’cue have long been held by a handful of rural Texas families, whose food inspired long-distance pilgrimages to towns like Lockhart, Llano, and Taylor. Over the past five years, though, a seismic change has taken place. Since those now infamous lines started forming at his trailer in 2009, the rising fortunes of Aaron Franklin and his impeccable brisket have created a ripple effect, leading talented upstarts and old-guard families to open their latest barbecue ventures in Austin. Veteran ’cue critic Mike Sutter sees the migration in simple terms: “Llano and Lockhart look at Austin and say, ‘Wait a minute. We invented this thing. Shouldn’t we be getting a piece of the action?’”
The legendary families have made a big Austin noise of late: While Louie Mueller continues to draw fans to Taylor and Mueller siblings John and LeAnn Mueller famously paired up for JMueller BBQ, then parted ways in 2012. When asked why rivalry is so prevalent in Texas barbecue families, Sutter says, “Barbecue speaks to our animal natures—hands and teeth, fat and fire. Think of it as dogs around their favorite bowl. You don’t want to get in the middle of that.”
LeAnn Mueller recruited pitmaster John Lewis (a Franklin veteran) to lead the charge at her La Barbecue trailer (902 E. Cesar Chavez, 512-605-9696). More than a year and a half later, the decision has paid off: Sutter, among other critics, recently ranked La Barbecue number one on his list, besting even Franklin. Brother John is still operating in the same zip code, albeit with a slightly lower profile, at John Mueller Meat Co. (2500 E. 6th St., 512-571-6509). His beef ribs and brisket can still be perfect on the right day.
In other rivalry news, Lockhart legend Black’s arrives in Austin in dueling factions. Twin brothers Michael and Mark Black recently opened Terry Black’s BBQ in South Austin (1003 Barton Springs Road, 512-394-5899) to strong acclaim. Both brothers are Black’s veterans—Michael estimates he logged 15 years, including manning the pits after college graduation. When asked why they chose Austin, Michael explains, “If you’re a country singer, you go to Nashville. If you’re doing barbecue, now you want to be in Austin.” The brothers’ move was prompted by some changes in Lockhart: “My uncle started using rotisserie cookers, and we prefer doing it old-school. Our sides are homemade.” In response, the Lockhart Black’s, owned by their grandparents and uncle, opened a UT-area location (3110 Guadalupe St., 512-398-2712) and a food truck. The campus location serves barbecue that is made in Lockhart and then is trucked to Austin daily; the tiny storefront does not do in-house smoking.
Another legendary name, Cooper’s (217 Congress Ave., 512-474-4227), will arrive downtown this fall, as owner Terry Wootan continues his successful expansion. The Austin Cooper’s will cook on-site and serve three meals a day. While barbecue won’t start until 11 am, kolaches and coffee will be available early. A second story will house a late-night sports and music bar.
With so many barbecue options, Michael Black says: “The quality in Austin is now the best in the world. We painted a mural on our wall that says THE NEW BBQ CAPITAL OF TEXAS. This is the new mecca.”