Western Hill Country BBQ Trip

Hey the whole gang is back! We’ve got the itinerary planned for the next BBQ road trip, and this time we’re focusing on the western Hill Country.

Here’s the trip:

I’m now following a pretty strict diet, so this should be interesting! I’ll try to limit the sausage intake and cut out the Big Red. I said try.

See you Saturday!

It’s been a while…

It’s been some time since we’ve posted anything.  All four of us are busy and finding a day that we can get together has been tough.  However, some of us have made some individual stops since our last trip and we are planning to hit the road again this Saturday.  Still working out an itinerary, but we should have one soon.

Sean’s Thoughts on BBQ Trip #2

Well, we are back at it.  BBQ Trip #2 takes us Austin, which has been getting a lot of play in print lately.  I think that has a lot to do with the explosion of Franklin Barbecue. Bon Appétit calls Franklin the best barbecue in America and Joe Nick Patoski, who lives in Austin I believe, wrote in the New York Times that Austin’s barbecue scene is giving the towns that were the focus of our first BBQ trip a run for its money. After reading those two articles, Austin was the place to go and we used Patoski’s article as a guide for stops on this trip. We did plan on going to Sam’s BBQ, which many consider a staple in Austin for more than six decades. However, that changed after it was shut down by the city for purchasing stolen meat.

Our first stop was Franklin BBQ. We were told to get there early because of the line that forms. We got there at 8:35am and we were second in line (the place opens at 11am). I felt it was worth the wait. We were concerned about all the hype this spot was getting. I would say it almost lived up to the hype. It easily has the best BBQ in Austin. I wouldn’t say it’s the best in Texas, but definitely in Austin. The brisket had a great smoke flavor and the pork rib was phenomenal. The meat slipped right off of the rib. The turkey was good and so was the pulled pork and sausage. The beans were the best we’ve had. It had lots of pepper and great flavor.

We left Franklin BBQ and went to Live Oak BBQ, which was the worst BBQ on this trip and the worst of the two trips combined. The brisket was too fatty and the beans were nothing great. The only thing decent here was the chicken. But when you put a big bull on your T-shirts and call yourself a BBQ place in Texas, you should master cooking beef…not chicken.

Stop number three was Iron Works. I talked to several people before this trip who said Iron Works when asked which BBQ places to check out in Austin. After eating there, I’m not sure why they would say that. The brisket we had was tough. The turkey, sausage and beans were average. We couldn’t get a couple of ribs. They wanted us to buy a whole slab.  Whatever…

From there, it was on to Stubb’s. This place is known for being a popular music venue in Austin. A number of great shows have come through there over the years. If the artists tried the BBQ, they would not be disappointed. It wasn’t the best on the trip, but it was solid. The brisket was very tender, but seemed like it was cooked in oven. It didn’t have the smoke flavor I was looking for. The turkey was very good. It was moist and the rub Stubb’s used was tasty. The beans were very good. They had lots of jalapeno, pepper and bacon. They had a kick, which I know some people don’t like, but it didn’t bother me.

After stuffing ourselves at four places in a little more than 90 minutes, we headed north to Mann’s Smokehouse. It was one of two Austin restaurants to be named to the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ List. The other location was Lamberts, but we didn’t eat there because it’s more of an upscale restaurant versus a BBQ joint. Despite being in what used to be a Wendy’s or some other fast food place, the food was top notch. It wasn’t great, but it was pretty good. The only miss here were the beans. They tried to get creative, but it didn’t work for me.

For our final stop, we made the trip out to Salt Lick in Driftwood. This place tops a lot of people’s lists. I, however, am not that big of a fan. It’s pretty good, but it isn’t the best. And that was the case once again. The pork ribs are what shined here. They baste their trademark sauce on the ribs as they cook. The sausage and the beans were very salty. The brisket was average in my book.

Overall, Franklin Barbecue was the best, followed by Mann’s, Salt Lick, Stubb’s, Iron Works and Live Oak BBQ. Despite being the best in Austin and among the top tier of BBQ joints we’ve eaten at, Franklin does not top my pick for best in Texas: Snow’s BBQ in Lexington.

Austin BBQ Road Trip

BBQ trip #2 is in the books. This time around, we focused solely on Austin. This decision was made essentially for one reason – we HAD to try Franklin BBQ. We couldn’t wait any longer to see if this little shop on 11th Street could live up to the enormous hype.

The line at Franklin BBQ

After a couple of write-ups in the New York Times (including one that named it the best BBQ restaurant in the country), legends of the lines at Franklin spread like wildfire. We were told the latest we could arrive there was 9am in order to make it inside and get an order in when they opened the doors at 11am. We left San Antonio at 7:30am and arrived at Franklin at 8:45am…and saw no one. In fact, we were kind of worried the place was closed and we didn’t read the notice. As we pulled into the parking lot, we finally saw one guy lounging on the deck. One of my partners in crime, Mike Board, ran up to talk to the guy. Turns out he got in line at 7:30am. So we grabbed a picnic table and got in line behind him. A few others started to slowly trickle in, but the real line didn’t start until 10:15am or so. Don’t let the lack of line fool you though. Several of the people there were ordering meat for huge parties. The people behind us ordered for 20. The guy behind them ordered for 50 people. So the meat sells quickly.

Franklin BBQ brisket

Once they opened the doors, we figured out what we wanted to order. Since we were hitting several other spots, the menu was somewhat limited: 1/3rd lb. brisket, 1/3rd pound turkey, some pork ribs, chopped beef and beans. Let me start by answering the one burning question: Franklin’s brisket is not better than Snow’s brisket. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal at Franklin. The brisket was very tasty, the turkey was great, the sausage was good, the beans were fantastic and the pork was the best I’d ever tasted. In fact, Mike (who was born and raised in Boston) made the astute point that, after eating the pork, he could completely understand why east coast media love Franklin BBQ as much as they do…since BBQ in the northeast is all pork. I’m not quite sure I’d wait in line 2.5 hours to eat at Franklin again, but I definitely recommend trying it at least once. Be prepared to pay, though. A pound of brisket is $15.

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Our second spot was Live Oak BBQ on 2nd Street, a place also written up in the New York Times. We ordered a similar menu but hardly finished it. The brisket was about 80% fat, it seemed, and the beans were severely undercooked. I don’t want to slam a place, so I’ll just leave it at that. Live Oak did have some good BBQ chicken, however.

The next stop was Iron Works BBQ on Cesar Chavez, right by the convention center. As I’ve stated before, I don’t mind dry brisket. In fact, I prefer lean brisket to moist brisket. That’s why I didn’t have a problem with Iron Works’ meat. My friends, however, hated it. Mike, Sean Talbot and Toby Hines refused to eat the brisket after taking a bite or two.

From there, we headed down Red River to Stubb’s. I’ve been to Stubb’s a million times for concert, but I’ve never eaten there. I thought the brisket was okay, but it was too dry for the other guys. The turkey, however, was fantastic. The beans had a very strong jalapeño kick. In fact, it was a little too much for me. Mike, Sean and Toby, however, loved them. I am an admitted sausage snob, but I implore you to stay away from the sausage. It tasted exactly like the sausage from Kreuz Market…and that’s not a compliment.

Mann's BBQ

We finally decided to leave the downtown area and head north. I know our digestive systems appreciated a short break between stops. We landed at Mann’s BBQ on Highway 183, a spot lauded by Texas Monthly. Mann’s doesn’t look like it should be good. It’s in an old Wendy’s building. But don’t let that fool you; this is some dang good BBQ. Everything here was tasty – from the brisket to the turkey to the sausage and beans. Everything was a notch below Franklin, but you also paid quite a bit less (and didn’t have to wait in line a coupe of hours). As my friend Chuck Kaufman put it, Mann’s is the Rodney Dangerfield of Austin BBQ – it doesn’t get any respect. Well, here’s some respect for Mann’s. It’s good BBQ.

The pit at The Salt Lick

Our final spot is the source of much contention among our group: The Salt Lick. Mike is a huge fan of The Salt Lick. He even went so far to get married there. I, however, don’t really care much for it. It’s not that the food is bad, although it is way too sweet for my liking. My gripe is with the hype this place receives. I understand liking to go to The Salt Lick for the experience of being out in the middle of nowhere, etc. It’s a very Texas place. But most people don’t say that when they praise The Salt Lick. Instead, they praise the food. Anyway, the food this time around was a bit better than the other times I’ve been there. The sweetness of everything was replaced this time by saltiness. The beans, actually, were at the point of being oversalted. The brisket was good, the sausage was good and the turkey was good. It was perfectly acceptable BBQ – just don’t trust anyone who says it’s the best BBQ you’ll ever it. It’s not, and it’s not even close.

We talked afterward about how we’d rank the stops on the Austin trip. It really broke down quite easily into tiers.

  • Tier 1: Franklin
  • Tier 2: Mann’s/The Salt Lick
  • Tier 3: Stubb’s/Iron Works
  • Tier 4: Live Oak

When you factor in our last trip, it’d break down this way.

  1. Snow’s
  2. Franklin
  3. Southside Market*
  4. Luling City Market
  5. Louie Mueller’s
  6. Mann’s
  7. The Salt Lick
  8. Black’s
  9. Smitty’s
  10. Davis Grocery
  11. Stubb’s
  12. Iron Works
  13. Kreuz Market
  14. Live Oak BBQ

*I rank Southside Market high on the sausage alone. In fact, if you told me I could only eat at one BBQ place from here on out, I would pick Southside Market. You don’t go there to order brisket, just like you don’t go to a Mexican food restaurant and order a hamburger.

So that’s it for BBQ trip #2. There are rumblings that the third trip will be a journey to San Antonio’s top joints. See you then!

Looking For Ideas

We had so much fun on our Central Texas trip, we are talking about another making another trip.  This time to Austin.  It seems bbq there is starting to get a pretty good reputation and we thought now might be the best time to go.  With Franklin’s selling out in a couple of hours everyday and JMueller BBQ opening soon, we need to make the trip.  What I want to know is are there any other places besides these two we should check out while in Austin?  I’m pretty sure it will start at Franklin’s and end at the Salt Lick.  Where should we stop in between?  Let us know!

- Sean

And check out the recent write-up about Austin BBQ in the NY Times.

Final Thoughts: Our Top Three Spots

It all comes down to this. Here are each of our top three spots from the BBQ road trip. Hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage. Until the next one…

And I really need to thank Ford for letting us use the 2011 Harley Davidson F-150 truck for our trip. I can’t explain how great it was. Well, I can at least try…

City Market in Luling – The Final Stop on our BBQ Road Trip

I just noticed we failed to shoot much (if any) video at City Market in Luling.

I blame this on several things.

We were shooting a segment with Tanji Patton for her online food show.

We were exhausted.

And did I mention we were exhausted?

Don’t let the lack of video fool you though. City Market is fantastic. The brisket was delicious, the sausage was great and the beans were also pretty tasty. In fact, City Market made my list of top three places on the trip. More on that to come in just a few minutes.

Lockhart, Texas – BBQ Road Trip Stops #6, #7 and #8

Much to my chagrin, our road trip included a stop at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. Lockhart is called the BBQ capital of Texas, but my experience at Kreuz a couple of weeks ago was anything but regal. The food simply wasn’t good – so much so that we left a lot of it on the table. This time around was a little bit better, and two of the members of our team (Mike and Toby) actually really liked it. (Their videos are somehow missing – I swear that didn’t happen on purpose.) Anyway, here’s our review of Kreuz Market.

In addition, we stopped by Black’s and Smitty’s. I was pleasantly surprised by Black’s…and Smitty’s brought about one of the funnier moments of the trip.

Elgin Hot Sausage at Southside Market

Okay, going to end a day worth of editing on a high note. Here’s our review of Southside Market in Elgin, my favorite place for my favorite meat – sausage. It simply does not get any better than Southside. I’ll be back tomorrow with videos from Kreuz Market, Black’s and Smitty’s in Lockhart and City Market in Luling.

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

Our third stop was the famous Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. The brisket was nice and lean, and the turkey was fantastic. With a mix of good food and an unbelievable atmosphere, Louie Mueller Barbecue is the place I would recommend to take out-of-state visitors. This is the place I envision when I think of Texas barbecue.