Meat the Pit Masters

There are three main cuts of meat dominating Austin barbecue joints. First and foremost there’s brisket, followed by pork ribs and sausage. The brisket is boneless and with the fat cap always left on so the fat drips back into the meat as it cooks, which ensures the brisket is self-basting and therefore more flavourful. Sausage has to be house made and can be beef, pork or a combination of the two. The pit master adds other cuts to his pit he fancies and can include: beef short ribs, turkey, pork shoulder and bone in pork loin, sometimes even chicken. 

I was in Austin for five days, a Texas barbecue virgin until that first moment I ripped into JMueller’s beef short ribs. I was lucky; my cherry was popped by one of the masters coming from a long line of masters before him (third generation of the Mueller clan). Even so, I can’t give credit to John Mueller for having the best barbecue in Austin...although it was close. Only because barbecue is a very personal thing and how can you be a master at cooking all the cuts of meat perfectly? I think its just a matter of preference…but don’t tell the Texans that!

In five short days I ate a lot of Texas Barbecue, we’re talking eating barbecue multiple times a day, just like the cotton pickers did back in the day. The barbecue trail seems endless in Texas; you can get in your car and keep discovering joints, techniques and meeting the characters behind it for a while. But true, authentic barbecue joints that cook meat the traditional way, in the center of the city are few and far between.

I picked my favourite, my top three that really stood out and that well, have a reputation for being the best of the best and authentic; old school. Each pit master had a particular cut of meat that I enjoyed the best and the experience in each joint was unique (yet somehow familiar) across the board, which gave the place extra credit.

JMueller BBQ – South Austin

Hands down the best beef short rib. It remains seared in my memory forever and whenever I need to go to a happy place, I’m back in the parking lot where John’s smoker is set up, sweating it out in the heat of the day, breathing in the smoke and ripping into those dry rubbed ribs.

My green fairy: JMueller's beef short rib.
John applying the dry rub on the slabs of brisket.
(Image courtesy of JMueller BBQ, Facebook 2012)

John applying a mop sauce on the ribs, whilst they're smoking away.
(Image courtesy of JMueller BBQ, Facebook 2012)
John's tumultuous background and rebelliousness, cutting away from his famed barbecue family and opening shop on his own make his smoked meats all that much better. Just like his personality, John is all about hot and fast.

John hovering over his meat and smoker.
(Image courtesy of JMueller BBQ, Facebook 2012)
Casual, no frills dining experience with dirt and dust on the ground that get stirred up every time a vehicle pulls up.

Daily menu taped to the side of the trailer.
 No cutlery needed except for maybe the sides. Great potato salad side.
Left to right: beef short rib, brisket, potato salad, white bread, pickles, beans, raw onion and John's BBQ sauce.

Franklin Barbecue – East Austin

Aaron Franklin is known for the beef brisket.

Beef brisket (fatty slice ordered) with potato salad and slaw sides.

Beef brisket crispy end.

The brisket is cooked for at least 18 hours. For what is normally a tough cut, its falls apart at the touch.
I’m not Texan, I haven’t grown up with it, I’ve eaten it a handful of times in my life so although I can appreciate it, I can’t fully understand it.

The verdict? Best pulled pork sandwich stack in the world!! The juices running down the side of the sandwich, self-basting it, keeping it perpetually succulent and juicy.

Franklin's pulled pork sandwich with sausage.
And a barbecue sauce spiked with espresso to die for.


It has come to light that Aaron is John Mueller's protege (Vine, 2012). You can learn from the best, but you always put your own unique spin on things. Aaron has learned patience and takes mastery to a whole new level, always working on his craft, designing new smoke machines and perfecting his recipes. From back yard barbecues to a barbecue kingdom with the famed relentless line up, he's all about low and slow.

The experience is neat. The line-up for this joint goes all the way out the door, zigzags down the disabled ramp and goes into the car park.

Bring patience and some good humour, the wait is well worth it and if you’re friendly, which all Texans seem to be, you’re bound to make some new friends. Oh yeah, and get in early before they sell out, which is usually by around 1pm.

“First time to your fine establishment today, and I have to say, I almost cried when I put the pulled pork in my mouth. Being a Georgia girl I'm extremely picky about my BBQ, and y'all are now at the top of my favorites list! Keep it up!” 
 – Laura Dickerson, Franklin Barbecue Facebook fan, 18 July 2012

No cutlery needed except maybe a knife...

The Salt Lick – Driftwood

This is a dining experience. Yes, it’s about 30 miles out of the center of Austin, which by old standards is where a barbecue joint needs to be (at least) in order to be traditional or any good, but it still made the cut and you’ll see why.

It’s a ranch style full blown family friendly restaurant with wait staff and all.

They even have their one vineyard and wine tasting room attached to the place. The display of the pecan pies is beautiful.

But what really takes your breath away is the open fire pit smack bang in the middle of the restaurant, smoking away lowly and slowly, pumping out the goods you’re about to consume.

The smoked pork sausage and the barbecue sauce are the best. They even bottle the good stuff and they just released their own cookbook. This is a barbecue powerhouse, maximising on their reputation and all things barbecue.