Top 5 Texas Hill Country Barbecue Joints

River Texas

The Colorado River winds through Austin, leading to legendary barbecue restaurants.

My father attended grad school at the University of Texas in the late ‘60s, long before urban sprawl began encroaching on the surrounding Hill Country. Amazingly, many of the same restaurants that were available to him 40 years ago are still going strong This is my round-up of top barbecue joints in Texas Hill Country and points east, based on six trips to Austin.

The Salt Lick BBQ – Driftwood, TX

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The Salt Lick BBQ is a legendary barbecue restaurant that has reduced two of my family members to tears. Over the years, the Lick has become a Hill Country tourist attraction, but it’s still hard to beat their family-style dinner ($18.95 per person) – all you can eat platters of bronzed pork ribs, luscious brisket and taut pork sausage. Be sure to request refills of burnt ends, the prized outside pieces of brisket that are caramelized and chewy from smoke-buffeted sauce applications. Dinner comes with helpings of German potato salad (with mustard and onions), cole slaw (with celery seed), pinto beans and white bread. Slather on The Salt Lick’s classic vinegar and mustard-based barbecue sauce, or a habanero version that’s a lighter shade of orange, with more kick.

City Market – Luling, TX

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Up the road in Lockhart, you’ll find mammoth barbecue barns selling many more meats and sides, but none can match the simple perfection of City Market. The menu couldn’t be simpler: beef brisket, pork ribs, and hot sausage links. The pit man lifts the lid to reveal a smoker full of perfect house-made sausage links. Experts carve ribs and brisket on the wood block. It would be a mistake not to order pork ribs, brisket and sausage links, the holy trinity of central Texas barbecue. Ribs and links get no better, and the brisket, with its nice outer char, certainly holds its own. The ribs have an unbeatable caramelized crust, which lock in the essential juices of the pork. The link features a coarse texture and an unrivaled peppery kick. An old hot sauce bottle housed a sensational burnt-orange barbecue sauce that nearly matched the zing of its previous tenant.

Louie Mueller Barbecue – Taylor, TX

Barbecue Texas

Barbecue Texas

American Airlines Flight 1182 from LAX to Austin might as well be called the Brisket Express. Every spring, my father, brother and I meet at the Bergstrom baggage claim and quickly turn to the most important matter in any trip with a barbecue bent: where to eat first. In 2007, we already planned to end our weekend at The Salt Lick, so we needed an equally formidable launching pad. Louie Mueller Barbecue has been “a Texas tradition since 1949” and ensconced in its current location since 1959. Louie passed away in 1992, but son Bobby has done wonders to further his father’s legacy. He revealed the meats are smoked for 6-8 hours using oak, depending on the cut of meat. Brisket is nice and juicy, with at least a quarter-inch smoke ring and a caramelized exterior. Pork ribs are bronzed and peppery, with an addictive chew. Coarse sausage links have a nice kick and are pleasantly greasy, with taut skins.



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments


Black’s sells brisket with a Kansas City substitute taste? They can’t cook a brisket that tastes good by itself any more. Black’s was the the last bastion of pure Texas BBQ and now they pour sugary tomato sauce over a beautiful piece of beef like everybody else. Take me lord. I’m ready to go.

The Salt Lick has gone commercial. That is they have a stainless steel gas powered cooker behind the restaurant. The kitchen is for looks. Although you can still cook mighty fine que in a gas powered woodsmoke assist unit it will never be the same. A stick burner is the best!


The last time I was at The Salt Lick, it did feel like a barbecue theme park. I’d still take this over most barbecue, but they wouldn’t make my Top 5 at this stage.

visited Austin, Buda,Wimberly. Went to Salt Lick during the week. We were disappointed. Had not been in several years. 1st experience was good, but something has happened and not for the best. Heard the “old folks” turned over to son? not as good.


Friday Barbecue Pr0n | Bacon And Boomsticks

[…] Another Salt Lick view from […]

The Salt Lick has really gone down in quality over the last five years. If you go, do not go on the weekend and that will improve your chances of getting decent meat. If you get the all you can eat, the second round of meat will not be as good as the first.

Franklin in Austin is the best brisket and rib combination we have ever eaten — and yes, we have been to Snow’s twice.

Cooper’s is OK, but do not get the pork loin or the chop unless you like eating meat with a lot of sauce because it will be dried out by the time you get there.

The bbq in nearby Castell on Saturday afternoon is just as good as Cooper’s, but they have a limited selection.

Mueller’s still is spot on with most of what they cook, but it is not in the Hill Country.

Black’s is OK, but we prefer Smitty’s. Neither are in the Hill Country.

Snow’s is great, but it is not in the Hill Country, just sayin.

Opie’s out by Krause Springs is really good, but do not go on a Sunday.


Thanks for sharing your opinions. My last meal at The Salt Lick was the weakest of all my visits, but was still better than most spots in the area. I’ll have to try the BBQ in Castell and Opie’s, but won’t go on Sunday.

Looking at this after my recent trip to Austin, it’s clear that Snow’s belongs in the Top 5. What to do, what to do…

I “ate” at Cooper’s a couple of years ago. Mostly I ate the beans. The meats looked liked they were pressure cookered somewhere behind the scenes and plopped on a grill for some marking. I got a sausage and some kind of very thick chop, but didn’t eat more than a couple of bites. Cobblers were like canned cobbler. Beans were soupy, not spicy, but OK. My standard when I lived in Austin 20 years ago were County Line, Salt Lick, and some little place near Luling.

1st time Salt Lick visitor at Driftwood, Ribs and Sausage, yes sir!

I want to spend my last days on this planet at the table closest to the fire at Salt Lick surrounded by mountains of meat!!! I will die a very happy person.

George. I’m with you. Prop me up against The Salt Lick’s pit and I’ll gladly shovel burnt ends into my mouth until I burst.

Going to TX in October, I’ll have to visit one of these. I wasnt hungry. Until I just saw this article. MMMmmmm thanks!

AWESOME Article Josh! I am from TX and I’ve eaten at many of these places. I’m getting married in Austin in Sept. and my rehearsal dinner is at the legendary Stubbs BBQ in Austin. One place missing from your list is Zimmerhanzel’s in Smithville, TX. This is, IMHO, the BEST bbq place on earth!


Glad to hear a Texan approves of my round-up. I’ve read about Zimmerhanzel’s but haven’t had the chance to eat there…yet. That will change. Thanks for the tip.

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