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Austin BBQ

Five smoky eats around SXSW

by CH Editors in Food + Drink on 13 March 2012

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If you're coming to Austin, you got to eat yourself some barbecue and there's some terrific 'cue available throughout the city.

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Since the first day Franklin's Barbecue opened its doors on E 11th street, barbecue fans have been praising it to the high heavens, and Bon Appetit magazine recently named it the best barbecue in America. Owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin starts smoking his meats in the wee hours of the morning and when he opens for business at 10am there's a line of anxious eaters waiting to place their orders. By around 1pm the barbecue is sold out and Franklin's closes for the day. You've got about a three-hour window of opportunity to experience Franklin's sublime melding of fire, smoke and spice.

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Follow that sweet scent of smoldering oak uptown and you'll find Ruby's BBQ. Ruby's slow-cooks their barbecue using brick and mortar pits and oak for the flavor and heat. In addition, they offer something few BBQ places offer: all-natural beef brisket that is free of steroids or hormones and an array of side dishes that includes enough variety a vegetarian can find more than enough to satisfy their hunger. Ruby's feels like a backcountry roadhouse and the sound system provides the perfect soundtrack of Blues and down home Americana.

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The Iron Works BBQ is convenient to the hub of SXSW action, just a few blocks south from 6th street on Red River. Originally an ornamental iron work shop, it was converted to The Iron Works BBQ in 1978, and the Texas State Historical Commission has designated it a historical site. It gets busy around noon and the best deal are the sampler plates featuring brisket, sausage and beef ribs. During SXSW the place is jammed with musicians, industry types and disoriented regulars.

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If you can possibly find the time to make the 25-mile trip to Taylor to visit Louie Mueller's BBQ, go for it. Since 1949, the Mueller family have been making some of the best, if not the best, barbecued brisket in Texas. Featured in countless magazines and on all the food channels, Mueller's is not only a great place to eat barbecue, it's a wonderful place to visit. A warehouse-size restaurant whose walls and floors have turned brownish yellow from years of smoke, Mueller's sits on the main drag of the mostly abandoned downtown Taylor. There is a beautiful kind of serenity that pervades this once-teeming manufacturing town, which now looks and feels like a scene from The Last Picture Show.

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On the east side of downtown is one of Austin's oldest barbecue restaurants, Sam's, which has been in business since the 1940s. A popular stop on the Chitlin Circuit, Sam's has served R&B royalty from Tina Turner to James Brown. Not much has changed over the years—the joint is funky and full of soul. Specialty of the house: barbecued mutton. Sam's is open until 3am on weekends.

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