by Marshall Wright
It’s a well-known fact that the heart of Texas barbecue lives 40-plus miles outside the Austin city limits. Legendary small-town storefronts awash in the patina of black smoke and steeped in rich history mean we Austinites with a craving for “Texas-class” barbecue have to make a day trip (with a cooler in tow to stock up and bring some home for the neighbors) to satisfy our insatiable appetites. With the recent openings of two East Austin ’cue shacks, the time may have finally come that we no longer have to plan our day around a quest for smoked meat, unless we just want to get out of town. Well … almost.
Live Oak Barbecue
Tucked into a shady corner on East Second Street in an unassuming white-brick building sits Live Oak Barbecue, one of the newest members on Austin’s urban barbecue scene. It’s here that you’ll find – amid the brisket, pork ribs, sausage and pork steak – some of the best smoked chicken in the state. Side items include the traditional potato salad, coleslaw, cucumber salad, borracho beans and collard greens loaded with chunks of smoky pork shoulder.
“We’re still in what I would consider the soft-opening phase,” says Tom Spaulding, Live Oak’s pit master. “We’re still tweaking, still adjusting. Across the board, our products are above where I want them to be but I’m not ready to throw my doors open and go, all right, here’s the middle finger, Lockhart!”
When asked how he sees Austin fitting into the pantheon of Texas barbecue, Spaulding paused for a moment and then replied, “Lockhart. Llano. Taylor/Lexington. Austin. And then everybody else. I think we’re definitely in the big four. … The buckle of the barbecue belt is here [in Texas]. And the rest of the country’s pants have been falling down for years.”
The subject quickly turned to beer and the best beer to pair with barbecue. According to Spaulding, Austin Beerworks Black Thunder, a German Schwarz with a roasted, bready complexity and a finish that is clean and dry, would be the closest thing to a perfect beer for Texas ’cue. But his favorite beer to drink with the pork steak, brisket and that smoked chicken from Live Oak Barbecue is currently the Shiner Ruby Redbird seasonal beer that is brewed with grapefruit and fresh ginger. He likes the ginger element as a palate-cleanser and the citrus plays well against the spice of the seasoning. He also recommends another Austin Beerworks beer: Pearl Snap, with its bright hop character and clean finish (think Pilsner Urquell) as his current second favorite.
“Many, many kudos to Aaron [Franklin] for what he’s done down there at Franklin’s,” Spaulding says, in reference to changing the way people think about urban barbecue. “He’s definitely changed the overall perception of what you can do in Austin. That helps us out greatly.”
Live Oak Barbecue,
271 E. Second St. / Open daily 11 a.m. to midnight.
Stop by Franklin Barbecue any day of the week and you’re likely to find a “Sorry, Sold Out” sign on the door. That is, unless you get there a couple hours before they open. And having stood in that line on more than one occasion, I can attest that the wait is worth it. With accolades from the likes of Bon Appetit, The Wall Street Journal and other national publications, it’s clear that whatever Aaron Franklin is doing is right.
What started out as a hobby in his backyard has quickly moved from a food-blogger, cult-favorite, food trailer to a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 900 E. 11th Street. Franklin Barbecue serves customers meat-market style, by the pound or as a sandwich, including what arguably might be some of the best brisket in the state, if not anywhere. Turkey, pork ribs, pork butt and sausage, and select sandwiches like the Tipsy Texan (a chopped beef and slaw sandwich named after the Austin cocktail-consultant business founded by David Alan and Joe Eiffler, both regulars and good friends of the restaurant) round out the menu. Side items like potato salad, coleslaw and pinto beans, in addition to pies baked by Franklin’s wife and partner, Stacy, are also available. Make sure to ask for your brisket “fatty McFatterson.”
900 E. 11th St. / Open Sun. – Sat., 11 a.m. until sold out.