Texas Monthly invited 27 BBQ purveyors to participate in the 7th annual TMBBQ Fest at the Long Center on Oct. 30, 2016. Austin pitmasters represented our city well, claiming five of the coveted spots at the festival and sharing the stage with others from among the top 50 pitmasters in Texas.
The pitmasters, crews and volunteers brought in their smokers early to set up for the meat-tasting extravaganza of the year. A hungry horde of roughly 3,500 eaters put on their game faces and lined up for grub. Some families planned their tasting strategy ahead of time, employing a divide and conquer strategy. Others meandered about, going where the day and their noses led them.
The five Austin participants included Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue, Freedmen’s, Stiles Switch and Lambert’s. Here’s what you missed.
Reigning champion Franklin Barbecue boasted a 30-minute line immediately after the gates were opened to VIP ticketholders, and the line didn’t wane all day. Pitmaster and local BBQ hero, Aaron Franklin, alternated between slicing and serving brisket, chatting with people in line, and taking countless selfies with starstruck attendees.
Franklin proclaimed the TMBBQ Fest “a celebration of the best BBQ in Texas!” He added, “Of course, it seems like I would say that, but it’s really true! This is a celebration.” His pit offered a generous sample of brisket, pulled pork and jalapeño cheese sausage to attendees.
When asked what eager diners should know about Franklin that they don’t already, he reminded us that they always take pre-orders, and this might be the best way to avoid the famed queue. He also noted that unless the sold out sign is up, it’s worth stopping by. Although rare and unpredictable, they sometimes have BBQ left later in the day. Always investigate!
900 E. 11th St. – Website
Pitmasters: Aaron Franklin, Braun Hughes
This revered BBQ truck also had a line early on, and ended up selling out later in the day. The booth was buzzing with pitmasters slicing and serving food like meat-fueled Energizer bunnies. Pitmaster Mat Gonzo exclaimed of the event, “It’s like a big old party! Everybody comes out and is eating BBQ, and it’s great! It feels like Thanksgiving, but with BBQ.” What’s not to love?
The La Barbecue sample for TMBBQ Fest included brisket, chipotle sausage, pulled pork, house-made pickles and pickled red onions.
1906 E. Cesar Chavez St. – Website
Pitmasters: John Lewis, Francisco Saucedo, Dylan Taylor, Mat Gonzo
The pit team from Freedmen’s seemed positively giddy with all the love and excitement buzzing around their tent, and the meat did not disappoint.
Their sampler included brisket, tender smoked pork tenderloin, and the most festive entry of the day: a donut hole filled with brisket marmalade. The donut hole was a fun treat that delighted attendees.
2402 San Gabriel St. – Website
Pitmasters: Christopher McGhee, Juan Morales, Brad Robinson
Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew
The Stiles Switch booth welcomed eaters with lively banter and excited descriptions of their dishes. They were clearly having a blast at the festival. Pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick grew reverent when asked why he loves the event so much. “Texas Monthly does so much for Texas BBQ: writing about us, spreading the word, that we are always so happy to do anything involving them.”
One of the few booths to put together complete dishes, they used Southern staples to show off their BBQ. One of my favorites of the day was their smoked chicken leg with a unique (to Texas) Alabama white sauce, served on a bed of pico de gallo coleslaw.
The other dish was served on a Johnnycake topped with table-chopped brisket, mixed in with pitmaster Bill Dumas’ family recipe: molasses and coffee based sauce with a piece of jalapeño cheese sausage. A Johnnycake is similar to a cornmeal pancake, but less dense. It was delicious and complemented the rich brisket.
6610 N. Lamar Blvd. – Website
Pitmasters: Lance Kirkpatrick, Andy Stapp, Alanmykal Jackson, Bill Dumas
Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue
Upscale staple in downtown Austin, Lambert’s, was another hopping spot at TMBBQ Fest. The team member serving their scrumptious food said, “Everybody at this event is just happy. We love making people happy with our food.”
The crowd and Lambert’s huge team certainly exuded that happy vibe. Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue offerings consisted of their menu staples: brisket with brown sugar and coffee rub, and jalapeño hot links.
401 W. 2nd St. – Website
Pitmaster: Javier Sanchez
Day Trip-Worthy Participants
Besides our Austin-based BBQ experts, there were other contenders from the surrounding area, well within day trip reach. They all have loyal devotees and are worth visiting!
- Black’s Barbecue (Lockhart and Austin)
- Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor)
- Opie’s BBQ (Spicewood)
- Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q (Kerrville)
Taste of Texas in Paris
Texas Monthly hosted their first ever global participant this year, The Beast from Paris, France. At first glance, this seems out of place at a Texas BBQ festival. But The Beast’s ties to Austin, the surrounding area, and respected Texas BBQ joints are strong.
Pitmaster Thomas Abramowicz more or less fell madly in love with Texas-style BBQ and went on a practical vision quest to learn the tricks of the trade from the best in Texas. He quit his job; came to work with Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor; traveled across Texas taste-testing and getting tips; consulted with the Franklin Barbecue team; and worked on a BBQ food truck in Houston. He then launched The Beast in Paris and, by all accounts, they serve legitimate Texas-style BBQ.
Abramowicz brought a taste of France to the TMBBQ Fest with smoked duck breast, but he also served a traditional—and delectable—beef rib portion.
Paris, France – Facebook
Pitmaster: Thomas Abramowicz
The big announcement Texas Montly made at the end of the day was that, in 2017, they will be updating their list of the 50 Best BBQ Joints in the World. Let the eating begin and pass the Alka-Seltzer!
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite BBQ joint in Austin?