Austin’s Top 12 BBQ brisket

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking
1. Franklin Barbecue. Suburban kids like me grew up eating brisket from places where they took the flat side of a knife and slicked the fat right off into the scrap bowl. Simple. I’d have crowded the dog at that bowl if I’d known what Aaron Franklin, Braun Hughes and the rest of the Franklin Barbecue crew know: Fat is the secret ingredient. It gives brisket a velveteen drape and the luster of a black smoking jacket. Fat animates brisket’s open-range flavor and softens its hard-working grain. Franklin balances fat, lean, smoke and texture to make this humble cut of beef ... complicated. We’re cul de sac kids, cosmic cowboys and climbers. We can handle complicated. 900 E. 11th St. (map),
2. La Barbecue. Brisket technique at this level feels like earth science, taught by John Lewis and Esaul Ramos. The bark is a silky topographical map over fat in ambered equilibrium between liquid and solid. Beneath that lie tectonic plates of lean moving like floes over a willowy center, which in turn rests over a radiating core of pearled fat. Science tastes good. September 2015 update: 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St. next to Stay Gold (map)
3. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. At the Switch, Shay Bozarth bakes a mean Oreo cupcake. Her colleagues Lance Kirkpatrick and Andy Stapp make brisket not far from that cupcake’s aesthetic. The crust glistens like frosting, where the flavor gathers in greatest concentration. Below that is a half-inch of red velvet, then a lean center with the same rewarding character as the bonus Oreo at the cupcake’s heart.  6610 N. Lamar Blvd. (map),
4. Freedmen’s. Evan LeRoy has found the Goldilocks Zone for brisket, landing it in that Just Right place between hard lean and undisciplined fat. This brisket carries its white-gold stripe of belly fat with the swagger of a plus-size model. Across the top is a crystallized layer of fat and salt and pepper that coalesces into something like rock candy. Or a tiara. 2402 San Gabriel St. (map),
5. John Mueller Meat Co. On the good days, brisket here is breakfast toast, warm and crunchy at its artisan multigrain crust, progressively buttered and soft to its hearth-smoked center, with sauce like onion jam on the side. On the not so good days, the toast is burned, the butter’s been left in the sun and it’s time for a Lone Star before noon. That JMMC still makes this list at No. 5 is a testament to the power of hope. And toast. 2500 E. Sixth St. (map),
6. Brown’s Bar-B-Que. On his ground-floor rollout, Daniel Brown employed pork rib’s best practices while he backburnered his brisket. After a blue-sky circle-back, Brown upsourced to Certified Angus going forward. To bottom-line it: Brown’s brisket gets the job done, with robust caramelization that melts into a honeycomb of leaner meat below the fatline. Bizspeak, South Austin style. 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. at the Corner Bar (map), Facebook page
7. Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ. As good as Miguel Vidal’s brisket can be when it’s chopped into a flour tortilla, it’s even better by the pound, with a smoke ring that burrows a full inch deep into the meat with mesquite’s tannic, lowcountry twang and a loose, toasted, salty bark. Updated May 2015: 7612 Brodie Lane (map).
8. Kerlin BBQ. Can’t help thinking of “Proud Mary” here. The Ike and Tina version. Cut from the lean side, Bill Kerlin’s brisket does it nice and easy, a tender accordioned strip with a bark like a smiley-face button. But for those who never ever do nothing nice and easy, the fatty side is nice and rough, with a weathered bark and meat and fat in all the major keys of the brisket songbook. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. (map),
9. Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. Coffee and brown sugar leave a barista’s stamp on this brisket’s bark, the kind of barista that works in a faraway shop where they still allow smoking. The meat’s as sweet and aromatic as pipe tobacco. 401 W. Second St. (map),
10. Micklethwait Craft Meats. The couple in front of me ordered a two-meat plate with double brisket, one side fatty and one side lean. Micklethwait does good work with both kinds, one with an antique white fault line and the other with dense fieldstone masonry, both with sharp red smokelines and bark like a blacktop country road softening in the sun. Mr. Sprat, your order is ready. 1309 Rosewood Ave. (map),
11. Bowie BBQ at Whole Foods Market. Do the cutters know they’re working the barbecue counter at a Whole Foods mini-mall? Because they seem to think they’re slicing brisket at a Hill Country smokeshack, handing out burnt ends and backslaps. The brisket is strong enough to support the illusion, with brilliant spiderwebs of fat, honeycombed meat and a hard-candy shell. 525 N. Lamar Blvd. (map),
12. Blue Ox BBQ & Pancake Cabin. Update: Blue Ox has closed. When even a trailer next to an East Riverside coffeeshop is turning out fatty-cut slabs of brisket that evoke Llano, Lockhart or Taylor, it feels like a smoky ex-urban sprawl is turning Central Texas into a barbecue Pangea. Chase Palmer is a bona fide citizen of the Taylor exodus, a Louie Mueller expat whose brisket is his passport. 1505 Town Creek Drive at the Buzz Mill coffeeshop (map),
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)