The Texas Monthly BBQ Fest is perhaps the best public-facing barbecue event in the country, after seven years of growth and refinement. The festival returns to the familiar confines of The Long Center’s South Austin outdoor patio on Sunday, November 5, amidst serious changes in the Texas barbecue hierarchy. The magazine published its eagerly anticipated best barbecue list, which reflected the seismic increase in quality smoked meats options around the state since the last ranking in 2013.
The festival upped its barbecue offerings this year, highlighting 30 different restaurants from the state. This includes the entirety of the top ten (Snow’s BBQ, Franklin Barbecue, Cattleack Barbeque, Bodacious Bar-B-Q, Louie Mueller Barbecue, Tejas Chocolate Craftory, CorkScrew BBQ, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Evie Mae’s Pit Barbeque, Truth Barbeque), making the event a true one-off opportunity to overindulge in the very best smoked meat. To help make the most of the festival, here are Eater’s tips to help guests make the most of this weekend’s festivities.
Choosing Your Ticket
It is worth noting that the the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest ticketing has two distinct tiers: the regular $84 pass allows three hours of access to unlimited samples and the live music lineup, while the spendy $172 ticket permits four hours of festing (including the coveted early entry), along with two drink tickets and a subscription to the magazine. If guests have toddlers in tow, a ticket for younger children is available for around $12. The true decision criteria for purchasers: what is an hour without lines worth to you?
What To Bring
As with other Austin festivals, arriving with essential items is wise. The Long Center’s patio is bright, so bring a hat or cap and some sunglasses. Advance application of sunscreen is smart, and taking a Zantac/Pepcid style acid reducer before leaving home is for the best. (Bring Tums for later too.) Other possible items for your bag: stain stick for clothes and wet wipes for your hands.
One last item has proven to be both humorous and controversial: some attendees smuggle in Ziploc-type doggie bags to carry home leftovers. While loading up on extra meat would be in poor taste, if you are the type inclined to throw your uneaten portions of brisket and sausage into a stew, it may merit consideration.
Managing Your Time
The toughest part about the event is that a festival focused on such heavy foods means attendees can only accomplish so much before running out of room. Some advance reconnaissance can be helpful when prioritizing preferred barbecue lines: the list of vendors is up on the ticketing site (also available below), and there are paper festival maps available too. Options certainly differ, but here are some tips and strategies for managing your time:
- Arrive early, and find your top five. Texas Monthly food editor Pat Sharpe offers her take: “You’ll wait in line one way or another. Get there early, decide on your personal top five, and run, do not walk, to your first place. From there, hit the shorter lines.”
- Share plates, and divide and conquer. The portions are not dainty. Barbecue blogger, top 50 issue contributor, and Eater Austin writer Jimmy Ho suggests that guests “roll with a crew and share the sample portions. Split your group between lines. If you do it right, you can get through all 30.”
- Don’t finish each plate, and watch the booze. Food writer and barbecue fest veteran Dan Gentile offers the following advice: “No one likes to waste food, but with so much amazing barbecue, there’s no reason to finish a slice of brisket if it’s not to your liking. If waste is a concern, share. You might also avoid beer in order to save more room for meat.”
- Avoid sides. These are some of the best pitmasters in the nation — do you need those baked beans or that mac and cheese? Something has to give — make it the sides.
- If you must have Franklin Barbecue, get in line when doors open. Says Gentile: “Anybody can guess who’ll have the longest line (his name rhymes with ‘Baron Cranklin’), so I’d recommend high-tailing it to his booth while the rest of your group bring you samples from other pitmasters.”
Where To Eat
As for picking the “best” barbecue at the festival, there’s a choose-your-own-adventure element at play. Some favorite strategies include:
- The Top 10 (wait times: longer). Everyone does this. They read the list too. Expect fantastic food, but big crowds.
- The Farthest Afield (wait times: shorter). Says Ho: “All of Austin’s places are great, but you can eat at those any weekend! Grab bites from places on the other side of the state.” Have you made it to Tyler’s in Amarillo, Smolik’s in Mathis, or Pody’s in Pecos? Save 10+ hours of driving and prioritize these and other “far from home” spots.
- The Ones You’ve Missed (wait times: moderate). Yes, Franklin is amazing. But why not enjoy the work of all the places you’ve meant to go but haven’t? Spots like 2M, Hays County, Pinkerton’s, and Hutchins will all be memorable, yet easier to access than the Top 10.
Don’t Miss The Extras
While the intense barbecue hustle is the whole point of the festival, it is worth taking time to people-watch and explore the grounds. In past years, it has been easy to spot Texan celebrities from Robert Earl Keen to Ray Benson wandering the festival or talking to barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn. Sharpe also recommends a visit with the professors from Texas A&M’s Meat Science booth to learn more about the university’s work, and notes that “they’ll answer all your brisket cooking and marinade tips.”
One final point: don’t sleep on the music. The festival hosts top-flight music on the sprawling Long Center lawn. Four acts play this year, among them world-class songwriters Bruce Robison, Willis Alan Ramsey, and Carrie Rodriguez.
The Full Texas Monthly BBQ Fest Lineup
2M Smokehouse – San Antonio
BBQ on the Brazos – Cresson
Bodacious Bar-B-Q – Longview
Cattleack Barbeque – Dallas
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que – Llano
CorkScrew BBQ – Spring
Evie Mae’s Pit Barbecue – Wolfforth
Franklin Barbecue – Austin
The Granary ’Cue & Brew – San Antonio
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que – San Marcos
Heim Barbecue – Fort Worth
Hutchins BBQ – McKinney
La Barbecue – Austin
Lockhart Smokehouse – Dallas
Louie Mueller Barbecue – Taylor
Micklethwait Craft Meats – Austin
Miller’s Smokehouse – Belton
Pinkerton’s Barbecue – Houston
Pody’s BBQ – Pecos
Roegels Barbecue Co. – Houston
Smolik’s Smokehouse – Mathis
Snow’s BBQ – Lexington
Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ – Tyler
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew – Austin
Stillwater Barbeque – Abilene
Tejas Chocolate Craftory – Tomball
Terry Black’s Barbecue – Austin
Truth Barbeque – Brenham
Tyler’s Barbeque – Amarillo
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – Austin