There’s certainly more to be said – and learned! – about Terry Black’s Barbecue of Austin, TX. This is simply our first impression of the place.

From the outside, Terry Black’s Barbecue looks like it belongs in Lockhart, TX, the cradle of old-school Texas brisket and hot-link barbecue, which would make sense since the Black family is from there. The single-story Austin restaurant is spacious and rustic-looking, and the pit is set back from the bustling parking lot. Atop the pit is a neon sign and a chimney that was still pumping out smoke at 7:00 pm on a Thursday. Friday’s lunch rush was, after all, a mere 16 hours away.

Terry’s is open full restaurant hours in a rather prime location just south of the Colorado River. Since I arrived at dinner time, I had a thirty-minute wait to place my order. I noticed a few things during that wait: The line wraps out and around the front porch, but it moves. Terry’s sells drinks to those waiting on line via window service. You enter through the gift shop. The last thing you can buy or order is the barbecue itself, which is served either via sandwich or per pound.

The line that snaked through souvenirs, drinks, and sides gave a bit of a tourism-industrial complex feel to the place. But considering Terry’s hours, location, and likely high property taxes, it made sense. Barbecue isn’t charity, and if they’re going to serve high-end ‘cue all day every day, they need that t-shirt money to stay in the *ahem* black.

All the gift baskets and bottles of wine for sale seem to have another purpose: keeping the barbecue prices down. Brisket was selling for $22.98 a pound, which is about par for an urban Texas Monthly Top 50 barbecue spot. And by having the barbecue counter at the end of the line, patrons could enjoy a hot meal as soon as they found a place to sit.

My table included people from Toronto, Delaware, and California, and they were all audibly happy with their dinners. The gentlemen next to me seemed to be the happiest of the lot, exclaiming at one point, “All this for $16! In San Francisco, you can even take a piss for $16!”

And my dinner? Brisket with a ton of blacked bark, a great smoke ring, and not too much fat. I didn’t exclaim as much as my neighbors did, but I would go back for more… just at a time with a shorter line so that I have less opportunity to think about barbecue economics.

 

— Essay and photos by Dan Meade
Date of visit: 2/27/2020
Date of Publication: 3/08/2020

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