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Austin BBQ does Texas proud in bringing its methods to Wheaton

A full slab AustBBQ’s perfectly smoked baby back ribs is served with cornbread coleslaw with extrsauce side. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

A full slab of Austin BBQ’s perfectly smoked baby back ribs is served with cornbread and coleslaw, with extra sauce on the side. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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226 W. Front St., Wheaton; (630) 690-0526;

Hours: Open at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed on Sunday.

Try: Baby back ribs, brisket sandwich, blue cheese coleslaw, brisket chili, Kreuz Market sausage, mini pie.

Prices: Baby back slab, $19.95; sandwiches, $6.95-$7.95; desserts, $1.95-$2.95.

In a bite: Austin BBQ has diners lining up for a taste of its excellent barbecue. That big red smoker behind the counter was my first clue as to the technique here: smoking the meat low (temperature) and slow (12 hours, using oak). The pit master is Doug Pierce, and he knows his stuff. The atmosphere is down-home diner, casual, bright and pristine. Order at the counter (no table service). The kids’ menu features mini sandwiches, chicken tenders and mini ribs.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent;
★★ Very Good;
★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:39AM

Cue the music and play it loud. With apologies to Famous Dave’s and other barbecue places in the western suburbs, there is now a barbecue joint — Austin BBQ — in Wheaton that is so smoking hot, it has raised the bar to a whole new level. It’s been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it.

Taking the name of one of my favorite cities in Texas, Austin BBQ has put together a menu of favorites that mirror some of the best barbecue in that Southwestern mecca (Salt Lick, Ruby’s and Rudy’s come to mind). But then Austin is famous for its “barbecue belt” (the Hill Country), a band of barbecue restaurants that are a notch or two above those found anywhere else in the United States (including the South).

To link the Austin connection a bit stronger, Austin BBQ in Wheaton features Kreuz Market Sausage, which has been the go-to market in Lockhart (the “BBQ capital of Texas”) for sausages, brisket and chops for more than 100 years.

In keeping with “Texas tradition,” Austin BBQ makes a solid statement about enjoying its barbecue — sans barbecue sauce. “Meat, smoke and spices,” according to the dictates of Austin BBQ, is what real barbecue is all about. “If anything, adding a little hot sauce” is all you’ll need.

Regardless of whether you agree with the no-sauce idea (though sauce is available), Austin BBQ takes its barbecue (and the intensive 12-hour smoking process, using oak wood) rather seriously. And I really do like the way Austin BBQ goes about doing barbecue. I doubt if I would drive from the city to Wheaton to get barbecue, but this eatery would be on my to-eat list if I found myself anywhere within a couple of miles of its front door.

The brisket is some of the best I’ve had (right up there with Smoque BBQ on North Pulaski). The sliced brisket (or you can get it chopped) was meaty and tender, and the smoky flavor ran deep and true. Layered onto slices of white bread, with a hush puppy (a bit heavy, though) and one side, terrific blue cheese coleslaw, this was a meal and more for just $6.95.

That kind of romance carried over to the baby back ribs, where the outside got a light char that gave way to the tender and succulent meat that separated just a tad from the bones. And, as it goes with first-rate barbecue, the ribs had that all important pink smoke ring on the outer edge, an indicator that the meat was smoked from the outside clear through to the middle.

Austin BBQ is not making its bones on Texas-style barbecue alone, though. Other styles of barbecue — Memphis, Carolina and Kansas City “sweet and sticky” ribs — also are available.

A slew of sides range from crunchy onion rings to a ridiculously engaging bowl of brisket chili that was so thick, I had to eat it with a fork. Would that it carried more heat (as in spicy), but that’s just me, because I like eye-watering heat when it comes to chili. One complaint I have regarding the sides was the woefully small cornbread muffins that were sad to look at and did little to advance the idea of why cornbread and barbecue are a match made in heaven.

You place your order at the counter (there is no table service). It all arrives laid out on a paper-lined sheet pan (aka jelly-roll pan). In some cases, there will be cubes of Cheddar, chopped onion and pickles alongside, say, a sandwich or a slab of ribs.

The dessert choices include brownies, banana pudding and ice cream. However, I would suggest you go for one of the mini pies in which fruit (blueberry, strawberry, et al.) is the star attraction. These mini deep-dish pies were thick with fruit and sported a flaky crust. I highly recommend trying one.

Pat Bruno is a local free-lance critic and author. Listen to Pat Bruno talk about food and wine at 6:23 and 10:23 p.m. Tuesdays and 7:53 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on WBBM News Radio AM (780) and FM (105.9).

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