It’s 2011. You’re in your car listening to “Party Rock Anthem” with the windows down, making the 45-minute drive to Lockhart early on a Saturday to get in line at Black’s BBQ. Maybe you even attempted to hit up Kreuz and Smitty’s while you were down there, walking a few laps around the town square between stops in an attempt to make space for just a couple more ribs.
Fast forward a decade or so, and a lot has changed. Sure, there was some decent barbecue in Austin back then, but if you were into barbecue, you drove for the good stuff. Now, we have incredible barbecue all over Austin proper—including a second location of Black’s BBQ on Guadalupe. And with this barbecue renaissance, we’ve been introduced to a bunch of new styles, techniques, and flavors. Don’t get us wrong, we love the traditional, minimalist approach that Central Texas pitmasters generally apply—usually seasoned exclusively with salt and pepper, and smoked with post oak—we’re just happy to live in a city with such great barbecue. And one of Austin’s newest spots, Distant Relatives, also happens to be one of its most exciting.
At Distant Relatives, they’re exploring the African diaspora across America, and the many influences it’s had on all things barbecue, but they’re doing it with Central Texas touches. That means you can expect to see (and taste) strong spice profiles, lots of pickled produce, and a nose-to-tail approach that highlights everything from hog jowl to pulled pork. Before you get your Texas-sized pitchforks out—yes, they do brisket here, and they do it well—no road trip required. With a nice, crispy bark and a moist interior, it’s damn near perfect. It’s also served with a side of smoked mustard butter sauce that will make you forget about any former allegiances to barbecue sauce. Well, at least until you try their tamarind molasses barbecue sauce. It’s OK, you can have two favorite sauces.
We could talk sauce all day, but it’s what those sauces represent that excites us—attention to detail and a fine-tuned dining experience you’d expect to find at a restaurant with white tablecloths. Instead here, the classic “edible napkin” served with most Texas barbecue (usually Mrs. Baird's) gets subbed out for thick toasted slices of sourdough Pullman’s loaf—a small, but welcome upgrade that adds some great texture along with that distinct sourdough bite. And as much as we love the traditional sides of coleslaw and potato salad, it’s not often that you can get lima beans with smoked pork butter and chives. These aren’t the lima beans you ate growing up—unless your dad happens to work behind the counter—these are smoky and tangy, with just enough bite to remind you they’re still lima beans. Burnt ends with black eyed peas also steal the side-show, adding in distinctly smoky pieces of brisket bark to help showcase their little legume buddies.
All of the produce is local, and most of it comes from Black farmers in the Austin area. The menu changes regularly—with a seasonal element that you’d expect to find at a restaurant that proudly displays a “no flip flops” sign—which keeps things exciting enough for repeat visits. And the quality of the food is so good it’s hard to accept the fact that your meal just came from a small trailer on the patio of a brewery.
Distant Relatives is a barbecue spot, yes. But it’s also so much more than that—it’s a mixture of old and new, equal parts tribute and innovation. It’s the kind of barbecue that you’d be willing to take a road trip for—but lucky for you it’s within city limits. Just think how excited 2011 you would be to know what was in store.
The staple and defining characteristic of all Central Texas barbecue. The brisket here is incredibly tender and could easily hold its own in a fight against any of the Austin-area barbecue juggernauts.
Beef Brisket Sandwich
Buttery brioche bun topped with thick slices of brisket and some pickled veggies? It’s basically the formula for the perfect sandwich. Our version came topped with a pickled green bean remoulade that we were still talking about three days later (our Lyft driver promised they’d go check it out if we stopped mentioning it).
Pulled Pork Sandwich
We’ve had this sandwich a few times—sometimes topped with a green mango slaw, and sometimes with preserved cabbage—and we can’t help but order it every time we go. Whatever it’s topped with, you can bet that it’s going to provide a nice, tangy balance to some pull-apart tender meat. If you’re at all a fan of pulled pork, this is a must order.
Chicken Leg Quarter
Chicken is often a sidelined item at most barbecue spots. We’re happy to say that’s not the case here. And we’re not even exaggerating when we say this is some of the best chicken we’ve ever had, barbecue or otherwise. Crispy skin covers up bite after bite of soft, smoky dark meat. And the chili vinegar dip provides that little bit of tang that you didn’t know you needed.
There’s a whole mix of sides you probably won’t find at other barbecue spots around town, and you should definitely make room for a few of them, like the black eyed peas. At Distant Relatives they’re slow cooked and served with brisket burnt ends—you know, the best part of the brisket. Expect smoky, barky bits in between tender bites of soft legumes. Another standout is the Potlikker stew—a brothy mix of collard greens, carrots, and smoked meats—that could probably stand alone as its own entree.