Pitmaster turns focus from sandwiches to smoked meats in Northwest Austin

John Bates and the crew of InterStellar BBQ have won praise from Texas Monthly. 
(Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
John Bates and the crew of InterStellar BBQ have won praise from Texas Monthly. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

John Bates and the crew of InterStellar BBQ have won praise from Texas Monthly. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

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A platter of meats includes Angus beef prime brisket ($15), beef kielbasa ($6), pork rib ($11.50) and turkey breast ($10) as well as sides such as a tomato zucchini salad ($3.50). (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Interstellar BBQ keeps its fire pits lit 22 hours a day. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
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The sliced brisket taco ($7) is topped with avocado salsa, Texas gremolata and cotija cheese. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
The past year of COVID-19 pandemic alerts may have put a stop to many things, but the fires within InterStellar BBQ have stayed lit 22 hours a day.

John Bates, owner of InterStellar BBQ, said he has been in the food industry for 30 years. After working as a chef, Bates opened Noble Sandwich Co. in 2010 a half-mile down the road from InterStellar BBQ, which is at 12233 N. RM 620, Austin.

Bates and his staff moved Noble Sandwich Co. over to where InterStellar BBQ currently resides in 2013. They later changed the concept in 2019 into what it is today.

Bates said he enjoyed running the sandwich shop but needed something new.

“Frankly I was getting a little bored, and we weren’t really growing in the way we wanted to at that point in time,” Bates said. “Barbecue seemed like a natural progression for me and the restaurant because we served a lot of smoked meats at Noble. It wasn’t like going from serving sandwiches to serving sushi.”

When the restaurant relaunched into InterStellar BBQ, Bates said a goal was to create a positive, wholesome and relational work environment.

“I’m here about 80 hours a week, and other staff are here 50 or 60 hours a week,” Bates said. “I want staff here to be surrounded by positive and happy people because working in a restaurant can be stressful.”

The restaurant has two cooking pits: Its main pit is 1,000 gallons, and the other is 500 gallons, Bates said.

“Ninety percent of our food comes from our main cooking pit and my buddy John Brotherton, who owns Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue in Pflugerville, lent me the 500-gallon pit until we get another 1,000-gallon one,” Bates said. “He’s been very supportive of our restaurant since day one.”

After Texas Monthly published its November 2021 article ranking InterStellar BBQ second out of 50 of the best barbecue restaurants in Texas, Bates said he is seeing more than the regulars throughout the week and families on the weekends. Even though more customers are coming in, the restaurant is continuing to focus on quality over quantity.

“We could try to get three more pits and run more registers but then the quality of the goods would suffer because we would be overreaching,” he said. “The goal is to find the sweet spot between being busy enough to stay in business and not be so busy where customer service and food quality starts to derail.”

InterStellar BBQ

12233 N. RM 620, Ste. 105, Austin

512-382-6248 | www.theinterstellarbbq.com

Hours: Wed.-Sun. 11 a.m. until sold out, closed Mon.-Tue.
By Trent Thompson

Reporter, Austin Metro

Trent joined Community Impact Newspaper as an intern in May 2021 after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, Austin in December 2020. In July 2021, he was promoted to Austin Metro reporter. He covers several news beats from education and government to dining, transportation, nonprofits, and healthcare. However, his primary beat is business and development. Before working at CI, Trent wrote for The Daily Texan, UT's daily student newspaper, and worked on many projects of his own for his undergraduate program. In his free time Trent writes poetry, spends time with loved ones, and watches Star Wars for the hundredth time, including other new movies.