Here's our definitive, unequivocal, imminently debatable list of the best BBQ in Texas, as of summer 2014. Whether you want the best brisket, ribs or sausage, these joints will make your mouth water as soon as you smell the smoke.
The buttery, smoky turkey melts in your mouth and rivals the brisket and ribs (although nothing could touch the mouthwatering burnt ends). Black’s claims it’s the longest-running barbecue establishment by one family in Texas — open since 1932 — and they take great pride in their work, using oak aged for 12 to 18 months. There's an Austin location in the works, including a food truck.
215 N. Main St., Lockhart; 512-398-2712
In a parking lot in Cypress, the trailer serves must-try fatty and lean brisket, links and pulled pork. The flair for barbecue runs in the family: pitmaster and owner Trent Brooks learned his skills from his father, who manages a barbecue catering company.
18020 FM 529, Cypress; 832-893-1682
There's nothing quite like a good spicy link, piping hot with a nice, crispy skin that snaps just so after the first bite. Burns BBQ is the place for those hot links, made in-house and just spicy enough. Slather it in the tasty sauce and call it a day.
7117 N. Shepherd Dr., Houston; 713-692-2800
At George W. Bush’s favorite barbecue joint, they serve meat straight from the pit, dunking big chunks of brisket in flavorful sauce before hefting them onto your piece of butcher paper. Eat family-style with sides like potato salad and coleslaw, and don’t skip the sweet tea and peach cobbler for dessert.
604 W. Young St., Llano; 325-247-5713
Get here early. That is the No. 1 rule when hunting down great barbecue, and this humble trailer in Spring is no different, often selling out earlier than you might expect. All of its meats are excellent, but the turkey is sublime. Bring your own beverages and snag a picnic table under the shade for one of the best barbecue experiences in the area. (NOTE: Corkscrew is closed from August 3-26 while they get a new pit.)
24930 Budde Rd., Spring; 832-592-1184
The family-owned operation has blossomed in Tarrant County, growing from its first restaurant in Fort Worth to include branches in Crowley and even DFW International Airport. Famed for its award-winning sausage and beef ribs, Cousin’s smokes a mean brisket, as well as chicken, pulled pork and turkey breast. Save room for the luscious cakes made in-house.
910 S. Crowley Road, #1; Crowley; 817-297-0557
Pitmaster Aaron Franklin is almost as famous for his cheery nature and hipster glasses as he is for his succulent brisket. Franklin started in a trailer but has since moved to a brick-and-mortar spot. He welds his own smokers and has put Austin on the international map for excellent smoked meats, as well as his unique espresso barbecue sauce (which you can now buy by the bottle). Get to the East Austin spot at 9 AM to wait, and be prepared for a line.
900 E. 11th St., Austin; 512-653-1187
The outstanding craft cocktails and charcuterie at this West Campus spot almost seem like a side note compared to chef Evan LeRoy’s magnificent brisket and ribs, plus unusual smoked meats like pork belly and duck. Hit up sides like grilled cabbage slaw with caraway seeds and smoked beets, and save room for smoked banana pudding.
2402 San Gabriel St., Austin; 512-220-0953
Part of the charm of Gatlin's is its snug but comfortable accommodations. Located inside a small converted house in the Heights, there's often a line outside the door. Former Rice University football player Greg Gatlin, alongside his family, churns out some impressive versions of Texas classics, like moist, smoky brisket, just-right ribs and a tasty smoked sausage. The cobbler is also worth the wait.
1221 W. 19th St., Houston; 713-869-4227
This place has been in business since 1977 and has transformed into a Houston mini-empire. Of the namesake barbecue, perhaps the most unique is the smoked duck. It's rich, tasty and yet another excuse to find yourself with a slice of the famous jalapeño-cheese bread that accompanies it. Also: pecan pie. Just do it.
John Mueller’s temper, unpredictability, charm and genius precede him. He recently claimed he made the Austin barbecue scene what it is. It's true that Mueller, grandson of Louie Mueller, another barbecue legend, had a heavy hand in the scene (Franklin's Aaron Franklin worked in his original BBQ joint on Manor Road). Mueller's East Sixth Street trailer boasts picnic tables, free beer handed out by Mueller himself and plenty of brisket, ribs and squash casserole to go around.
2500 E. Sixth St., Austin
Chef Ronnie Killen, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, owns and operates the barbecue place in Pearland (and the steakhouse next door). The beef ribs are tops in our book, and although we can't get enough of the tasty 'cue here, it's worth making room for sides of mac 'n' cheese and creamed corn. Although there's usually a line (get there early; Killen's only serves until the eats run out), you won't be disappointed, especially on weekends when your wait time includes a free cold brew.
3613 E. Broadway, Pearland; 281-485-0844
After the original switched its name to Smitty's, the Kreuz name came to this establishment in 1999 — and helped put Lockhart on the barbecue map. The most important thing to know: there's no sauce here, so you can really taste the meat itself. The dry, peppery pork ribs are the highlight, but the moist brisket, pork tenderloin, jalapeño sausage and regular sausage will do you right too.
619 N. Colorado St., Lockhart; 512-398-2361
Pitmaster John Lewis comes from Franklin Barbecue, where he learned to smoke meats from a master. Lewis took over the La Barbecue trailer after some Mueller family drama and pitmaster John Mueller’s departure (it was called JMueller BBQ back then). Now, Lewis has made the South First staple his own; some say the brisket and ribs are the best in town.
1200 E. Sixth St., Austin; 512-605-9696
Fancy barbecue is not a typical expression, but at this Downtown Austin hot spot, the leather booths and dark wood make for a special night out. Try spicy deviled eggs with caviar and oak-smoked and coffee-rubbed brisket as well as classic sides made upscale like baked mac 'n' three cheeses or ranch-style beans with burnt ends. Don’t miss late-night bands upstairs or a stellar brunch the next morning.
401 W. Second St., Austin; 512-494-1500
If their longevity is any indication, Lenox Bar-B-Q is one of the best in Houston. They've been through a lot since opening in 1946, including a loss of their dining area (it's now only a take-out window) due to the Metro Rail construction. They may be down a dining room, but as of this summer, they've started serving lunch at nearby Medel's Ice House.
5420 Harrisburg Blvd., Houston; 713-926-2649
Dallas barbecue tends to be sauce-centric, so Lockhart’s reliance on the rub is a nod to its Hill Country roots and the fact that owner Jill Grobowsky Bergus’ grandfather operated sausage haven Kreuz Market. The casual Oak Cliff eatery likes to throw ‘cue curveballs, serving up specials like whiskey butter pork chops, smoked porchetta and even rainbow trout. The smoked deviled eggs are not to be missed.
400 W. Davis St., Dallas; 214-944-5521
This Texas barbecue staple almost doesn’t need an introduction. Taylor, Texas, is synonymous with Louie Mueller, and the family restaurant knows how to smoke meat, though a recent fire destroyed one of their 54-year-old pits. The addictive pork ribs might not leave room in your stomach for much else, but we advise getting the gamut of meats in order to find your favorite.
206 W. Second St., Taylor; 512-352-6206
Opened in 1982, this Dallas stalwart's hickory-infused ‘cue has die-hard fans, even if the spot is not as buzzed about as newer barbecue places. Unique sides such as a black-eyed pea salad, double-breaded fried okra and cheesy corn bake with poblanos pair wonderfully with pork hot links, beer brats, brisket and ribs. Stuffed and smoked jalapeños kick off the meal in spicy fashion.
5410 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas; 214-630-0735
Chef and founder Dwight Harvey honed his culinary chops working with high-profile chef Kent Rathbun, and now he’s created an instant classic with his own barbecue joint. Show-stopping ribs, chicken and brisket rule, best slathered with piquant housemade sauce. Sides are winners too, with the tangy bacon- and blue-cheese-flecked potato salad tops among them.
1734 S. Lamar St., Dallas; 214-565-9551
What’s the biggest draw at this Spicewood locale? The moist brisket, tender ribs and snappy sausage? The tater-tot salad and spicy corn? The gauntlet of warm cobblers, brownies and cookies? Whichever is your favorite, they add up to an authentic, enjoyable Hill Country barbecue experience.
9504 E. Hwy. 71, Spicewood; 830-693-8660
Even though it left its tiny farmer's market shed behind, Pecan Lodge still sports a pretty long line at its new Deep Ellum digs. And it's plenty worth the wait, as the brisket and crispy-outside-juicy-inside burnt ends are now legendary. Groups can now order in bulk to take advantage of the express line.
2702 Main St., Dallas; 214-748-8900
The famous spare ribs smoked in Pizzitola's more than 70-year-old hickory-fired open brick barbecue pits are just a part of the story. The pits are so seasoned, so full of magical barbecue energy from more than seven decades, that they impart a special oomph into those racks time and time again. The simple salt-and-pepper rubbed ribs are a Houston classic.
1703 Shepherd Dr., Houston; 713-227-2283
“Smokin’ good with a whole lotta soul,” is the theme at this family-owned and -operated restaurant adjacent to a gas station in the Third Ward. Although we can't make it past Ray Busch's smokin'-good BBQ and heavenly boudin, the menu offers something for everyone, including burgers, po' boys, seafood and salads.
4529 Old Spanish Trail, Houston; 713-748-4227
Brought to you by Jack Perkins, who upped Dallas’ burger game with Maple & Motor, The Slow Bone represents his second Design District food institution. A line that stretched into the parking lot awaited the restaurant’s opening, and crowds keep coming back for more hickory-smoked brisket and imaginative links, like jalapeño bratwurst and cilantro sausage. Grab a plastic cafeteria tray and invest time in the wait.
2234 Irving Blvd., Dallas; 214-377-7727
One of the oldest barbecue joints in Texas, this restaurant in Lockhart opened in 1900 as Kreuz Market, but a family feud resulted in a name change in 1999. That doesn't matter when you’re faced with moist fatty and lean brisket, sweet-glazed pork ribs and sausage, as well as Blue Bell ice cream to finish off. Beware of the lines, which sometimes spill out the back door.
208 S. Commerce St., Lockhart; 512-398-9344
Anyone who regularly smokes a whole hog has a certain confidence and flair in the pit, and chef-owner Tim Byres shows it in spades at this Oak Cliff establishment. Coffee-rubbed brisket simply melts on the tongue, and pork spareribs arrive with velvety mac 'n' cheese. The gigantic Big Rib — a beef shank in a perky chimichurri — has been delighting Sunday brunchers for years.
901 Fort Worth Ave., Dallas; 214-393-4141
A few years ago, no one had heard of Snow’s. But after Texas Monthly discovered the tiny stand and rated it as the best barbecue in the state, the Lexington locale almost went under due to overwhelming demand. These days its supply has caught up, and the brisket is still superb. Plus, with a pitmaster like sweet 79-year-old Tootsie Tomanetz, it’s hard not to fall in love with this place.
516 Main St., Lexington; 979-773-4640
Say goodbye to Austin trailers and sit down for once at this Brentwood spot, where you’ll sometimes find live music and always find solid smoked meats. We like the beef ribs, which you won’t find on many menus. But it’s not all about protein: Be sure to get some of the sweet-corn casserole too.
6610 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin; 512-380-9199
3 Stacks Smoke & Tap House
To pitmaster and “Rib Whisperer” Trace Arnold, smoking is a religion, and his fork-tender meats a daily offering. Happily, he smokes enough to share, making this Frisco outpost well worth the drive. Ribs and brisket are the stars here, though smoky pork loin and chicken stand out too. 3 Stacks is also one of the few spots in town where you can get giant beef ribs.
4226 Preston Rd., Frisco; 469-287-9035
For East Texas-style barbecue and A-list smoked boudin, you only have to venture to Homestead Road. After graduating from Purdue in 1990, owner Jarrett Scales opened the restaurant with his wife Rhonda. His family’s secret brisket recipe is a highlight on the menu. As of 1998, you can also get the mouthwatering barbecue annually at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
6715 Homestead Road, Houston; 713-635-6381
Chef Jason Dady brings upscale barbecue to San Antonio at this trendy spot. Go for classic brisket, pork ribs and pork sausage as well as sweet and tangy sauces on top. Don’t miss the strawberry fried pie for dessert. If you’re not too stuffed, play a round of bocce ball after dinner.
12656 West Ave., San Antonio; 210-496-0222
It's not just Houstonians that love Virgie's — barbecue devotees from all over the state commend the almost perfect St. Louis-style pork ribs. In the world of Texas barbecue, Virgie's is still a baby — it opened in 2005 — but that hasn't stopped it from developing a loyal following and plenty of much-deserved accolades.
5535 N. Gessner Dr., Houston; 713-466-6525
Tim Love’s ode to meat has been an instant hit since opening in Fort Worth in 2012. There’s nothing he won’t smoke or grill, including garlic for the aïoli. Classics like beef and pork ribs and ham shine, though Love throws in some unusual cuts like lamb brisket and a hefty beef shin on the bone.
3201 Riverfront Dr., Fort Worth; 817-877-4545