In general, Texas is known for three things: cowboy boots, Willie Nelson, and barbecue. Hundreds of barbecue joints are spread all throughout Texas, attracting people far and wide for a taste of their smoky goodness. But how does one choose the best?
Every fall, Texas Monthly hosts a barbecue fest at the Long Center in Austin, where the top fifty barbecue restaurants in Texas are invited to attend. Guests can purchase general admission tickets or VIP tickets, which grants them access to the barbecue an hour before everyone else (aka stuffing their faces with as much barbecue as they can before the hoards of people come).
This year, my parents had an extra VIP ticket and I was like:
With Texas’ fifty best barbecue joints all in one place, it was the perfect time for me to taste most of them (because even the most avid barbecue lover can’t sample fifty barbecue places without exploding) and rank the top ten superstars.
Brisket and ribs is the name of the game at Stiles Switch BBQ. The ribs are coated in a peppery crust that balances nicely with the succulent meat each time you take a bite. Their boudin sausage balls, which were sadly only available at the BBQ fest, were battered and fried, giving the dish a Texas State Fair vibe.
Pork ribs, sausage, and brisket make up Freedman’s Holy Trinity, a plate that is divine indeed. Unlike most places, both the lean and fatty cuts of the brisket were moist and flavorful, leaving me wanting more.
The name says it all. Lockhart Smokehouse smokes their meat using post oak, creating the perfect, tender brisket. Leave room for sides though – their mac and cheese, two kinds of coleslaw, and grits made me wish I had a bigger stomach.
7. Snow’s BBQ
Although brisket may be the crown jewel of Texas barbecue, Snow’s beef and pork steak had me thinking otherwise. The steaks are cooked in the direct-heat pit (most barbecue is cooked in indirect-heat), and the smoke and rub give it a tasty crust.
6. Hutchins BBQ
Two words: Pork. Ribs. The ribs practically fall off the bone when you’re eating it, making them the perfect pair for their broccoli slaw. With Texas-sized samples of meat and sides, I had to undo the button on my jeans before trekking on.
5. Pecan Lodge
Most briskets are smoked using post oak, but Pecan Lodge uses mesquite wood, giving it a unique (but delicious) smoky flavor. Both the lean and fatty cuts are moist and tasty, making it a sin to eat with any type of sauce.
Let’s take a break from the brisket and ribs and talk about Mueller’s smoked lamb chops. Although they’re traditionally known for their beef ribs, Louie Mueller stood out this time with their lamb chops, the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
By now you’re probably tired of hearing how smoky and tender each brisket was, but Killens’ brisket truly embodied that statement; they used a combination of oak, hickory, mesquite, and pecan wood to achieve the greatest flavor. With slices as thick as your thighs, both the lean and fatty cuts oozed juiciness and flavor. I may or may not have been guilty of going back for seconds.
2. La Barbecue
Although barbecue is the main focus, La Barbecue knocked it out of park with their “green sauce.” It was tangy and fresh and complemented the smokiness of the barbecue perfectly, to the point where I was scraping the sides of the sauce cup for the last bits of it. The meat itself practically melted in your mouth, with the pulled pork being my personal favorite.
Every single barbecue article you’ve read has probably listed Franklin’s as number one, and for good reason. The brisket’s smoky flavor, combined with its slow-cooked tenderness, is SOOOO good that people are willing to wait for 2+ hours in line for a taste. The pulled pork is so rich and flavorful that your taste buds will thank you for it hours after you’ve already eaten it.
Honorable Mention: Gourdough’s
Not barbecue, you say? Well, I can tell you firsthand that Gourdough’s Flying Pig donut (maple glaze and bacon, yes please) and Stiles Switch BBQ go better together than peanut butter and jelly. Not pictured, but definitely consumed: The Miss Shortcake donut with cream cheese and fresh strawberries.
Honorable Mention: Teo’s Gelato
Sweet, creamy gelato from Teo is the perfect way to ~cleanse your palate~ after hours of ingesting greasy (but delicious) barbecue. Rated in the top five in the gelato world tour, it’s only fitting that the world’s best gelato accompanies the world’s best barbecue.