Where to find the best of the best Texas barbeque
So you’re headed for Texas. Welcome aboard and be sure to bring your hungry with you. Texas is a food lover’s paradise. From Mexican food to steaks and everything in between, it’s all really good. But the barbecue will keep you coming back.
It all started when German and Czech settlers landed in Central Texas in the mid-19th Century and brought their European meat-smoking traditions with them. Traditionally, butchers would smoke the leftover meat that had not been sold, allowing it to be stored longer without spoiling.
As these leftovers became popular, multiple meat markets began to specialize in smoked meats. The first recorded mention of barbecue for sale to the public in the United States was an advertisement from a butcher in Bastrop, near the State’s capitol city of Austin, in 1878. That ultimately spawned a worldwide barbecue industry.
Most experts agree the word “barbecue” comes from the Caribbean word “barbacoa.” Originally, a barbacoa wasn’t a way of cooking food, but the name of a wooden structure used by Taino Indians to smoke their food.
Today, barbacoa also is a traditional Mexican form of barbecue that typically uses goat, lamb, or beef. In its most authentic form, barbacoa is prepared in a hole dug in the ground and covered in cactus leaves.
The history of barbecuing in America dates to colonial times, and it has been a part of American culture ever since. In fact, one of the first laws enacted in the colony of Virginia during the 1650s forbade the discharge of guns at a barbecue.
Today, barbecuing plays an especially large role in Southern cuisine, which is notorious for its rich and zesty flavor. And while there is great barbecue throughout the south and Midwest, luckily for you, the best is in Texas.
Barbecue is informal dining at its finest. Brisket can be served sliced or diced on a sandwich or sliced on a plate with side dishes. The meat’s flavor is enhanced with a spice rub and almost every restaurant has their own secret spice recipe but it usually includes salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, garlic and oregano. If you want something different, ribs, sausage, turkey and chicken also are usually offered and they are very popular.
And to find the best of the best, Texas Monthly Magazine regularly publishes a list of what it considers the top barbecue restaurants in Texas. This year’s Texas Monthly Top 50 Barbecue Joints will provide visitors with an excellent roadmap of where to eat during their stay. To ensure the list is authentic, this year the magazine sent 35 writers to 411 barbecue joints in Texas over eight weeks. The most promising were visited by Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor (a title you don’t see often) and its food writer to determine the top 10.
Worldwide, the various regional variations of barbecue can be broadly categorized into those that use direct and those using indirect heating. Indirect barbecues are associated with North American cuisine, in which meat is heated by roasting or smoking over wood or charcoal. These methods of barbecue involve cooking using smoke at low temperatures and long cooking times. For brisket, 12 hours is a common cooking time. But the wait is worth it as the meat can be cut with a fork.
The Texas Monthly list is an excellent resource if you decide to try some barbecue while in Texas. But if you want a quick cheat sheet, here is a short list of highly recommended barbecue joints in and around major Texas cities. Not all of these are included on the Texas Monthly list but all are recommended by locals in the area.
If you have some time in Dallas, Pecan Lodge is one of the pre-eminent barbecue places in Texas and is just east of downtown. Lockhart Smokehouse, in Oak Cliff, is another excellent spot. It’s located in the Bishop Arts district which is fun to stroll around after a big meal. Cattleack BBQ and Slow Bone are two other worthy stops.
Fort Worth has a host of barbecue spots including Derek Allan's Texas Barbecue on 8th Avenue near downtown and Bailey’s Bar-B-Que, which is in downtown. If you’re in Austin, Micklethwait Craft Meats and Black’s Barbecue are worth stopping for. Franklin’s Barbecue is simply outstanding and on any “best” list so go but expect a wait.
For folks headed to Houston, Pinkerton’s Barbecue in Houston and San Antonio, Pizzitola’s Barbecue and Roegels Barbecue in Houston and Tin Roof Barbecue in Humble, just outside Houston, are highly recommended by locals. Also in San Antonio, the Smoke Shack, Barbecue Station and the Rusty Bucket Jaw Smacking BBQ are local favorites. Mary Ann’s Pig Stand has been a favorite since 1929.
Enjoy your stay in Texas and try the Mexican food as well as the barbecue. Both will make you sorry to leave.
Buddy Price is a retired corporate communications manager and a former member of the Dallas Morning News sports staff. A native Texan, he has lived in and around Dallas for almost 30 years and is a dedicated barbecue fan.