Houston BBQ Guide
Finding the best smoked meat in the Bayou City.
Houston is enormous. It’s easy to say it’s the largest metropolitan area in Texas, but the size is hard to comprehend until you’ve spent the day driving from one corner to another, like I did last week in search of good barbecue. Consider this: it took me a full hour (without traffic) to travel from the Corkscrew BBQ in Spring to Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland, two of the best in the area. (And yes, I know certain Houstonians would say that’s not Houston, but people from the area know it’s all considered “Houston.”)
Perhaps it’s the city’s enormity and a desire to serve all the disparate parts of H-town that is, in part, responsible for the recent influx of great barbecue. New joints like The Pit Room, Pinkerton’s Barbecue, and the Tejas Chocolate Craftory way out in Tomball are serving new takes on Texas barbecue favorites. Established spots like Roegels Barbecue Co. and Gatlin’s BBQ just keep getting better. It’s a good time to eat barbecue in Houston.
FROM THE TOP 50:
As I said, many of the great barbecue joints in Houston are spread out all over the city, so it’s hard to decide which ones might be worth traveling for. Here are a cluster of can’t-miss-spots from our latest list of the Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas.
Corkscrew BBQ – The Buckmans made some of the best barbecue in the area from a food truck for the last four years, but they’ve outgrown their old location. Corkscrew BBQ has reopened in Old Town Spring where you can get some of the best barbecue in the Houston area, including their great brisket and huge spare ribs.
Gatlin’s BBQ – Greg Gatlin and his family operated their popular barbecue joint in a small house on 19th. The lines were slow and the tables few. This new, larger location just outside the loop suits them well. Fans of their brisket, dirty rice, and peach cobbler should rejoice.
Killen’s Barbecue – It’s a haul to get down to Pearland, but this trip is worth it. Ronnie Killen does wonders on the standards like brisket, spare ribs, and a homemade pork sausage, and a few new cuts bring some barbecue excitement. Bone-in pork belly and giant beef ribs are peppery and decadent. The sides like creamed corn and desserts like the bread pudding show of Killen’s chef side.
Pinkerton’s Barbecue – The newest joint in The Heights serves an impressive array of meats by the pound. The beef ribs are massive, the brisket is tender, and they’ve got some of the best sweet pork ribs you’ll find.
The Pit Room – A recent addition to Houston, this Montrose barbecue joint serves a diverse menu, and everything is homemade including three kinds of sausage. It’s hard to choose between the brisket and beef ribs, so get them both, and don’t miss out on the tortillas made with smoked brisket fat.
Roegels Barbecue Co. – Russell and Misty Roegels opened a Baker’s Ribs location here twenty years back, but recently hung out their own shingle after parting from the chain. The chicken is stellar, as are the brisket and ribs, and it’s hard to beat their daily specials. Get the meat, get some sides, but do not forget about the homemade bourbon banana pudding.
Tejas Chocolate Craftory – Yes, they make chocolate here, from scratch, but there’s also a huge menu of barbecue excellence. Start with the pork belly paired with the mole sauce. The lean brisket is as juicy as the fatty brisket at most joints, and we haven’t even gotten to the pastrami beef ribs.
MORE GREAT BARBECUE:
Brooks’ Place – Look for the food truck in front of the Ace Hardware. Trent Brooks smokes great fatty brisket, among other things, and is also known for his inventive sides and specials. Breakfast is a recent addition as well, but don’t count on Brooks for dinner. He’ll be sold out by then.
Pappa Charlie’s Barbecue – Wesley Jurena is all about the beef. There are obviously beef ribs and brisket on the menu, and you’re also likely to find tri-tip, smoked meat loaf, beef rib burnt ends, and even brisket in the mac-and-cheese. All that beef shouldn’t make you dismiss the turkey or the sweet spare ribs. No matter what you get, it’ll have a good dose of black pepper.
Ray’s BBQ Shack – Texas barbecue joints are generally judged on their brisket, but Ray’s has so much more to offer. The homemade links and smoked boudin make a non-traditional combo plate along with the crispy fried catfish.
Southern Goods – It’s not every day you can get barbecue prepared by chef and pitmaster Patrick Feges. They only serve it once a month on the first Saturday of the month, but it’s good enough to plan ahead for.
Southern Q BBQ – The building is new, but the business has been operating on a mobile basis for several years, making an impact on the North side of Houston. In their bricks-and-mortar location, Southern Q has its own sausage and boudin recipes, along with sweet ribs, smoky brisket, and one of the biggest overstuffed potatoes (there are three meats in there) I can remember.
The Brisket House – As the name suggests, brisket is a specialty here, and maybe the best I’ve tried out of a Southern Pride smoker. The jalapeño sausage from Ruffino’s in College Station is also a great option, and a good way to round things out would be one of their spectacular beef short ribs.
INSIDE THE LOOP:
If you work downtown, you can get to any of these within about twenty minutes. These joints are all within the 610 loop, with a couple right downtown.
Gerardo’s Drive-In – While they don’t cook them the old way in the ground, the barbacoa at Gerardo’s is from the full cabeza. Get a pound of cachet, a stack of tortillas, and some salsa verde and share it with friends. Don’t miss the carnitas either.
Goode Co. BBQ – It’s a Houston legend, but the barbecue quality has been surpassed by so many others that it’s now more known for pie. You’ll know why after a slice of the pecan or chocolate almond.
Jackson Street BBQ – The giant red building near the ballpark downtown houses a new venture between local chef Bryan Caswell, and local pitmaster Greg Gatlin (you’ll see his name later). Caswell developed the sides, and Gatlin oversees the barbecue. You can’t go wrong with the ribs or the pulled pork sandwich or the venison sausage, and you might get lucky an find the biscuit with burnt ends on the menu.
Lenox Bar-B-Q – The front of the building was lopped off to make way for the train tracks so you enter into the kitchen, which is why the joint is now a take-out operation. A chopped beef sandwich with some of Lenox’s old recipe barbecue sauce is a step back in time for Houston barbecue culture.
Luling City Market – It started as a copy-cat of the original City Market in Luling, and some of those items from Luling remain. The mustard sauce and the house made sausage are a great combination, but the rest of the menu is off and on.
Pappas Bar-B-Q – This might be downtown’s best brisket. It’s smoked over all wood in Oyler rotisseries, wrapped in butcher paper, and properly rested until the meat is tender and juicy. The peppery chicken is also a standout as is the generous selection of sides.
Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque – See above.
Pizzitola’s – They’re known for the old brick smokers in the kitchen which work wonders on their pork ribs. While salt and pepper is all the rage in Texas barbecue, they use the table variety rather than cracked pepper and Kosher salt. The banana pudding alone is worth a visit.
OUTSIDE THE LOOP:
These will all take a little extra effort to get to from the center of town, but they’re all worth the trek. Folks around the Galleria should count themselves lucky that they have two solid options to close from.
Barbecue Inn – Besides the notable ribs, the barbecue is an afterthought. People come here for the excellent fried chicken and fried shrimp, and you should too.
Burns Original BBQ – After a brief expansion to three joints within the Burns family, this is the only one that remains. The chicken links are unique, and the “homemade links” are a good version from Frenchy’s. Also try the juicy smoked chicken.
El Hidalguense – The only barbecue this menu has to offer is goat, and it’s on display when you want in the door. I suggest the shoulder portion.
Fainmous BBQ – They call it Tennessee style, which means the pulled pork sandwich has slaw. The most compelling menu is the smoked sausage.
Gabby’s – It’s not the best barbecue in Houston, but the quality is better than most any other drive-through. Go for the pulled pork and it’s hard to miss on the sides like red beans and rice.
Gatlin’s BBQ – See above.
Roegel’s Barbecue Co. – See above.
The Brisket House – See above.
Triple J’s Smokehouse – Tender spare ribs are some of the biggest anywhere. The smoked boudin is also excellent. Try them with a side of dirty rice and green beans, and don’t forget the peach cobbler.
Virgie’s Bar-B-Que – The little yellow building on the northwest side of town has some deep family history, but Adrain Handsborough has been smoking meat here for ten years. Virgie’s was on the leading edge of the barbecue boom in Houston, and remains one of its notable joints, mainly because of the giant, meaty, tender, and smoky pork spare ribs.
WAY OUTSIDE THE LOOP:
These joints are on the outskirts. You’ll either need to make a special trip, or maybe you’re just happy to be a suburbanite. Luckily, there’s a good option for barbecue in almost any direction outside the city.
Brooks’ Place – See above.
Corkscrew BBQ – See above.
Killen’s Barbecue – See above.
Tejas Chocolate Craftory – See above.
Tin Roof BBQ – This joint is all alone on the far northeast side of town. I liked the meaty, smoky ribs here along with the made-to-order onion rings.
Southern Q BBQ – See above.
The Swinging Door – Take what the Salt Lick represents for Austin, and what Clark’s in Tioga used to for Dallas, and you get the Swinging Door. They’ve passed forty years in business by keeping the menu simple and the portions large, and while it’s a long haul out into the country for old time barbecue, it’s worth it for the experience. Skip the brisket for the exemplary pork ribs, and you can’t go wrong with the sides or nay of the cobblers they offer for dessert.
Houston has historically been known for their links. In the twenties, Matt Garner brought his sausage recipe to town, and you can still find versions of it spread around today’s barbecue joints. Another great development is the influx of Cajun boudin, and local barbecue joints aren’t afraid to smoke it.
Byron’s Gourmet Bar-B-Q – Byron Johnson learned to make links from his Beaumont-born grandfather. They’re all-beef with plenty of fat and wallop of garlic. He also makes his own rice-heavy boudin.
Davis Meat Market – This is more of a meat market than barbecue joint, but you can get James Davis’s homemade sausage and boudin. It’s the only place where I’ve gotten cup of boudin (served without the casing) but it makes it easier to add some of Davis’s “Hot Saus.”
Fainmous BBQ – See above.
Luling City Market – See above.
Pappa’s Bar-B-Q – This joint isn’t related to Pappas Bar-B-Q (note the apostrophe), and you might question if it’s open for business when you pull up, but walk inside for a step back in time and order the house made beef links.
Powell Bar-B-Q – Wayne Lemons mans the old brick pit here, and makes the links too. The rest of the menu is forgettable, but the beefy links alone make it worth a visit.
Ray’s BBQ Shack – See above.
Thomas Bar-B-Q – With three locations around town, they serve plenty of barbecue, but the only menu item I enjoyed were the spicy beef links, which are from a recipe developed by the original owner.