Chain Gang

We admit being partial to the small, independent barbecue joint run by an ornery cuss who has smoke in his eyes and sauce in his veins. But we also concede that chain operations sell some darn good barbecue. So while we included only indies in our top fifty list, we herewith give the top multicity chains their due.

Bodacious Bar-B-Que A common knock on chain restaurants is their uniformity, but really, is there a better compliment? We liked all five of this Longview-based company’s outlets that we tried (there are seventeen in all, scattered over East and Northeast Texas). The squeaky-clean location in Tyler is a perfect control sample: Rustic picnic tables and framed historic newspapers on the walls can’t hide the fact that the place is in a modern strip mall, but the hickory-smoked ribs were the tenderest in the county, and the juicy, thin-sliced brisket had a prize-worthy smoke ring.

The County Line In general, atmosphere and service are way down the list of what matters when you go to eat barbecue. Not so at the County Line, which has strategically located almost all of its twelve popular full-service restaurants in scenic places so that customers have something to look at while waiting for a table. The 28-year-old company has also trained its perky young servers to do more than scowl or grunt when taking orders. So whether you’re at a Texas outpost or in Albuquerque, Denver, or Oklahoma City, you can count on certain amenities and good ‘cue. And what other barbecue joint has Kahlúa brownies? For more information, check out countyline.com.

Dyer’s Bar-B-Que In the Texas Panhandle, decent barbecue is as scarce as oceanfront property (sorry, guys; it’s the truth). But Dyer’s, with restaurants in Amarillo and Pampa, is helping to fill that void. We visited the location in Pampa, where we found a nice dining room with a smoker out back using two kinds of wood (blackjack oak and hickory) to flavor sweetly glazed pork ribs, brisket, medium-coarse sausage, and more. Panhandle history is honored here in the antique cooking implements on the walls and an old chuck-wagon favorite—sweet, jammy cooked apricots—which you get gratis with your meal.

Rudy’s “Country Store” and Bar-B-Q As a barbecue snob, you might get a sinking feeling walking into one of Rudy’s eleven locations in Texas and two in New Mexico. Many are huge. Then there are the corny, faux-country signs that say things like “Whoa, Pardner, Grub’s That Way.” But you get in line anyway and order from guys standing in front of a huge iron pit who slap your order on a tray. And if you happen to be in one of our favorite Rudy’s—like the ones in Leon Springs and Round Rock—you’ll be happily surprised with the quality. Just so you’ll know, the three corporate-run locations in and around San Antonio (including the one in Leon Springs, where it all began) have more-basic menus than the franchises and aren’t listed with them on rudys.com.

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