The Pit Parade

The fifty best barbecue joints in Texas.

May 1997By Comments

ABILENE Betty Rose’s Little Brisket Briskets generally don’t get prettier by closing time, so at 4 p.m. Betty Rose’s juicy, tender, well-marbled, mesquite-smoked brisket and meaty, black-pepper-rub-encrusted pork ribs were nice surprises, expertly held through the long, post-lunch slump. Not so the wrinkled pork-and-beef sausage. We helped ourselves to above-average macaroni salad, coleslaw, cornbread, and pintos. The sauce is sweet-sour and peppery, the banana pudding larruping good. Pleasant, squeaky-clean former gas station. Brisket plate $5.25. BYOB. Rating: 4. 2402 S. Seventh, 915-673-5809. Cash only. Closed Sundays. Richard Zelade

AMARILLO Beans N Things The little corner pit on old Route 66 with the plastic cow on the roof has gotten even better since Shirley Gallmeier took over from former police chief Wiley Alexander four years ago. There’s the requisite array of smoked meats (brisket smoked over hickory for 12 hours and 45 minutes, mesquite-smoked ribs, sausage, chicken, and fajitas) as entrées, with brisket also added to salads, nachos, Cajun rice, and stuffed potatoes. But the real stars here are the sandwiches— the chunky, freshly cut chopped beef and the unique pig-and-chicken (piles of the smoked meats and melted yellow cheese on a bun). Confirming the place’s semi-secret status are the autographed photos of Mickey Gilley and local comedian Dangerous Don on the wall. Brisket plate $4.99. Beer. Rating: 4. 1700-A Amarillo Boulevard East, 806-373-7383. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. Joe Nick Patoski

AUSTIN Sam’s Bar-B-Que At this funky little East Austin joint, which was a favorite of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, the locals hang out as if time didn’t exist. The barbecue is erratic, but when it’s good, the green-oak-smoked meat sprinkled with a secret dry rub is a religious experience. After a good mixed plate of Sam’s tender pork ribs, melting brisket, and Samson-strength mutton, you know God’s not a vegetarian. Good beef-and-pork sausage, dryish chicken. Peppery, velvety smooth red sauce. Spicy pinto beans, mustardy mashed-style potato salad. Brisket plate $5. BYOB. Rating: 5. 2000 E. Twelfth, 512-478-0378. Cash only. Open daily. Jim Shahin

AUSTIN Stubb’s Roadhouse-chic live music and ‘cue emporium named for the late, legendary pitmaster C. B. Stubblefield, located downtown in a sprawling stone building with hardwood floors, faded brick walls, and an outside deck. Stubb’s meats are pecan-smoked, including usually robust brisket (occasionally pot-roast bland), delectable beef ribs, and juice-oozing chicken. Also turkey breast, good pork-and-beef sausage. Numerous tasty homemade sides such as greens, mashed sweet potatoes, stewed okra, and jalapeño spinach. Desserts include wonderful banana pudding. Sauce is mildly spicy and medium thick. Brisket plate $5.95. Full bar. Rating: 3.5. 801 Red River, 512-480-8341. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. JS

BASTROP Bastrop Bar-B-Q With its acoustic-tile ceiling and rusted farm implements placed just so on a redbrick wall, this place has zero atmosphere. The character is in the oak-smoked barbecue: powerful brisket, fall-apart pork ribs, and huge, tender beef ribs as well as pork chops, ribeyes, and finely ground, home-recipe all-beef sausage. The thin dill-pickle-juice-based hot sauce is better than it sounds. Standard sides, homemade. Brisket plate $5.29. BYOB. Rating: 4. 919 Main, 512-321-7719. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JS

BEAUMONT Willy Ray’s Bar-B-Q Company The atmosphere’s way too nice for barbecue, but seventeen-month-old Willy Ray’s redeems itself with terrific meaty, unfatty ribs, moist pork, and tender brisket, all smoked over hickory and oak. The cafeteria line dispenses numerous daily-changing vegetables (including Cajun rice, turnip greens, a carrot soufflé that puts sweet-potato pie to shame, and an honest-to-god green salad). As for the sauce, it is of the stout, sweet-tart persuasion. Brisket plate $6.50. Beer. Rating: 4. 145 Interstate 10 North, 409-832-7770. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. Patricia Sharpe

BELTON Schoepf’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que The line forms at the serving pit outside; choose from equally fine brisket, pork ribs and inch-thick chops, chicken, pork-and-beef ring sausage, sirloin, and cabrito (as available), cooked over mesquite coals. Step inside the spacious dining room for potato salad, slaw, excellent pintos, and tangy, thickish sauce, all homemade. The place’s resemblance to Cooper’s in Llano isn’t a coincidence; the owners are friends. Brisket plate $5.95. BYOB. Rating: 5. 702 E. Central Avenue, 817-939-1151. Cash only. Open daily. RZ

BORGER Monkey’s Bar B Que Pit These days, Sutphen’s (see below) isn’t the only great pit in Borger. George “Monkey” Loftis, a former Sutphen’s pitmaster, has juked up the formula with some interesting twists—using mesquite instead of hickory, smoking ribs that are drier (a plus) and a bit saltier (a minus), and introducing delicacies such as the three-meat triple sandwich (choose among brisket, pork-and-beef sausage, smoked turkey, and pork strips), ribs by the slab, and barbecue enchiladas. The glutinous, sweet-spicy sauce is served on the side. In keeping with Loftis’ nickname, the dining area has a jungle theme. Brisket plate $6.25. Rating: 4. 1408 S. Cedar, 806-273-3747. MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays. JNP

BORGER Sutphen’s Pit Bar-B-Q Hickory House Sutphen’s closed the doors of its last, deservedly renowned Amarillo location last year, leaving Joe Sutphen to carry on the tradition at his restaurant in Borger. He does a fine job too, turning out consistently tender ribs good enough to win the nationals in Cleveland as well as ham and chunk-style brisket. Every meal is accompanied by a delightful bowl of puréed apricots, a chutneylike palate cleanser and condiment perfect for dipping crisp battered onion rings or even a rib. Brisket plate $5.30. BYOB. Rating: 4. 300 N. Cedar, 806-274-9472. MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JNP

BRADY Lone Star B-B-Q Spare but pleasant concrete-floored eatery with stained-glass Texas flag in the window. Mesquite-smoked unfatty brisket that comes from a company in . . . Green Bay, Wisconsin?! “It’s better meat,” says owner Chuck Dalchau. “It’ll make people mad when they hear that, but it’s a fact.” Also, thick pork chops, good sirloin, chicken, ribs, undistinguished beef-and-pork sausage, and on Saturdays, goat. Delicious homemade sides and fruit cobblers. Brisket plate about $4.25. BYOB. Rating: 4. 2010 S. Bridge (U.S. 87 South), 915-597-1936. MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JS

BRYAN AND COLLEGE STATION Tom’s Tom’s huge, well-seasoned, meaty pork ribs have fed thousands of Aggies and other meat-eaters, who chase them with moist, fall-apart oak-smoked brisket and pork loin (moderately flavorful) at both locations. Apply the too-strong, unsweet sauce at your own peril. Corn and green beans (two of several vegetable offerings) are blah; chocolate-iced pecan pie will send you into a sugar swoon. The comfortable modern building in Bryan resembles a tall, overgrown log cabin. Brisket plate $5.95. Beer. Rating: 3.5. 3601 S. College, Bryan, 409-846-4275 (closed Sundays); 2001 Texas Avenue South, College Station, 409-696-2076 (open daily). AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. PS

BURNET Burnet County Bar-B-Q Inside this rustic log cabin-style building, warmed in wintertime by a wood-burning stove, patrons enjoy mesuite-smoked meats: meltingly tender pork ribs, fourteen-to-eighteen-hour brisket, Elgin beef sausage from Southside Market, and ham. Pretty good homemade tomato-based sauce. Also, tasty homemade slaw and jalapeño-spiked beans. Yummy pies are made by a woman in Oatmeal. Brisket plate $5.25. BYOB. Rating: 4. 616 Buchanan Drive (Texas Highway 29), 512-756-6468. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Tuesdays. JS

DALLAS Baker’s Ribs Hickory smoke and porcine paraphernalia pervade this rustic former warehouse. Tender, lean brisket and pork ribs stand out. Moist and flavorful boneless chicken breast is unorthodox, but it is served here for quality control (traditional bone-in chicken doesn’t age well). Ham, turkey, and beef sausage are no better than commercial. Tasty, from-scratch potato salad has green onions, herbs, and spices; house sauce is orange-red, sweet, runny. Brisket plate $6.95. Beer. Rating: 4. 2724 Commerce (other locations in the Dallas area), 214-748-5433. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays. RZ

DALLAS Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse The raison d’eat here is hickory-smoked brisket sandwiches, pork ribs, and thick, crunchy onion rings. The pork-and-beef sausage and ham are forgettable (longtime pitmaster Charlie Riddle passed away last December), the potato salad and slaw pedestrian, the beans not helped by pit time. Scratch sauce is red, sweet, and thick. Two dozen school-desk seats inside for the non-claustrophobic; others eat in their cars, at picnic tables, or on tree stumps outside. Brisket plate $6.25. Beer. Rating: 4. 2202 Inwood (other locations in the Dallas—Fort Worth area), 214-357-7120. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. RZ

EAGLE LAKE Austin’s Bar-B-Que When a building is this grim, the food had better be good, and it is. The serving line is so narrow that two people can’t pass; the only seating area is a chain-link-fenced concrete slab outdoors by the highway. But your plate is loaded with great, moist pecan-smoked brisket; big ribs, meaty if a little stringy; and pretty good coarse-grained pork-and-beef sausage links. Side dishes include green beans, buttery boiled potatoes, and tart, mayonnaisey macaroni salad. (Vegetables and desserts are made by owners Denice and Ron Janow; Ron allowed as how the rice salad was a bit “al dente” when we visited.) Sauce would go better with spaghetti. Brisket plate $4.50. BYOB. Rating: 4. 507 E. Main (U.S. 90A), 409-234-5250. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sunday through Wednesday. PS

EGYPT John’s Country Store This antiques store, with adjoining saloon, offers only pecan-and-mesquite-smoked brisket and sausage (a pork-beef mixture) sandwiches, but the brisket’s so melt-in-your-mouth tender it survives the rather flat sauce it’s drenched in. Brisket sandwich $3.50, sausage sandwich $3.25. Brisket also sold by the pound ($7.50). Beer, wine. Rating: 4. 131 Northington Road, one block north of FM 102, 409-677-3536 or 281-242-7658. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Monday through Thursday. JM

ELGIN Southside Market BBQ Talk about big. Every Saturday the Southside sells 2,000 pounds of Elgin beef sausage, 500 pounds of other meats (brisket; beef and pork steaks; beef, mutton, and pork ribs, plus baby back pork ribs), and 50 to 75 chickens. Amazingly, it’s all pretty darned good, though you can quibble that the brisket might not be as tender as some. The pork ribs (big chestnut-colored slabs) are fine. Sauce is thin, red, not strongly sweet or sour, and very distinctive. The crowds eat off butcher paper at school-cafeteria tables in a modern converted bank building. Brisket plate $4.75. Beer. Rating: 4. 1212 U.S. 290, at Texas Highway 95, 512-285-3407. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. PS

EL PASO Bill Parks Bar-B-Que Homesick Texans driving from the west get back in touch with their palates shortly after crossing the state line, veering off I-10 in El Paso at the Piedras or Copia exit and pulling into Bill Parks’s, a warm and comfy, red-Naugahyde oasis of soul-style barbecue in the desert. The house specialties are the mesquite-pecan-and-oak-smoked pork and beef ribs (speak up when ordering if you don’t want them bathed in the sweet sauce), roastlike brisket that was slightly overdone, near-perfect sliced pork, pork-and-beef hot links and smoked sausage, sides of mixed greens, rice and gravy, and stewed okra in addition to the usuals, and surprisingly complex sweet-potato pie. Brisket plate $5.85 (fat) or $6.50 (lean). Beer, wine. Rating: 4. 3130 Gateway East, 915-542-0960. AE, DS, MC, V. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JNP

FORT WORTH Angelo’s In the town that beef built, warehouse-size Angelo’s, with its bunkhouse atmosphere and stuffed Western critters, needs no introduction. At the beginning of a lunch that soon resembled the Oklahoma Land Rush, we enjoyed tender, marbled hickory-smoked brisket (a little salty); pork ribs that were crusty outside and tender within; and an exemplary quarter-chicken: pink, smoky, juicy meat protected by a lightly browned, supple skin. Barbecued salami sounds sacrilegious but tastes good dressed up as a sandwich on rye; slaw, potato salad, and ranch-style beans did not excite. The homemade sauce is reddish-brown, runny, slightly sweet, and tangy. Brisket plate $6.85. Beer. Rating: 4.25. 2533 White Settlement, 817-332-0357. Cash only. Closed Sundays. RZ

FREDERICKSBURG Ken Hall and Company Texas Barbecue Old cowboy boots and cowboy hats line one wall of this rec room of a place owned by a former pro football player (for the Oilers, among others). Moist mesquite-smoked pork roast, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, and brisket (lean slice: blah; fatty slice: wow!). Also turkey, chicken, and from the local Dutchman’s Market, flavorful pork-and-beef sausage. Homemade sides include unexceptional green beans and corn. Brisket plate $5.49. Beer. Rating: 4. 1.5 miles from downtown on Texas Highway 87 South, 210-997-2353. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Mondays. JS

HALLETTSVILLE Novosad’s Meat Market This no-frills Czech meat market makes its own spicy sausage (beef, pork, or a combination) and serves up commendable oak-smoked brisket, lamb and pork ribs, and chicken as well as pork steaks and chops. The thin brown sauce is hot and vinegary. Fine crunchy potato salad and confetti slaw. Brisket plate $5.29. BYOB. Rating: 4. 105 La Grange, on the square, 512-798-2770 or 512-798-4029. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JM

HENDERSON Bob’s Here’s a man who knows his barbecue. “We don’t use water in the pit and we don’t poke holes in the meat,” says Bob Allen, the honcho of this small storefront operation. “I’ve been in the business seventeen years, and I know when a brisket is done.” Indeed he does. His slow-cooked hickory-smoked meats (including ribs, turkey, chicken, and pork or beef sausage) stand out in the region. Bob’s wife and two sons pitch in too, dishing out spicy-sweet ranch-style beans, average potato salad, the usual sweet slaw, and thick, red sweet sauce. The only seating is outside under a small wood pavilion. Brisket plate about $4.30. Rating: 4. 1205 Pope, 903-657-8301. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays and Mondays. PS

HOUSTON Goode Co. Texas BBQ When other places are busy, Goode’s is mobbed. The line moves fast (“Help you, ma’am? Ma’am!”). The reward for enduring is masterful green-mesquite-smoked brisket (moist, yet crumbles when cut); firm, pink pork ribs; terrific plain-style pintos; fine jambalaya; soft, thick jalapeño cheese bread; renowned pecan pie; and more. Sauce medium thick, spicy, red. Texas chauvinism inspires a convincingly antiquated atmosphere (especially on Kirby). Brisket plate $6.95. Beer. Rating: 4.5. 5109 Kirby, 713-522-2530, and 8911 I-10 (Campbell Road exit), 713-464-1901. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. PS

HOUSTON Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue Going on 65, this tidy little cafe’s original big brick pit is older than most of its customers. At noon hordes of business and neighborhood folks ravage the deliciously moist chicken and very fine hickory-smoked brisket (salt-and-pepper-rubbed and as tender as Granny’s Sunday roast). These two standard-bearers best the skimpy ribs and flavorful but rather ordinary pork-and-beef sausage. Sauce is of the thin, vinegary-sweet, medium-hot variety. Attention health nuts: The grilled vegetables are great. Attention dessert hounds: So is Mrs. Pizzitola’s fluffy homemade coconut cake. Brisket plate $7.95. Beer. Rating: 4. 1703 Shepherd Drive, 713-227-2283. AE, MC, V. Closed Sundays. PS

HUNTSVILLE New Zion Missionary Baptist Church You can see the plume of smoke before you spot the church and the simple white frame building next to it. Out front are age-blackened steel pits. Inside are communal tables of smiling diners, tended to by a motherly crew, some church ladies, some not. The wondrously flavorful hickory-smoked beef is fibrous yet tender; the ribs are ample but fatty. Excellent plain pinto beans balance mustardy potato salad, and diners have a choice of three sauces, all mild. Brisket plate $5. Rating: 4. 2601 Montgomery (FM 1374), 409-295-7394. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. PS

INGRAM Buddy’s Bar-B-Que Cooked over oak and a little mesquite, the brisket at this pretty little house with green walls and a stone fireplace is bland. Everything else, however, is superlative: exquisite pork ribs (slightly charred outside, toothsome inside), full-flavored, ungreasy beef-and-pork sausage, and juicy chicken. Homemade sides include cucumber salad. Brisket plate $4.60. BYOB. Rating: 4. 2900 Junction Highway (Texas Highway 27), one mile east of town, 210-367-4040. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JS

KILGORE Country Tavern Texas’ fastest-moving waitresses work at this legendary spot, where the menu is short and the sauce is sweet. The big, pink, meaty pork ribs are tender to the bone, while the hickory-smoke-tinged brisket is some of the best in East Texas. The large, low-ceilinged room would have no character whatsoever if the diners who fill it weren’t so happy. If you have time, grab a beer and shoot a round of pool. Larry Hagman (J.R. of Dallas fame) ate here in 1987. Brisket plate $9.50 at lunch, $10.50 at dinner. Beer. Rating: 4. Six miles west of town on Texas Highway 31 at FM 2767, 903-984-9954. AE, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays. PS

KIRBYVILLE Lazy-H Smokehouse Velma Willett has ruled this scruffy, knotty-pine building on the highway for 22 years, selling homemade ice cream and peach cobbler, locally grown vegetables (on the Sunday buffet), and good hickory-and-oak-smoked meats. The homemade sausage (pure lean pork shoulder, no preservatives, no killer-nitrite taste) is great. One caveat: The place has a mothbally, attic smell, but once you start chatting with Velma, you don’t even notice. Brisket plate $5 ($6 on Sundays). Rating: 3.5. Texas Highway 96, six miles south of town, 409-423-3309. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. PS

LA GRANGE Prause’s Market Prause’s is one of those real-life mythical places: a meat market that’s been in the same family for one hundred years (in the present building since 1952). The post-oak-smoked barbecue (dished out by two generations of Prauses, not by clueless local teenagers) isn’t perfect but passes muster: juicy pork loin; dryish if flavorful brisket; short, fat homemade pork sausage links, a tad greasy. Dine on paper plates in the big, airy pea-green back room. The main sauce is sweet, black-peppery, and thick; old-fashioned bottles of vinegar and peppers also sit on every table. Brisket plate about $3.75. BYOB. Rating: 4. 253 W. Travis, on town square, 409-968-3259. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. PS

LLANO Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q (see “Really, It’s the Pits”).

LOCKHART Black’s Barbecue There is something timeless about the feel of this relaxed cafe with Texas license plates lining one wood wall and Longhorn horns decorating the others. No wonder: It has been run by the same family since 1932. Owner Edgar Black, the son of the founder, still does things the way Daddy did, using post oak to indirectly smoke the meat, which is seasoned only with salt and pepper. The moist, deep-flavored brisket cooks for 24 hours, the good beef-and-pork sausage is homemade. Hammy pork ribs, chicken redolent of smoke. Made-from-scratch sauce is thick, red, sweet, nothing special. The sides are numerous but uninspired. Brisket plate about $4.60. Beer. Rating: 4. 215 N. Main, 512-398-2712. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JS

LOCKHART Chisholm Trail B-B-Q Long beige-brick building with lots of pickup trucks in its rutted parking lot. Inside, signs of trouble: a salad bar, fried catfish—in other words, a full-service restaurant. But . . . terrific homemade coarse-ground, peppery beef-and-pork sausage, fabulous oak-smoked beef ribs with the taste of basted-on sauce. Brisket and pork ribs pretty good; thick red sauce undistinguished. Not bad sides, you-name-it, all homemade. Brisket plate $3.60. Beer. Rating: 4. 1323 S. Colorado, 512-398-6027. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JS

LOCKHART Kreuz Market (see “Lockhart and Soul”).

LUBBOCK Tom and Bingo’s Hickory Pit Barbeque A paragon of consistency and simplicity, this luncheonette-cum-hickory pit has featured the same menu of sliced (or chopped) beef and sliced-ham sandwiches (regular and extra-extra lean) in the same location since 1952. Second-generation pitmaster Dwayne Clanton (son of Tom) has run the place for the past 24 years, the last 9 with the help of his wife, Liz, a former Miss Lubbock. Their experience and teamwork show in the snappy service, in the perfection of grilled buns with a slight patina of grease on top, and most of all, in Dwayne’s lean and juicy, crispy-edged brisket, slow-cooked and smoked for eighteen to twenty hours. The rich homemade sauce is smoky-sweet but with a punch. Regular sandwiches $2.55, extra lean $3.15. Rating: 4. 3006 Thirty-fourth, 806-799-1514. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JNP

LULING City Market Shiny knotty-pine walls, clean-as-a-whistle tile floors, Formica-topped tables. Not to worry, the post-oak-smoked food has character: pork ribs so deep in flavor they’re practically philosophical, addictive all-beef sausage. Alas, the brisket’s a little leathery. Orange mustard-based sauce is odd but engaging. Good homemade beans. Brisket plate about $3.45. Beer. Rating: 5. 633 E. Davis, 210-875-9019. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JS

NAVASOTA Ruthie’s Pit Bar-B-Q Piles of superannuated magazines (including well-thumbed Victoria’s Secret catalogs) entertain visitors who stop by Ruthie’s small, quintessentially ramshackle roadhouse to inhale billows of oak, pecan, and mesquite smoke and some pretty good barbecue to boot. Your affable pitmaster is Louis Charles Henley (son of founders James and Ruthie), who provides brisket, fatty but flavorful ribs, Elgin beef sausage, and the usual sides. Definitely on the short list for Most Soul in Texas. Brisket plate $4.20. BYOB. Rating: 4. 903 W. Washington (Texas Highway 105), 409-825-2700. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. PS

ROBSTOWN Joe Cotten’s Barbecue Tex-Mex influence is apparent in the green olives atop the potato salad and in the mild, salsalike sauce (made with fresh ground tomatoes and laced with meat drippings and strips of tomato and onion). Meats are state-of-the-art mesquite-smoked brisket, sliced pork, pork ribs, and pork sausage (no preservatives), served on butcher paper. Fifty years old this year, the sprawling roadhouse seats 365. Brisket plate $7 at lunch, $8.05 at dinner. Beer. Rating: 5. Texas Highway 77 South, 512-767-9973. Cash only. Closed Sundays. JM

SAN ANGELO Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que From the outside, this cedar-sided building squeezed between a KFC and a burger stand on a busy commercial strip is easily mistaken for a fast-food franchise. Walk inside, though, and it’s everything a barbecue restaurant should be, a spin-off of the legendary Cooper’s in Llano. Five steps past the entrance is the pit, a fragrant furnace where the cook waits for diners to choose among mesquite-smoked brisket (cut and served as a chunk), beef ribs, pork ribs, turkey, chicken, and the house specialty, pork chops, which typically run out before noon, all cooked Llano-style, over direct heat. A crisp and crunchy slaw, corn on the cob, average beans, acceptable potato salad, and warm peach cobbler are spooned out in a cafeteria line, and long communal picnic tables are stocked with rolls of paper towels, loaves of white bread, squirt bottles of a tangy, almost addictive sauce, and giant jars of pickled jalapeños. Rolls of foil are conveniently placed at the door for taking home leftovers. Brisket plate $4.99. Beer. Rating: 5. 1805 S. Bryant, 915-655-2771. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JNP

SAN ANTONIO Bob’s Smokehouse The original of a three-outlet local chain, Bob’s mesquite-smokes a little of everything (including lamb ribs), but specializes in hulking beef ribs and beef sausage so well cooked that it crumbles out of its casing. The thickish sauce has a slight afterburn. Utilitarian, no decor. Brisket plate about $4. BYOB. Rating: 4. 3306 Roland, 210-333-9338. Cash only. Open daily. JM

SMITHVILLE Charles’ Bar-B-Que Everything about “Charlie’s” is weird, from the Dr. Seussian red-with-yellow-trim exterior to the tilted, dime-store art, concrete floors, and American flag sagging in the corner inside. Sometimes, though, weird is great. Such is the case with the odd homemade garlic-sage beef-and-pork sausage and the wonderful, tug-at-the-teeth post-oak-smoked pork ribs. Good pork butt, mutton, ham, chicken, and homemade beef “hot guts” sausage; so-so brisket. Standard sides, homemade but unexceptional. The thick, red sweet sauce with onion isn’t weird, but it isn’t great either. Brisket plate $4. BYOB. Rating: 4. 110 Main, 512-237-3317. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JS

SWINNEY SWITCH Brown’s Country Store Robert Brown does only one thing—beef sandwiches, chopped ($2) or sliced ($2.25)—but he does it perfectly, his judiciously mesquite-smoked brisket merging smoothly with his sweet, mild sauce. Mostly takeout (though the store has one table), served during lunch hours only. Brisket also sold by the pound ($5); drinks (including beer), chips, and such from store. Rating: 5. Take Exit 47 off I-37 to intersection of FM 534 and FM 3024, 512-547-3481. Cash only. Open daily. JM

TAYLOR Louie Mueller’s Barbeque (see “Where There’s Smoke”).

THRALL Jackson’s Bar-B-Q Three’s a crowd in this tiny semi-dilapidated place on the highway where the Jackson family (including current owner Betty) has been selling grand oak-smoked beef (flavorful if a little dry); big, meaty, salty ribs; and fine bacony-tasting beef sausage for more than two decades. The potato salad is the classic mashed, puckery variety that’s native to Central Texas. Come on Saturday for chicken. Brisket plate $4.50. BYOB. Rating: 3.5. Texas Highway 79, 512-898-2210. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays and Mondays. PS

UVALDE Haby’s Bar-B-Que Its motto is “Best of the West,” and it’s no idle boast: fourteen-hour mesquite-smoked fall-apart brisket, pork ribs slightly crisp on the outside and limp on the inside, delicious chicken. The pork-and-beef sausage tastes commercial, but that’s forgivable, given the quality of the other meats. Thinnish, tangy sauce is an old family secret. Standard sides, all homemade. Brisket plate $5.25. BYOB. Rating: 5. 529 E. Main, 210-278-5746. MC, V. Closed Sundays. JS

VICTORIA Brother’s Bar-B-Que Greg Garza, who opened this east-side joint last December after his porta-pit was closed for lack of refrigeration, credits “divine guidance from above” for his cooked-to-the-max mesquite-and-oak-smoked brisket (soft as butter), pork ribs (falling off the bone), and pork-and-beef sausage (extra-succulent). The beans are delicate, the potato salad is virtually mashed. Brisket plate $5. Rating: 4. 2106 Port Lavaca Drive, 512-575-9091. Cash only. Closed Sundays. JM

WACO The Hickory Stick Our meat was pulled from the pit, not off the kitchen line, at this spotless steak and ’cue restaurant where the decor is fifties Western, complete with stuffed Texas critters. Heavily pepper-rubbed, hickory-and-pecan-smoked Certified Angus beef ribs were tip-top; turkey breast, pork ribs, and pork tenderloin above average. Serviceable pork-and-beef sausage, potato salad, slaw, and pintos. The scratch sauce is thick, sweet, and hot, and desserts include a proper buttermilk pie. Brisket plate $5.95. Beer. Rating: 4.5. 2300 N. Eighteenth, 817-754-5270. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. RZ

WHARTON Hinze’s Bar-B-Que A barnlike building that has expanded to surround two huge pecan trees dishes out some of the best pecan-smoked barbecue in the region: fabulous brisket (thick cut, firm yet tender); fatty, moist pork butt; big-boned, slightly dryish pork ribs. The meat’s so good it doesn’t matter that the carrot-and-raisin salad has (gag) pineapple or that the dirty rice tastes packaged. Sauce ketchupy, mild, very sweet. Brisket plate $6.25. Beer. Rating: 4. 3940 U.S. 59 Loop, 409-532-2710 (also in Sealy at 2101 Texas Highway 36 South at I-10, 409-885-7808). AE, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. PS

Wichita Falls Bar-L Drive Inn Timing is everything at the Bar-L. Order too early (we arrived at eleven), and you get yesterday’s brisket (mediocre to start with) and warmed-over pork ribs. An hour later, we gnawed at big, meaty ribs fresh from the pit, bursting with natural juices and a slightly sweet, oak-smoked flavor. There was no fresh brisket, but the peppery “Polish” pork sausage was an acceptable substitute. Eschew humdrum slaw, potato salad, and beans in favor of fresh-cut fries. Scratch sauce is orange, thick, vinegary, spicy. Dark, fifties beer-bar ambience; booths have CD jukeboxes. Curb service. Brisket plate $7.35. Beer. Rating: 3.5 (fresh ribs are a 5). 908 Thirteenth, 817-766-0003. Cash only. Open daily. RZ

WILLOW CITY Harry’s on the Loop Old house nestled among folds of the Hill Country. Folks play dominoes under a lethargic ceiling fan. In a side room, a stand-up piano. Walls thick with signatures, including Eric Clapton’s. Picnic tables out back. Mesquite-smoked brisket: sensational. Pork ribs: meaty and delicious. Custom-made finely ground pork-and-beef sausage: spicy and good. Sharp red sauce. Homemade sides: beans with sausage, beans with brisket bits. Brisket plate $5.20. Beer. Rating: 4.5. From Fredericksburg, take Texas Highway 16 north for thirteen miles, then FM 1323 east for three miles, 210-685-3553. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Tuesdays. JS

WINGATE The Shed Situated in the middle of nowhere, 37 miles southwest of Abilene and 60 miles northwest of San Angelo to be exact, the Shed is barbecue with a sense of place. Half the fun is making the drive through what’s known as the Big Country, a mythic expanse of sky and vistas that go on forever. The reward at the end of the road is sublime mesquite-smoked brisket so tender it could be cut with a fork, with a crust of smoked seasoning that is ideal. (Ask to have the fat trimmed in the serving line; owner Hollis Dean is reluctant to cut away too much before cooking, given how it flavors the meat.) The peppery pork ribs are superior as well, accompanied by an original sauce that bites back. Dean’s wife, Betty, is responsible for the homemade sides of pickle-tinged potato salad (in creamy and chunky versions) and sweet, tangy coleslaw, mini-loaves of sourdough bread, and crunchy apple crisp. Grilled chicken, smoked ribeye steaks, and Hillshire Farms pork-and-beef sausage, and Texas toothpicks (strips of onion and jalapeño, breaded and fried) too. Paper towel racks on the wall. Brisket plate $5.75. BYOB. Rating: 5. 2.5 miles northwest of town on County Road 226, 915-743-2175. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Monday through Wednesday. JNP

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