The Top 50 BBQ Joints 2008

Listed alphabetically by city.

June 2008By Comments

ABILENE

Harold’s Pit Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: A wall of vacation photos from patrons who’ve taken bottles of Harold’s sauce to all corners of the globe.

It’s worth standing in line at Harold’s for the oak-smoked offerings behind the counter—including flavorful brisket and a sausage so savory we eschewed the spicy homemade sauce. The sides and desserts (including what was, perhaps, the holy grail of peach cobbler) more than held their own. JB

Rating: 4.75.
1305 Walnut, 325-672-4451 or 877-700-9769. Open Mon—Sat 11—2:30. Closed Sun. [Map]

ATHENS

Cripple Creek B-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: Hog wings.

Though the usual fare can be found at Bill and Patty Flowers’s four-year-old restaurant, it would be a barbecue sin not to sample their famous hog wings. The delectable hickory-smoked wing—actually a pork shank—looked like a juicy meat lollipop. Instead of dipping this treat in the unremarkable barbecue sauce, try the sweet, hot Mae Ploy chile sauce, traditionally served with Thai barbecue. AV

Rating: 4.
500 S. Palestine, 903-677-4226. Open Mon—Thur 11—8, Fri & Sat 11—9. Closed Sun. [Map]

AUSTIN

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Building used to be: One of Austin’s first general stores.

Can a place that cooks its meat in a gas-burning rotisserie make really great ’cue? Well, the brown-sugar-and-coffee-rubbed brisket was delicious, the maple-and-coriander-­encrusted pork ribs were tender, the pulled pork was perfect, and the chorizo-ish jalapeño hot links were unforgettable. Sides and desserts were extraordinary. A jícama-and-­carrot slaw, in particular, had plenty of cilantro and lime to cleanse the palate, and the hot blackberry fried pie prompted an “oh, my God.” KV

Rating: 4.25.
401 W. Second, 512-494-1500. Open 7 days 11–2 & 5:30–11. [Map] lambertsaustin.com

AUSTIN

Mann’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Building used to be: A KFC.

Owner Jim Mann and his jovial staff served us fatty brisket, pork ribs, loin, and pulled pork that offered a surplus of smokiness and juice. (The salty sauce worked well with the loin.) Jim’s wife, Sallie, makes sides from Southern family recipes. Her black-eyed peas, lima beans, and cornbread perfectly accompanied the meat. Come on Fridays for free homemade ice cream (especially during peach season). KV

Rating: 4.5.
8624 Research Blvd., 512-459-5077. Open Tue—Sat 11:30—8. Closed Sun & Mon. [Map]

BEAUMONT

Willy Ray’s Bar-B-Q and Grill

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: All-you-can-eat seven-meat buffet.

This tidy buffet-style cafeteria disguised as a Western saloon does nearly all its meats well. Brisket, after sixteen hours over oak, was tender-firm. St. Louis pork ribs were sweet (a little too sweet), Cajun chicken blackened and juicy. The made-from-scratch sides (gloppy mac and cheese, savory greens, and solid versions of the Big Three) change regularly, but the carrot soufflé is always available. Dull sauce. JM

Rating: 4.
145 I-10 N, 409-832-7770. Open Mon—Sat 11—9, Sun 11—8. [Map] willyraysbbq.com

BELTON

Schoepf’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: Rodeo memorabilia.

The moment we entered the smoke-filled screened-in patio and beheld the meats-a-plenty (brisket, chicken, pork ribs, pork chops, sausage, sirloin, turkey breast, and venison sausage), we knew we were in business. The pitman was patient as we made our exacting selections, then—plop, joy: the tenderest of briskets, the thickest of pork chops, the happiest of bellies. DC

Rating: 4.5.
702 E. Central Ave., 254-939-1151. Open Mon—Wed 10—8, Thur—Sat 10—9, Sun 11—3. [Map]

BERTRAM

Bertram Smoke Haus

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: Strangely addictive, olive oil—based coleslaw flecked with pecans, green onions, and broccoli. (Broccoli!)

Housed in a 104-year-old former mercantile store and lumber company, with a biergarten and live music, the Smoke Haus has style to spare. Luckily, the mesquite-smoked barbecue at this two-year-old establishment is just as inspired as the digs. Even the chicken was outstanding. Sides and desserts, all made from scratch, were spectacular—the blackberry cobbler alone is worth the drive. PC

Rating: 4.5.
330 N. Lampasas, 512-355-2302. Open Sun & Mon 11—6, Tue—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10. [Map]

CLARKSVILLE

Coleman’s Barbeque

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: None. The decorating budget appears to have been spent on meat.

Northeast Texas may be populated with more pine trees than people, but at three in the afternoon, this small shack, located about a quarter mile off Main Street, was brimming with locals ordering the hickory-smoked brisket, served in a broth of beef juices and savory barbecue sauce. The crackly crust on the wet-rubbed pork ribs was a perfect complement to the tender, pink meat below the surface. Skip the mushy potato salad. AV

Rating: 4.
604 N. Martin Luther King, 903-427-5131. Open Mon 11—3, Tue—Thur 11—6, Fri 11—7. Closed Sat & Sun. [Map]

CROCKETT

Thompson’s BBQ

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Complaint: The delicious brisket was sliced too thin.

As a general rule, the barbecue biz is pretty low-tech, but we noticed that owner Robert Thompson and his wife, Linda, both wore wireless telephone headsets. Perhaps this be-prepared attitude is the secret to Thompson’s success. He insists that pecan is the correct wood and that twelve hours is the correct smoking time. Tender brisket and pork shoulder bore out his theories, although the meat could have done with a lot less salt in the rub. PS

Rating: 4.
1210 E. Loop 304, 936-544-5193. Open Tue–Thur 11–8, Fri & Sat 11–9. Closed Sun & Mon. [Map]

DALLAS

Baker’s Ribs

Primary heat source: Wood.

Chain alert: Baker’s has eight other locations, including one in (gasp!) Minneapolis.

Good sign number one: the smell. Good sign number two: Cops eat here. Good sign number three: The countermen want to talk about their food. The brisket was outrageous, with a thick black crust, a ragged red layer, and a juicy core that pulled apart easily (it’s cooked fifteen hours over mesquite). The chicken was moist, and the pulled pork was smokier than the greasy ribs. Bottles of the thin sauce (with a little kick) are kept in warming trays. MH

Rating: 4.25.
2724 Commerce, 214-748-5433. Open Mon—Thur 11—7, Fri & Sat 11—9. Closed Sun. [Map] bakersribs.com

DICKENS

TC’s Ponderosa

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Menu surprise: Pineapple pudding.

The meats at this convenience store with two indoor picnic tables were so pleasingly smoky we were shocked to learn the pit burns propane. TC’s only sells sandwiches and meat by the pound (rib plates available on Friday). Of the eight meats, seventeen-and-a-half-hour brisket and piquant beef-pork hot links were the stars. Beans and slaw are made in-house. Dark, medium-thick sauce had a vinegary nip. Fresh desserts too. JM

Rating: 4.25.
136 U.S. Hwy. 82, 806-623-5260. Open Mon—Thur 7—8, Fri & Sat 7—9, Sun 8—8. [Map]


EAGLE LAKE

Austin’s BBQ and Catering

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: Potato salad two ways (mayo or mustard).

This converted gas station, its service bays occupied by two portable cast-iron pits, immediately filled our tanks with pecan-smoked brisket and tender pepper-crusted pork ribs. The fresh coleslaw made up for a tomatoey sauce better suited to pasta. We ignored the five chain-link-enclosed picnic tables and ate by the car—whose own tank was soon filled by the Buc-Ee’s next door. KR

Rating: 4.5.
507 E. Main, 979-234-5250. Open Thur—Sat 8—6, most Sundays 9—3. Closed Mon—Wed. [Map] elc.net/austins/

EAST BERNARD

Vincek’s Smokehouse

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: A meat case practically as long as the building itself.

The deer-processing guidelines and Future Farmers of America trophies make one thing clear: Vincek’s loves meat. The brisket, pork ribs, and sausage verified the impression. In a sense, so did the irrelevant, too-sweet sauce. Arrive before noon for homemade bread and kolaches. Stay late for conversation with the regulars. KR

Rating: 4.5.
Texas Hwy. 60 and U.S. 90A, 979-335-7921. Open Tue—Sat 7—6, Sun 8—3. Closed Mon. [Map]

ENNIS

Bubba’s Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: A six-foot-tall cooler filled with raw steaks.

Twenty minutes after opening, the wood-paneled dining room was already filling up with patrons. The hickory-smoked ribs were so good we ate everything that wasn’t bone . . . and kept the bones for marrow-­sucking. Sides vary daily, but don’t miss the crisp coleslaw mixed with just enough mayonnaise and a hint of sugar. Forgo the too-sweet sauce. AV

Rating: 4.
210 I-45 S, 972-875-0036. Open 7 days 11–9. [Map]

FANNIN

McMillan’s Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: Hundreds of dollar bills from customers cover the walls.

The secret? “Love,” says 62-year-old Louis McMillan, the owner of this six-table outpost in this tiny town, just west of Victoria. Corny, sure, but that love—along with sixteen-plus hours over an oak-pecan-mesquite mix—turns out moist, tender brisket and fat little baby back ribs that are nicely charred on the outside and pink on the inside. SH

Rating: 4.
9913 U.S. 59, 361-645-2326. Open Sun—Thur 10—6, Fri & Sat 10—7:30. [Map]

FORT WORTH

Cousin’s Barbecue

Primary heat source: Wood.

Chain alert: Cousin’s has five other locations, including two inside the Dallas—Fort Worth Airport.

In barbecue time there’s before, during, and after. Before our meal at Cousin’s, we studied the brisket’s thin, dark crust. During our meal, the smoky taste made us lose track of our other senses. Ribs were rich. Sauce was tart. Sweet beans really were. After, we wondered where the time had gone. MH

Rating: 4.25.
6262 McCart Ave., 817-346-2511. Open Mon—Sat 11—9. Closed Sun. [Map] cousinsbbq.com

GIDDINGS

City Meat Market

Primary heat source: Wood.

Be advised: Meats go fast. Phone orders the day before are recommended.

This friendly shop with blackened walls has been going strong for more than sixty years, and the locals swear by it. Though the brisket was average the day we went, everything else was excellent—pork, sausage, and chicken, all smoked with post oak in an iron-lined and tile-covered brick pit. SGB

Rating: 4.
101 W. Austin, 979-542-2740. Open Mon–Fri 7:30–5:30, Sat 7:30–4. Closed Sun. [Map] citymeatmarket.biz

HARLINGEN

Smokey Joe’s Bar-B-Que and Grill

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Notable decor: Bead-encrusted Longhorn skulls crafted by the owner’s dad.

It’s a family affair, with Joe Garza Jr. running the show; his wife, Rose, doing payroll; his dad, Joe Sr., helping out; and his sister-in-law, Nora, making wonderful sides, like deliciously soupy charro beans. Even though the Garzas use a stainless-steel commercial smoker (primed with pecan and mesquite), they get excellent results. This may well be the best barbecue in South Texas. PS

Rating: 4.75.
102 N. Business Hwy. 77 (Sunshine Strip), 956-364-1266. Open Sun—Thur 11—8, Fri & Sat 11—9. [Map]

HONDO

McBee’s Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Be advised: This McBee’s is no longer affiliated with the rest of the McBee’s chain.

When San Antonio’s new-home market slowed last year, construction worker Brant Slaughter and his wife, Roxanne, took over the westernmost outpost in this ’cue dynasty. Luckily, they brought along their own family recipes, which call for simple rubs and long hours “babysitting” the meat in the twin pits. Moist brisket had a crunchy black crust; rib meat fairly jumped off the bone. If you use a hunting lease within one hundred miles of Hondo, you’re cheating yourself if you don’t stop in. J.Spong

Rating: 4.5.
1301 Nineteenth, 830-426-4045. Open Sun & Tue—Thur 10:30—6:30, Fri & Sat 10:30—8:30. Closed Mon. [Map]

HOUSTON

Burns Bar-B-Que Cooking and Catering

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: Extremely hot hot links. Seriously.

There’s always a line at this clapboard take-out shack. Plump, pink pork ribs, cooked over post oak in a steel pit for two and a half hours, were irresistible. Smoky brisket was fall-apart tender. Commercially made beef-and-pork links tasted decidedly uncommercial. The sauce was tangy, good for dipping ribs and links. The sole sides were mustardy potato salad and saucy beans, both made with care. JM

Rating: 4.75.
8307 DePriest, 281-445-7574. Open Wed—Sat 10:30— 7:30. Closed Sun—Tue. [Map]

HOUSTON

Virgie’s Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: Walls sanctified with religious iconography.

Three-plus years ago, Adrian Handsborough converted the neighborhood convenience store his mom, Virgie, ran for 35 years and began cooking over oak and pecan in two small barrels. His brisket, only a tad fatty, smokes for ten to fourteen hours; we could cut ours with a plastic fork. Well-seasoned pork ribs boasted a generous meat-fat ratio, and beef sausage came on slow but strong. The thick, snappy sauce is sweetened with molasses. Host and dining room were both cheery and inviting. JM

Rating: 4.25.
5535 Gessner Dr., 713-466-6525. Open Wed—Sat 11—6:30. Closed Sun—Tue. [Map]

HUNTSVILLE

New Zion Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Be advised: Pre-bagged slices of white bread are waiting for you on the table already.

For some 29 years, holy smoke has wafted from ancient black pits in front of this rickety, low-slung hall next door to the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church. The provender that emerges from the glowing embers (mostly oak, with a little hickory and pecan mixed in) has funded congregational activities and created an East Texas legend. Was it just our imagination or were the ribs, brisket, chicken, and sausage even better than in the past? We said a little prayer of thanks. Then dug in. PS

Rating: 4.5.
2601 Montgomery Rd., 936-295-3445. Open Wed—Sat 11—6. Closed Sun—Tue. [Map]

JACKSONVILLE

Stacy’s

Primary heat source: Wood and gas or electricity.

Building used to be: A house.

“I should have expanded twenty years ago,” said proprietor Ron Davis, though most people consider the cozy, brown-shingled cottage a plus, not a minus. Hickory smoke gave assertiveness to the usual suspects. We assembled in front of the short steam table to order, then headed to one of the small dining rooms, toting trays laden with meats, baked beans, corn on the cob, and two kinds of potato salad. PS

Rating: 4.
1217 S. Jackson, 903-586-1951. Open Tue—Sat 10—6. Closed Sun & Mon. [Map]


KERRVILLE

Buzzie’s Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Be advised: Several years ago a man was arrested after breaking into Buzzie’s at four in the morning to fix himself a chopped-beef sandwich.

This clean, bright establishment in downtown Kerrville didn’t look seasoned enough to produce a brisket that had much character. But from the first bite, we felt humbled to be in its presence. The meat was juicy and packed with oak flavor, and its marbled edges were as soft as warm butter. The homemade sides—including chunky mustard potato salad and crisp coleslaw laced with red cabbage—only enhanced the experience. PC

Rating: 4.5.
213 Schreiner, 830-257-4540. Open Tue—Sat 11—8, Sun 11—3. Closed Mon. [Map] buzziesbbq.com

KILGORE

Country Tavern

Primary heat source: Wood.

Celebrity customers have included: Robert Duvall, George H.W. Bush, and Larry Hagman.

The prettiest ribs in the region come steaming out of the Country Tavern’s enormously efficient kitchen, and the brisket’s good too. A dark-red sauce gives the hickory-smoked meats a sweet East Texas edge. The big, bustling place is like a cave tarted up with neon, but the waitresses have a girl-next-door quality, and the mood is family-friendly. PS

Rating: 4.5.
FM 2767 at Texas Hwy. 31, 903-984-9954. Open Mon—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10. Closed Sun. [Map] countrytavern.com

KOUNTZE

Caroline’s Quality and Quantity Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Complaint: Our stomachs weren’t bigger.

There’s no sign (Hurricane Rita blew it down), but smoke and smell help you find this small (three tables), immaculate, wood-frame building just off U.S. 69. The name is no joke. A three-meat plate held half a pound of lean, melt-in-your-mouth brisket, smoked thirteen hours over red oak in the iron pit; four intensely flavored pork ribs with a crunchy glaze; and four coarse, medium-spicy beef links made by pitmaster Arthur Yarbough (they hang for twenty hours in a closetlike smokehouse within the pit room). JM

Rating: 4.5.
320 Third, 409-246-8050. Open Thur—Sat 10—7. Closed Sun—Wed. [Map]

LAVON

Big Daddy’s Roadhouse BBQ

Primary heat source: Wood.

Building used to be: A Gulf station that is rumored to have sold bootleg whiskey out the back.

Big Daddy’s prides itself on being biker-friendly, but it’s really just friendly. The first time we visited (anonymously, of course) the server insisted on putting extra meat on our plates so that our party could try a bit of everything. We came away with a profound respect for the moist, tender brisket and fell in love with the hot links. Neither required a dab of the sweet-and-spicy sauce, but we would have been foolish to pass it up. BDS

Rating: 4.
1000 Texas Hwy. 78, 972-843-5200. Open daily 10:30—8:30. [Map] bigdaddysroadhousebbq.com

LEXINGTON

Snow’s BBQ

Primary heat source: Wood.

See Snow’s BBQ for the story.

 

LILLIAN

Casstevens Cash & Carry

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: A daily bologna special.

Though several tables have been added since we last wrote about this obscure gem at a Diamond Shamrock station (there’s no sign outside to advertise the unbelievably good ’cue within), it’s still hard to snag a seat at Casstevens. The reason? Mesquite-smoked meats, including thick hunks of brisket that are generously rubbed with garlic, salt, and pepper before they’re left to blacken in the two huge pits for fifteen hours. JB

Rating: 4.5.
11025 E. FM 917, 817-790-2545. Open Mon–Sat 4:30 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun 6–6 (barbecue served from about 10). [Map]

LLANO

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Chain alert: According to recent reports, Cooper’s will soon open a franchise in New Braunfels and has two others in the works. The horror!

Our first pass through the Hill Country’s most renowned barbecue joint was utterly disappointing. The pork ribs were tough, the sausage was bland, and the fatty brisket was downright chewy. Even the sides were lackluster. Still, no one seemed to mind; the place was packed on a weekday afternoon, as locals, tourists, and bikers waited in line by the outdoor pit to pick out their own meats. Luckily we ordered some lean brisket before we headed home, and our faith was restored. The blackened exterior—generously seasoned with a peppery dry rub—encased a moist, juicy cut of beef bursting with mesquite flavor. It was the Platonic ideal of brisket. If only everything else hadn’t been such a letdown. Specialties include pork loin and goat ribs. PC

Rating: 4.
604 W. Young (Texas Hwy. 29), 325-247-5713. Open Sun—Thur 10:30—8, Fri & Sat 10:30—9. [Map]

LOCKHART

Kreuz Market

Primary heat source: Wood.

See Kreuz Market for the story.

LOCKHART

Smitty’s Market

Primary heat source: Wood.

See Smitty’s Market for the story.

LOS FRESNOS

Wild Blue B.B.Q.

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Be advised: Pitmaster went to culinary school.

“Food is my life,” says young owner-pitmaster Abraham Avila, who fusses over every detail, from the brisket-seasoning rub (paprika, brown sugar, ancho chile, cumin, oregano, coriander, and kosher salt) and the satiny sweet-potato flan to the blend of apple and pecan woods in the smoker. But business is slow, as South Padre—bound tourists zoom by, hell-bent for bad tacos. Please, patronize Wild Blue before it’s too late. PS

Rating: 4.5.
31230 Texas Hwy. 100, 956-233-8185. Open Mon—Sat 11—9. Closed Sun. [Map]

LUBBOCK

Tom and Bingo’s Hickory Pit Bar-b-que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: School desk—style dining tables.

For more than fifty years, this boxy luncheonette has turned out sliced- and chopped-beef sandwiches as good as you’ll ever eat, plus smoked-ham sandwiches and smoked burgers. That’s all, but that’s enough. The brisket, cooked for sixteen to eighteen hours in a well-worn brick pit, is lean and succulent, with a char that crunches slightly. Grill-warmed buns are brushed with a thinner, more red-peppery version of the mild house sauce. JM

Rating: 4.5.
3006 Thirty-fourth, 806-799-1514. Open Mon—Sat 11 till meat runs out (usually around 3 or 4). Closed Sun. [Map]

LULING

City Market

Primary heat source: Wood.

See City Market for the story.

LULING

Luling Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Notable decor: Barn-red exterior paint job.

Locals were in cheerful abundance: law enforcement, men in blue jumpsuits, kids lingering by the cooler of sweet tea. One taste of the juicy mesquite- and-post-oak-smoked brisket and ribs and we understood why. The potato salad and coleslaw each set the gold standard, and the red sauce was so rich and smoky that one diner committed his entire ration of white bread to it. KR

Rating: 4.25.
709 E. Davis, 830-875-3848. Open Wed—Mon 7:30—8. Closed Sun—Tue. [Map]

MARLIN

Whup’s Boomerang Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Restaurant is named for: Whup Washington, the owner’s dad.

No, this is not some newfangled, Aussie-inspired, Marlin-born culinary calamity. Have no fear, smoked kangaroo is not a featured menu item. “Boomerang,” in this instance, is meant to indicate that you’ll be so satisfied you’ll come back. Turns out there’s truth in advertising. Whup’s is tidy and small, but there is no indoor seating, so enjoy the mesquite-and-post-oak-smoked offerings at one of the three tables under the awning out front, or get it to go. DC

Rating: 4.25.
1203 Bennett, 254-883-5770. Open Thur—Sat 10—8. Closed Sun—Wed. [Map]


MONAHANS

Pappy’s Bar BQ

Primary heat source: Wood.

Be advised: Your intelligence will be tested by triangle-pegboard puzzle games on each table.

The mesquite-smoked brisket was well seasoned and tender, and the sliced German sausage was slightly sweet and spicy. But the real winners at this rustic locale, decorated with vintage posters for old cowboy flicks, were the sides. Green beans sprinkled with garlic, onion, and bacon and not-too-chunky potato salad with thinly sliced carrots were a perfect reward for a long day of driving. Opt for a square of cornbread instead of a slice of white bread. DAH

Rating: 4.25.
1901 S. Stockton Ave., 432-943-9300. Open Tue—Sat 11—9. Closed Sun & Mon. [Map]

OAKVILLE

Van’s Bar-B-Q

Primary heat source: Wood.

Remarkable employee: Marty, the cowboy-hat-wearing grandma waitress.

The combination of the frequently awesome mesquite-smoked meats and a terrific vibe have attracted barbecue hounds from far and wide for more than a quarter century. Inside, you’ll find old-timey claw-foot tables and a relaxed attitude about housekeeping, which is to say the place hasn’t seen a mop in ages. PS

Rating: 4.
2648 I-37 (exit 65), 361-786-3995. Open 7 days 7–7. [Map]

PALESTINE

Baby J’s Bar-B-Que & Fish

Primary heat source: Wood.

Sign outside says: “Smoked Pig, Pull Pork.”

Owner Baby J (Jeremiah McKenzie) is gearing up for high volume at his cheerfully decorated new place. Pecan-smoked meats with dark, flavorful crusts are his game. It’s all good, so forget the sauce. Southern-style pulled pork provides a juicy wake-up call to jaded taste buds. Replace the usual sides with fried okra, turnip greens, and cornbread for a soul-food feast. CR

Rating: 4.
FM 2419 at U.S. 287, 903-729-8402. Open Mon—Sat 11—8. Closed Sun. [Map]

PARIS

Scholl Bros. Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Be advised: Diabetics may want to tread lightly. The tea, sauce, rub, and desserts are hyperglycemically sweet.

When we asked a resident Parisian to impress us, he whisked us away to Scholl Bros. The ribs are prepared in the region’s signature style, using a sugary wet rub, in a mesquite-and-pecan-fed gas smoker. The thirteen-hour brisket wasn’t as good, but the sauce, a concoction flavored with brown sugar, gave the beef a much-needed boost. If your sweet tooth hasn’t fallen out by the end of the meal, invest in a local favorite, Ann Mann’s apple fried pie. AV

Rating: 4.
1528 Lamar Ave., 903-739-8080. Open Mon—Thur 11—8, Fri & Sat 11—9. Closed Sun. [Map]

PEADENVILLE

Hashknife on the Chisholm

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Building used to be: A gas station.

Like a mirage in the desert, the Hashknife springs up out of nowhere at an otherwise unremarkable intersection just north of Mineral Wells. Pitmaster Jim McLennan and his wife, Lesa, have been in business here for only two years, but Jim’s been serving up ’cue for oil field workers and nearby ranches since he was sixteen. We could taste the experience: His pecan-and-oak-smoked ribs were juicy and his vinegar slaw unparalleled. JB

Rating: 4.
8131 N. U.S. 281, 940-325-5150. Open Tue—Thur 11—8, Fri & Sat 11—9. Closed Sun & Mon. [Map]

PEARSALL

Cowpokes Texas-Style Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Complaint: The giant pit is fenced off and cannot be admired.

The brisket fell into delectable shards while remaining moist, even after an alarming twenty to thirty hours in the smoker. We missed the ribs, but the porcine portion of the barbecue family was well represented by two kinds of sausage, plain and spicy. Darn-good sides rounded out the offerings. The thick, sweet, tomato-tart sauce had bite. A few branding irons carry out the squeaky-clean dining room’s cowboy theme. PS

Rating: 4.25.
855 W. Comal (Texas Hwy. 140), 830-334-8000. Open Sun—Thur 8:30—8:30, Fri & Sat 8:30—9:30. [Map]

SAN ANTONIO

The Smokehouse

Primary heat source: Wood.

Remarkable employee: A jocular pitman who hails arriving and departing guests.

This modest spot with vinyl tablecloths and a TV mounted on the wall is brought to life by the old players handling the forty-foot indoor pit. We encountered laborers, families, and professional types all enjoying crunchy-on-the-outside, flavorful-and-moist-on-the-inside 24-hour brisket along with juicy pork ribs and not-too-greasy sausage, all smoked over mesquite. The homemade sauce (with a touch of honey?) is mighty fine. PBM

Rating: 4.
3306 Roland, 210-333-9548. Open Tue—Sat 11—8, Sun 11—6. Closed Mon. [Map] thesmokehousesa.com

SAN BENITO

Longhorn Cattle Company Barbecue and Steak Restaurant

Primary heat source: Gas or electricity.

Notable decor: Hundreds of signatures carved in the pads of a giant prickly pear hedge out front.

Even though the back room is the size of a barn, it has character: rough timber walls and Longhorn skulls. A cup of charro bean soup arrived gratis the minute we sat down, easing our wait for the all-around-good-quality mesquite-smoked meats (chicken and ribs were the best, brisket close behind). A bonus: real china plates and metal utensils. PS

Rating: 4.25.
3055 W. Expwy. 83 (Paso Real exit, southbound), 956-399-4400. Open Sun & Tue—Thur 11—8, Fri & Sat 11—9. Closed Mon. [Map]

SHERMAN

OO Smokehouse

Primary heat source: Wood.

Be advised: To-go orders are identified by the color of the diner’s vehicle.

There’s no glitz at this eleven-year-old walk-up two blocks from the courthouse. But there’s plenty of great barbecue, from the monstrous pork ribs to the flavorful sausage that shines with the thick, smoky sauce (owner Wayne Ooten and his son, Kevin, worked on this recipe for more than a year before opening and declined, at first, even to share the secret ingredients with Mrs. Ooten). Most locals order their food to go, but if you’re lucky, the lone picnic table out back beneath an enormous pecan tree will be free. BDS

Rating: 4.25.
200 S. Montgomery, 903-892-3435. Open Mon–Sat 11–7. Closed Sun. [Map]

SPICEWOOD

Opie’s Barbecue

Primary heat source: Wood.

Restaurant is named for: Owner’s old dog.

The prime rib at Opie’s is so tender you almost feel sorry for it. How will it protect itself? It lacks the brisket’s seasoned black bark, the baby back ribs’ sweet, chewy crust, or the all-pork jalapeño sausage’s threatening heat. The prime rib is defenseless, a perfectly smoked pink prey. Show it some mercy. Also try the tater tot casserole and the homemade, bigger-than-a-child’s-head cookies. Sauce is smoked in a pot alongside the meats, giving it an unusual mesquite-infused bite. J. Silverstein

Rating: 4.25.
9504 E. Texas Hwy. 71, 830-693-8660. Open Mon & Tue 11—4, Wed & Thur 11—7, Fri & Sat 11—8, Sun 11—7. [Map]

TAYLOR

Louie Mueller Barbeque

Primary heat source: Wood.

See Louie Mueller Barbeque for the story.

TAYLOR

Taylor Cafe

Primary heat source: Wood.

Sign inside says: “I’m not a dog, don’t whistle.”

Eighty-four-year-old Vencil Mares has been perfecting his skills on the brick pit since 1948. We’d heard about his chicken, but the day we visited, the pork ribs were the highlight, with brisket not far behind. Mares’s trick is wrapping the meat in butcher paper and smoking it over post oak for eight or nine hours. “Don’t ever turn it over,” he says. After the meat is cooked, he rewraps it and stores it in an ice chest for seven hours. His place, a sort of working-class tavern, is practically under a bridge. KV

Rating: 4.
101 N. Main, 512-352-2828. Open Mon—Fri 10—10, Sat & Sun 10—11. [Map]

TYLER

Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Que

Primary heat source: Wood.

Menu surprise: Tilapia.

The Brother-in-Law, a sandwiched smorgasbord of chopped beef, butterflied hot links, and cheese, has a powerful (and well-deserved) reputation in East Texas, but order the old-fashioned hand-pulled-pork sandwich, filled with juicy shreds of perfectly smoked pork shoulder. Nick Pencis, the owner and pitmaster, follows a fifty-year-old smoking method—meats housed for sixteen hours in the pecan-fueled pit—to turn out some of the best barbecue in this neck of the Piney Woods. AV

Rating: 4.5.
525 S. Beckham Ave., 903-593-0311. Open Mon–Fri 11–4, Sat 11–3. Closed Sun. [Map] stanleyspitbbq.com

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