The Top 50 BBQ Joints 2008

Listed alphabetically by city.

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.

Tags: FOOD, BARBECUE, BBQ

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