Every four or five or six years, depending on how hungry we are, this magazine embarks on a special public service: compiling a list of the fifty best barbecue joints in Texas. To accomplish this sacred task, our team crisscrosses the state, logging thousands of miles to investigate the offerings of institutions large and small. We patiently wait in lines; exhaustively sample copious amounts of meats, sides, and desserts; jot hundreds of notes; and drink more than the occasional Lone Star. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

The creation of the list, one of our most anticipated efforts, is led by our barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, and our food editor, Pat Sharpe—who is, by the way, the only person who has participated in all five of the top fifty roundups we’ve produced since 1997. A couple dozen people chipped in this year, reviewing, over the course of six months, an average of fourteen barbecue joints each (not counting Daniel, who reviews that many every two hours or so). Our goal, as always, was to pursue extraordinary barbecue wherever we could find it. This year’s list, we believe, demonstrates that masterful smoked meat can be had all over our state—though certainly in greater abundance in some regions than in others. (Despite a few bright spots, tree-challenged West Texas remains at a perpetual disadvantage.)

Of course, it’s possible that your beloved neighborhood barbecue joint didn’t make it into this issue. Perhaps that’s because we felt its brisket was good but not great. Perhaps—despite our Herculean attempts to unearth every worthy barbecue joint in the state—we’ve never heard of the place at all. So if we’ve left your favorite purveyor of smoked meats off our list, let us know. And if we’ve raved about a joint that you think doesn’t deserve that honor, let us know about that too. Creating first-class barbecue may be, as this month’s cover suggests, a high art. But consuming it—and offering an opinion about it—is every Texan’s birthright.

Happy reading—and eating.