June has been barbecue month at Texas Monthly. After a four-year wait (and thousands of miles and hundreds of joints), our new Top 50 BBQ joint list was finally released. It’s been a good month for both the magazine and—we hope—those who made the barbecue list. For some who didn’t, the month probably began with some disappointment.
“Ouch,” was the one-word text I got from Jason Dady, co-owner of Two Bros. BBQ in San Antonio, the morning the list dropped. I’d shared drinks with him and his brother Jake at the Hot Luck Festival—Aaron Franklin’s food and music festival in Austin—three days earlier. A bite of smoked pork belly from their pitmaster Laura Loomis was one of the most memorable of the weekend, but the list was already set, without Two Bros. on it. Before our top picks went out into the world, Wesley Jurena began telling his customers at Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque in Houston not to be disappointed. The photographers hadn’t stopped by and the fact-checking calls hadn’t come in. He knew it wasn’t his year.
I’ve told plenty of folks that this year’s list is the best one we’ve ever published, not only because of who is on it, but because of who isn’t. Ultimately, it hurt to put some of my favorite barbecue joints to visit on the wrong side of fifty—which is only a testament to the greatness of Texas ‘cue at this moment in time. Jurena took it in stride and officially designated Pappa Charlie’s as number 51. (He even designed a Pappa Charlie’s jersey with 51 on the back of it as a joke—no word on current availability.) As for me, I can’t say there was one barbecue joint that was the last to come off the list. So as far as I’m concerned, these are all tied for the fifty-first slot.
18th & Vine BBQ; Dallas
There’s a big dinner menu with plenty of fancy flourishes, but I usually find myself here for lunch. The fried okra is the best I’ve had in Texas, and the burnt ends are better than any you’ll find in Kansas City. A guilty pleasure is a brisket grilled cheese called “The Lester.” Go bigger by asking them to make it with burnt ends for an upcharge.
Black’s BBQ; Lockhart
The legendary joint in the most legendary barbecue town in Texas recently lost its patriarch Edgar Black Jr. He solidified the 85-year legacy of Black’s BBQ in Texas that has found more recent fame in their enormous beef ribs. No Lockhart trip is complete without a stop here.
Kerlin Barbecue; Austin
The little food truck that could. Sandwiched between two Austin giants, La Barbecue and the Veracruz All Natural taco truck, it could get lost in the mix, but they smoke excellent brisket and serve what may be the best pork ribs in Austin. It’s hard to beat the sides too, especially the smoked corn.
King’s Hwy Brew & Q; San Antonio
There’s a real sense of San Antonio flavor here with barbecue tacos and tortas, and even carne guisada. It’s the logical combination of barbecue and Tex-Mex that we don’t see often enough. One bite of the brisket torta can convince you of its genius.
Kolacny Bar-B-Q; Hallettsville
It’s a time warp at this small-town Saturday and Sunday operation. The Kolacnys cook in the old style over direct heat, and their homemade sausages are smoked on site. It’s all good, but the pork steak is the prize. Plan ahead and arrive early or call in your order to make sure you get fed.
Opie’s Barbecue; Spicewood
This place serves consistent, quality barbecue to a whole lot of folks. The sweet and spicy baby backs have a reputation of their own, but so do the butter beans. Seth Glaser keeps the pits humming, and the brisket’s smoky and tender.
Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque; Houston
They have fun with barbecue, dubbing their brand of experimentation “goofy-cue.” There was an off-menu Butterfinger brisket the other day. A little less goofy is the bacon-wrapped meat loaf. Still, the standards like brisket and pork ribs are some of the most flavorful bites of smoked meat in town.
The Slow Bone; Dallas
I’ve eaten more meals here than nearly any other barbecue joint. When someone comes in from out of town wanting to meet over barbecue, this is my choice because they have so much more than great smoked meats (see: smoke-brined fried chicken).
Two Bros. BBQ Market; San Antonio
The photo on the cover of my book about Texas barbecue is a tray of meat from Two Bros. BBQ. Pitmaster Laura Loomis is a rising star in Texas barbecue, and the meat has maintained great quality under her watch. It will only get better.
Southside Market; Elgin
The oldest barbecue joint in Texas isn’t happy resting on its historic status. Owner Bryan Bracewell continues to improve the quality of the barbecue while keeping an eye on tradition with their famous hot guts. The lamb ribs and the pork steaks are the underrated cuts here.