Last month I was lucky enough to eat a couple slices of smoked Miyazaki A5 Wagyu brisket. It was a gift to LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue in Austin from Double 8 Cattle Company, and the whole brisket would have normally cost $1,700. This was the best bite of barbecue I had in 2020, although a cynic might point out that it wasn’t two hundred times better than a normally priced Prime brisket. I won’t include it on this year’s list because it didn’t make it on the menu, and because LeRoy and Lewis is already in our list of the 25 best new barbecue joints. All the joints on that list, along with our most recent Top 50, are out of the running. I guess pizza shops are too, so let’s give an honorable mention to the smoked brisket lasagna from Zoli’s in Addison and Fort Worth.
Even with the challenges of travel, I had my share of memorable barbecue meals in Texas. Looking back, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of incredible barbecue this year provided, and paring down this list to the best barbecue dishes of 2020 was difficult. You’ll notice the list is heavy on DFW-area barbecue establishments. I live in Dallas, and like so many other folks, my travel has been hampered. Couple that with the fact that some of the most exciting new barbecue joints to open recently have been in the region. Last year we limited the slots for this list to just 16, but 20 for 2020 seemed right (listed alphabetically by city), and if there were ever a year to spread more love, it’s this one.
Quesitaco with smoked brisket
225 BBQ, Arlington
I first found the 225 BBQ truck in Balch Springs, but it also serves in Arlington beside Division Brewing. The menu has expanded to include brisket ramen and multiple taco varieties. The quesitaco features a layer of melted cheese between two corn tortillas. The tortillas are then wrapped around chopped brisket, onions, cilantro, and plenty of salsa verde. Might as well snack on a cherry bomb (bacon-wrapped habanero) while you wait.
Hurtado Barbecue, Arlington
Hurtado Barbecue has a menu with plenty of variety. If I had to choose an item as its signature, it would be the tostada with smoked barbacoa braised in Big Red. There are about ten layers of varying flavors and textures, making it one of the most pleasant eating experiences in Texas barbecue.
Smoked brisket taco
Interstellar BBQ, Austin
A thick slice of fatty brisket from Interstellar BBQ doesn’t need sauce, but it sure tastes great with avocado salsa, cotija cheese, and some onion and cilantro on a flour tortilla. When I tried the smoked brisket taco, it was a daily special. Now the joint offers it every day. Not only is the brisket phenomenal, the lime-heavy salsa that tops it is the perfect foil for the richness of the fatty brisket.
JNL Barbecue, Austin
The trays at JNL Barbecue are big enough to hold generous portions of the five meats and four sides. I’d suggest trying it all during a visit. There’s nothing fancy, or particularly adventurous, which is what makes the buttery turkey breast, soulful pinto beans, and the whole meal seem so refreshing.
Moreno Barbecue, Austin
Good brisket isn’t exactly hard to come by in Austin, but it’s rarely done as perfectly as the slices served from the Moreno Barbecue truck. I called it “tender and juicy beyond belief” in my original review, and now I can add memorable to the list of superlatives. Try it and this might just become your new favorite in town.
Texas Nail sandwich
Slow Bone Barbeque, Dallas
The Texas Nail is a mess, and the Slow Bone crams more components into it than I usually like on a barbecue sandwich. There’s chopped brisket, mushrooms, onions, and cheddar cheese made with local beer, but the showstopper is the sauce. Its base is roasted jalapeños, so unlike with most barbecue sauces, the hue is green. Once you try it, you’ll be asking for that sauce on every visit, Texas Nail or not.
Brisket and spare ribs
Smokey Joe’s Bar-B-Que, Dallas
I put this same combination plate on last year’s list, but Smokey Joe’s just keeps outdoing itself. During a recent visit, the classic spare ribs were the best I’ve eaten there, the sliced brisket was spectacular, and the new house-made jalapeño cheese sausage might have been the best of the trio. Then there’s the new array of sides like yams, greens, and chicken tetrazzini(!).
Brix Barbecue, Fort Worth
The fried Funkytown hot chicken sandwich is reason enough to try Brix Barbecue, but the sandwich isn’t really barbecue. The smoked beef cheek barbacoa most certainly is. The incredibly juicy chopped barbacoa is available by the pound, but I suggest the taco version topped with chimichurri and pickled red onion.
Fort Worth the Wait platter
Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, Fort Worth
The biggest challenge in the Fort Worth the Wait platter at Dayne’s Craft Barbecue is finding its weak spot. The entire lineup of smoked meats here is strong, and the attention to detail in the sides is remarkable. The platter normally comes with pulled pork shoulder rather than Dayne’s signature bacon brisket, but don’t leave without trying the latter.
Derek Allan’s Texas BBQ, Fort Worth
There are plenty of brisket and biscuit combinations on the breakfast menu at Derek Allan’s BBQ, but wait until lunch for the best one. Nearly a half-pound of sliced smoked brisket goes inside a fresh baked biscuit with a thick slather of house-made chimichurri.
Goldee’s BBQ, Fort Worth
The brisket and homemade sausage are both great at Goldee’s BBQ, and this new barbecue joint smokes some of the best pork spare ribs in Texas. The seasoning isn’t overdone, and there’s no heavy glaze to take away from the clean flavor of fatty smoked pork.
Baby back ribs
Meshack’s Bar-Be-Que Shack, Garland
Spare ribs are always on the menu at Meshack’s, but call a day or two ahead and you can have a full rack of baby back ribs made with Travis Mayes’s special recipe. I’m not sure if they’re any better than the regular spare ribs, but there’s something comforting about unwrapping a foil package containing an uncut rack of ribs at the kitchen counter and plowing through a half rack before you bother to grab a napkin.
Birria brisket tacos
Vaquero’s Texas BBQ, Grapevine
If you aren’t familiar with birria tacos, take a look at our taco editor’s recent Texas Tacopedia for an explanation, then make plans to visit Vaquero’s Texas Bar-B-Q at Hop & Sting Brewing. Think cheese and brisket wrapped in a griddled tortilla, then dunked into a flavorful gravy made from brisket drippings. Order just one at your own peril.
Smoked mollejas taco
Avila’s Bar-B-Q and La Estacion Barbeque, Hebbronville
Mollejas are beef sweetbreads, and the mollejas tacos are equally good at these two joints separated by just a half mile. I included both in my article about the little-known barbecue delicacy of smoked mollejas in Duval and Jim Hogg counties in South Texas. Both joints cook them over wood until the exterior is crisp, then chop them to fill locally made tortillas.
Cherry Block, Houston
If you love gumbo as much as you love barbecue, there’s no better version to try than the one at the Cherry Block butcher counter inside Bravery Chef Hall. It’s a stew of smoked meat in a thick and remarkably rich broth. Instead of being served with rice, it comes with a dollop of deviled potato salad on top.
LaVaca BBQ, Port Lavaca
Stuffing a tamale with smoked meat is nothing new in Texas, but what about smoking the whole thing? LaVaca BBQ wraps the brisket-stuffed tamales in butcher paper before smoking the whole package. Each tamale is generously sized, and comes paired with a salsa/barbecue sauce blend.
Smoke Shack BBQ, San Antonio
Smoke Shack hasn’t always made its own sausage, but now it’s making multiple flavors of links, and even house-made hot dogs. There’s no sausage wrap on the menu. Just order a link of the original or jalapeño cheese sausage. The bread, pickles, onions, and mustard-based barbecue sauce are free.
Cold-smoked and dry-aged ribeye
Thorndale Meat Market, Thorndale
You have to ask nicely for Trey Felton to cook up one of his signature smoked steaks at Thorndale Meat Market. Not to worry. A few pleases and thank-yous are worth it. He cold-smokes whole prime ribs for three days, encases them in rendered beef tallow, and dry-ages them for at least 45 days. Grilled over coals, they taste like bacon-wrapped steak, but without the bacon.
Koko Ramen, Waco
Barbecue from a ramen restaurant? It’s less surprising when you find out that Koko Ramen is from the same folks who run Guess Family Barbecue. Choose your heat level when ordering, then add smoked brisket, pork belly, and a pork rib, which is smoked then fried for an extra layer of bark.
All the meats
Teddy’s Barbecue, Weslaco
It’s hard to choose between smoked turkey, spare ribs, brisket, or the house-made sausage at Teddy’s Barbecue. The Weslaco barbecue joint is sausage heaven given the many varieties available. The brisket is the best in the area, and the sweet-glazed spare ribs and smoked turkey breast will both have you coming back for more.