I visited a whole lot more barbecue joints this year than last. In case you missed it, we released a new top fifty barbecue list, and the search to narrow down that list was a long and winding one. I enjoyed more incredible barbecue in just a few months’ time than ever before. The current state of Texas barbecue is just that good.

Our love for the smoked meats at those fifty joints is well documented, so no need to highlight them again with this end-of-the-year list. (I also haven’t included the best unconventional barbecue dishes I ate this year, all of which were superlative bites.) The creativity of those items and the ones below assure the future vibrancy of Texas barbecue. Now let’s get into the other favorites I encountered during the year:

Smoked Hot Dog

Bandit BBQ, San Antonio

The first bite I had of this hot dog was after it was shoved through my car’s open driver-side window. Chef Mark Garcia chased me down after I had a quick meal on Bandit BBQ‘s patio because he wanted me to taste his house-made hot dog. It was good enough that I came back the next day to try it properly, with queso, bacon, and green onions on a bun grilled in beef tallow. I was not disappointed.

Brisket Torta

BBQ on the Brazos, Cresson

The telera bread used on BBQ on the Brazos‘s torta looks more like a loaf than a bun. Oaxaca cheese gets melted on one side, and the other is layered with black beans, onions, lettuce, tomato, sliced brisket, fresh avocado, and a black pepper crema. It’s massive, throughly satisfying, and available only on Thursdays. Plan accordingly.

The Brisket Torta at BBQ on the Brazos in Cresson
The brisket torta at BBQ on the Brazos in Cresson.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Brisket and Jelly Biscuit

Briscuits, Austin

Be open-minded about what brisket can provide at the brunching hour at this Austin food truck. Yes, smoked brisket and strawberry jelly go together just fine, especially when the jelly is made from strawberries smoked right beside the beautiful briskets used in this simple sandwich. The fluffy biscuit is also scratch-made from a finely honed recipe.

Smoked Crawfish Boudin

Bodacious Bar-B-Q, Hallsville

Gabriel Ritter combines crawfish, pork, and highly seasoned rice in his house-made boudin, then smokes it until the casing is crisp. If you come to Bodacious’s Hallsville location on a day when the crawfish version isn’t available, don’t fret. Try other varieties like the jalapeño and cheese or the pepper-jack boudin.

Smoked Oxtails

Charlie’s Bar-B-Que, Beaumont

This might be the best bite of barbecue I had all year, but you can get it only on Saturdays. I stopped in early (Charlie’s Bar-B-Que opens at 10:30) on a day when I knew I had plenty of barbecue stops, and ended up eating far too much given the day’s workload. The four chunks of oxtail were a deep ruddy brown from the smoker, the fat was translucent, and the tender meat pulled away from the bone. When I look back at this photo, I don’t know if I have another in my phone that makes me desire something more. I may drive to Beaumont this weekend.

The Smoked Hot Dog at Bandit BBQ in San Antonio
The smoked hot dog at Bandit BBQ in San Antonio. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Smoked Oxtails at Charlie’s Bar-B-Que in Beaumont
Smoked Oxtails at Charlie’s Bar-B-Que in Beaumont. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Left: The smoked hot dog at Bandit BBQ in San Antonio. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Top: Smoked Oxtails at Charlie’s Bar-B-Que in Beaumont. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Smoked Half Chicken

City Meat Market, Giddings

I thought I had a complete platter of barbecue until the gentleman running the counter at City Meat Market asked why, after ordering nearly every smoked meat on the menu, had I left off the chicken. He lifted a half bird with his barbecue fork, and the only thing I could do was nod. I’m glad I did. The meat was juicy, and the skin was crisp from the hot fire. They have green bottles on the table. Their labels are faded, but they once held Gallo brand sweet vermouth. Now they’re half full (so they can be safely shaken) of a spicy vinegar sauce. Make a pool of sauce on your butcher paper, drag a pulled piece of dark meat through it, and you’ll never forget to order the chicken again.

The Full Spread

Coastal Que BBQ and More, Matagorda

If Coastal Que were open all year round, it might make winter beach vacations to Matagorda a new holiday tradition. The sliced brisket was spectacular; ribs with just a touch of sweet glaze were tender and smoky; the juicy chicken had some beautifully bronzed skin. And we haven’t even gotten to the greens, the tater tot casserole, or the fresh corn salad served alongside smoked beef short rib tamales. What a meal.

The Full Spread at Coastal Que BBQ and More in Matagorda
The Full Spread at Coastal Que BBQ and More in Matagorda.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Breakfast Brisket Biscuit

Gatlin’s BBQ, Houston

Don’t panic when you don’t see the brisket biscuit on the menu at Gatlin’s. Owner and pitmaster Greg Gatlin and chef Michelle Wallace assured me that customers can request it, but given the current state of beef prices they’d rather sell ham, sausage, or bacon on a biscuit than brisket. (There is one rule, though: it’s available only at breakfast, which starts at 7 a.m..) This biscuit comes with sliced brisket, a perfectly fried egg, and cheese, or make a deluxe version with sautéed onions, jalapeño, and bacon jam. You deserve a deluxe.

Smoked Sausage Corn Dogs

Heim BBQ, Dallas

I know, there’s plenty of great barbecue on the menu at Heim BBQ. They’ve got those famous bacon burnt ends and a sandwich named after me, but these corn dogs are impressive. (I enjoyed mine at the Dallas location, which is temporarily closed, but both Fort Worth locations are open.) You can choose from three different smoked sausages on a stick as your base, or a 44 Farms hot dog, which is just $2 on Tuesdays. The batter is sweet and fluffy, just like the onions rings that you should definitely get on the side.

Smoked Chicken Salad Sandwich

JoJack’s Smokehouse, Mount Pleasant

I know chicken salad doesn’t sound all that exciting, but the version at JoJack’s Smokehouse is made from chunks of well-seasoned smoked chicken breast, celery, grapes, apples, walnuts, and just enough mayo dressing to hold it together. A big scoop comes with crisp lettuce and tomato slices inside a sweet and buttery griddled Hawaiian bun. If that doesn’t sound impressive to you, I guess that leaves more for the rest of us.

Smoked Sausage Ring

Kreuz Market, Lockhart

There are few things in the barbecue world as satisfying as the first bite from a ring of sausage at Kreuz Market. First, you have to take the bite from the proper spot. Flip the sausage up so the outside of the curve is facing you. Now take a bite through the top of this swollen horseshoe of cased meat, and enjoy the massive rush of hot fat, salt, and smoke. There’s only one bite like that per ring of sausage, so savor it.

Pork Steak

Kolacny Bar-B-Q, Hallettsville

I toted my pork steak outside and set it on the trunk of my car with a cup of sauce. Then I realized I didn’t have a knife. I looked around to make sure the neighborhood street outside Kolacny Bar-B-Q was empty and rushed inside the joint to grab a knife. Carolyn Kolacny was happy to help, but had just run out of plasticware at the counter. She went into a storage closet and I tried not to act nervous, but I’ve had less concern for my own children left in the car than I did for this pork steak out there alone on my trunk. It was unscathed when I rushed back out. After the first taste, I knew I should have just picked the whole dang thing up and gotten to work without the need for plasticware.

Brisket French Dip

New York Sub, Dallas

They smoke meats at New York Sub, but these are hard to find on the menu of sandwiches. Just ask to replace the roast beef with smoked brisket, and they’ll oblige. The brisket is sliced thin and piled on as generously as the spicy giardiniera on this sandwich. It tastes more like an Italian beef than a French dip, which is why I prefer to pour the jus over top rather than dipping the sandwich.

The Brisket French Dip at New York Sub in Dallas
The Brisket French Dip at New York Sub in Dallas. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Cherry Chipotle Chicken Wings

One90 Smoked Meats, Dallas

These wings are smoked, chilled, fried in beef tallow, then tossed in a sweet and spicy cherry chipotle sauce, and my God are they good. I don’t even know if they still serve them. I asked for them four different times after this visit, and received them only once. If they are on the menu, they’re the best wings in Dallas. If not, the folks at One90 are depriving us all of chicken wing joy.

All the Smoked Sausages

Roegels Barbecue Co., Houston

In late September, I arrived at Roegels Barbecue Co. to film a video about its sandwiches, but three new sausages had just come out of the smoker. The bratwurst is available only on special occasions (I’ve recently seen it offered with grilled onions and brown mustard on a toasted bun). The other two—a super cheesy jalapeño cheese sausage and a classic smoked beef sausage—are on the regular menu. I suggest getting both.

St. Louis Pork Ribs

Stiles Switch BBQ, Austin

Since Stiles Switch BBQ changed its recipe years ago to include a sweet and spicy glaze, these have been some of my favorite ribs in the state. They’re just the right amount of tender and ridiculously juicy. The flavor from the well-formed rub is bold, but is no match for the sticky sweet sauce that really brings the heat. It’s a great marriage of sauce, pork, and smoke.

Smoked Brisket

Sunbird Barbecue, Longview

On my first visit here the brisket was gone. On the second, I almost missed it again. A few folks behind me were probably disappointed to know the I got the last few slices. There’s plenty to like about the rest of the menu (hello, honey butter cornbread), but the juicy slices of lean brisket are the star. Thanks to a massive new smoker that arrived after this visit, the meat’s probably even better today.

Brisket and Sausage Platter

Tom & Bingo’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q, Lubbock

The transformation of this joint from old-school sandwich shop to one of Lubbock’s prime locations for smoked brisket and house-made sausage is incredible. In 2017, Ian Timmons took over Tom & Bingo’s after the death of his father-in-law, Dwayne Clanton. Timmons is using the same old brick pit, but the smoky brisket and juicy sausage don’t need a bun or sauce to impress.

Picadillo Sausage Taco

Treviño’s Craft Smokehouse, Haslet

I was out near Possum Kingdom Lake to try this new food truck (which has since moved to Haslet, just north of Fort Worth). It was hot, the menu was big, and I ordered too much for me and my son. After sampling everything, I kept coming back to the picadillo sausage spiced with cumin, chili powder, and garlic. It was nestled inside a house-made flour tortilla and topped with a lightly dressed red-cabbage slaw, pickled jalapeño slices, and a thick avocado salsa.

Porkstrami Sandwich

Wright On Taco & BBQ, Harleton

This little East Texas taco shop can think outside the tortilla. A griddled bun was topped with a generous mound of porkstrami. What is porkstrami? It’s a cured and smoked pork shoulder that’s a cross between beef pastrami, pulled pork, and ham. Add the spicy mustard sauce and pickled onions, and save the tacos for your next visit.