Austin, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Houston may get more attention for their barbecue, but San Antonio’s reputation is rising quickly. An individual barbecue identity is emerging in San Antonio that doesn’t rely on Central Texas as the dominant influence. The flavors of South Texas find their way into joints like 2M Smokehouse where poblanos and Oaxaca cheese replace jalapenoes and cheese in the sausage. Then there’s King’s Hwy Brew & Q—where the barbecue torta shines—and El Machito uses Mexican spices and techniques on ribs, chicken, and sausage. Thankfully, when you see a taco on the menu in San Antonio, even at a barbecue joint, there’s a good chance that the tortilla comes from a good tortilleria (or maybe even made in house). In SA, asking for tortillas instead of white bread is always welcome.
FROM THE TOP 50:
2M Smokehouse – Pitmaster Esaul Ramos honed his barbecue skills in Austin, but brought his own San Antonio flavor to 2M Smokehouse. You’ll the city’s best brisket here along with excellent ribs and smoked turkey. Go for the tortillas instead of white bread and the pickled nopales instead of dills. You won’t be disappointed.
The Granary ‘Cue & Brew – It’s all about smoked meat on a tray at lunch, and it gets fancier at dinner. No matter the time of day, this is serious barbecue. Classics like sliced brisket, pork ribs, and house-made sausage are all worthy of praise, while the Tuesday only pastrami beef rib special is one of the best bites in the state.
MORE GREAT BARBECUE:
When the next Top 50 comes out in 2017, these joints will all be squarely in the running. That they’re all less than five years old is just a coincidence, but it bodes well for the future of barbecue in San Antonio.
B&D Ice House – It’s basically a second location of Two Bros. BBQ Market. There’s a similar menu and the same owners, but in a hipper location in Southtown. Grab a Bruno sandwich (brisket, mac & cheese, and slaw), a beer, and a seat at one of the picnic tables on the generous patio.
B-Daddy’s BBQ – What began as a food truck now has a permanent home in Helotes. The truck still roams around, giving you two options to get the best smoked turkey in town and some seriously good brisket.
The Big Bib BBQ – It’s all about the ribs at this joint on the northeast corner of San Antonio. Oh, and the chicken, smoked turkey, and the brisket aren’t bad either. But those baby backs…
Dignowity Meats – The burnt end melt, pastrami reuben, and the pit beef bring a new flavor to Texas barbecue sandwiches, and this joint also features a new à la carte barbecue menu for dinner.
King’s Hwy Brew & Q – Tacos, barbecue grilled cheese, and even the where-have-you-been-all-my-life barbecue tortas vie for star status on the menu alongside the brisket and ribs. There’s even a barbecue brunch with brisket hash and hot brown with smoked turkey. It’s all good.
Nelson’s BBQ – This truck on the north side pumps out house-made sausage, great ribs, and juicy brisket. Add bacon to the Nasty Nate sandwich that features brisket and mac & cheese on Texas toast.
Smoke – “Best BBQ in San Antonio” is their presumptuous tagline, and like just about anyone else who claims it, they’re not. But there is some good stuff on the expansive menu at both the downtown and Stone Oak locations. Try the pig tails, the “Abe Froman” beef sausage, or the BLT&E with pork belly and a fried egg.
Smoke Shack BBQ – This classic barbecue menu includes a wide array of smoked meats. Go for the tender lean brisket, sweet pork ribs, and crisp, yet juicy smoked chicken. A great version of banana pudding is the perfect way to top it off.
Two Bros. BBQ Market – This is a classic meat market-style joint, which is a rarity in town. Texas’s youngest female pitmaster, Laura Loomis, is keeping the barbecue here fresh. Cherry glazed baby backs are joined by great brisket and fantastic smoked turkey. Don’t miss the desserts either, especially the banana pudding and fried strawberry pies.
As I noted above, San Antonio has managed to make a name for itself without relying on the ‘cue traditions of its neighbors to the north. These are the places celebrating the unique barbecue flavor in San Antonio.
El Machito – Chef Johnny Hernandez cooks meat slowly over mesquite wood on a grill that’s on full display to the dining room. Pork ribs, chicken, and sausage are the mainstays, and cabrito is available in the evenings.
Garcia’s – When you find a joint that smokes its own meat and makes its own tortillas, you’ve found a keeper. Both the smoked brisket and smoked pork tacos are worth a visit, and you can add egg to either if you need a barbecue fix for breakfast.
King’s Hwy Brew & Q – See above.
Pollos Asados Los Norteños – Grilled chicken over mesquite coals sounds simple, but this version is fantastic. It also comes at a bargain. Get the half chicken for less than $8 and it comes with rice, a grilled onion, jalapeño, and tortillas.
Beyond the sizzle of the new spots in town, there’s a rich tradition of barbecue in San Antonio. Beautiful brick pits churn out smoked lamb and long-boned beef ribs. The south side of town is home to one of Texas’s oldest joints, and one of the state’s most well-known chains is almost synonymous with the city.
Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse – Hit the original near Trinity University or the new location downtown for good beef ribs, burgers (not smoked), and a good chopped beef sandwich. Get it as a brisket grilled cheese in the downtown location.
B&B Smokehouse – Good pork ribs and brisket tacos can be found at this joint on the South Side. Make sure to get a hefty piece of carrot cake.
Barbecue Station – The $5.99 “Fill-er Up” baked potato stuffed with chopped beef is one of the better deals in town. The meats across the board are better than average. Also try the unique potato salad (with olives instead of pickles) and the endless pinto beans.
Bill Miller Bar-B-Q – This homegrown chain is much maligned among barbecue aficionados, but they’ve got some good stuff on the menu. They shine best at breakfast with tacos made on fresh tortillas and a stellar ham biscuit sandwich. At lunch the best bet is actually the fried chicken, and their iced tea is good any time of day.
Bolner’s Meat Company – San Antonio’s oldest surviving barbecue joint is really a meat market that’s been open since 1914. Get the house-made smoked sausage and a brisket to-go for smoking later in your backyard.
Ed’s Smok-N-Q – In a new space, but open since 2009, it’s not exactly old, but the mesquite smoked barbecue is old school. Try the chicken and the juicy pulled pork.
Mary Ann’s Pig Stand – The last remaining Pig Stand, a chain of restaurants that once stretched across the country, is right across form the Pearl development. You can still get their iconic Pig Sandwich here along with some great onion rings, and each table gets its very own juke box.
Old Smokehouse – Along with The Smokehouse (below) this was once a location of the highly revered Bob’s Smokehouse. They still use the brick pit and cook with mesquite. It’s also one of the few places in the state still making smoked lamb ribs.
The Smokehouse – The menu is similar to the Old Smokehouse, and the brick pit is just impressive (they wouldn’t let me take a photo), but the barbecue is a notch below.
Smokin’ Joe’s of Texas BBQ – The sign is new after a neighbor stole the old one (and they caught him). Try the ribs and macaroni salad, but do not miss the black Russian cake. There is a beautiful simplicity to the un-iced cake that is moist beyond belief.
ON THE OUTSKIRTS:
San Antonio has a huge footprint. These are some good options if you find yourself out on the edges of town, or maybe you’re just feeling like a good road trip is in order.
B-Daddy’s BBQ (Helotes) – See above
Harmon’s Barbecue (Cibolo) – You know they’re smoking with wood the way the pits are on display here. Come for classic Texas barbecue served in big portions. Get the chicken and ribs.
Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q (Leon Springs) – The first location of the popular chain, they still have the ambiance, and the barbecue is certainly better than average. Juicy smoked turkey, excellent smoked chicken, and a chopped beef sandwich are tops here. Don’t miss the green chile stew or the creamed corn that’s almost as famous as the barbecue.
Texas Pride Barbecue (Adkins) – This Guy Fieri approved joint has plenty of seating, live music, and an old time vibe. Try most of the menu with the bargain of a four-meat plate at just $17.
Two Step Restaurant & Cantina – It’s technically in San Antonio, but Helotes is a lot closer than downtown out on the edge of Loop 1604. You can’t go wrong with the sides like corn on the cob and grits, and the beef rib is a good one.