This story is from Texas Monthly’s archives. We have left the text as it was originally published to maintain a clear historical record. Read more here about our archive digitization project.

A Texas legislator who should be ashamed managed to pass a resolution declaring chili the state dish twenty years ago. Pshaw. Chili is ridiculous. It may have grown out of a genuine tradition, but it has now become an overhyped casualty of chili-cookoff mania. Barbecue, on the other hand, not only has history but still has integrity. We cook it, we eat it, and we argue about it passionately. The ultimate roots of barbecue can be traced back to the Stone Age, when humans first discovered that fire can transform a haunch of raw meat into something magnificently edible, but its more-immediate Texas origins date from one hundred or so years ago, when meat markets cooked and smoked their surplus stock on Saturdays, selling the finished product to customers. 

Technically speaking, barbecuing is the simple process of cooking meat using the heat and smoke of wood coals. But the many variables involved invite endless dispute and contention, especially here in Texas, where the only thing agreed upon is that what passes for barbecue in Kansas City (see “Gone to Kansas City,”), Memphis, North Carolina, or anywhere else is inferior to our own well-smoked delicacies. Time and temperature are hotly debated. When it comes to beef brisket, preferred times run from 6 to 24 hours (one smoke-crazed zealot thinks 72 hours is about right), and temperatures range from 250 to 450 degrees. The choice of wood turns friends and family against one another. An old-school pitmaster utilizes whatever slow-burning, sweet-smelling wood is available locally, such as hickory in the eastern part of the state and pecan and oak in the central environs. In West Texas mesquite is often the wood of choice, although it burns hot and can leave a strong oily aftertaste, causing many pit bosses to import hickory despite the expense.

How barbecue is cooked invites further discourse. Interstate 35 serves as the line of demarcation between two dominant philosophies—indirect heat (with the coals off to one side) being the favored method east of I-35, and direct heat more common west of the interstate. In certain parts of central East Texas, the pits are open-air, not enclosed. Many modern Texas barbecuists contend that only good grades of meat can be turned into superior barbecue. Others counter that the real skill of barbecuing lies in making a tough, fatty cut of meat tender and delicious. The question of rubs is prickly. Many pitmasters would no more pre-season a brisket than they would eat bean sprouts, but others insist that a salt-and-pepper rub (maybe with paprika or cayenne) is essential. Perhaps the most divisive debate is about the optimal firmness of brisket, with those who like a close-textured, stand-up brisket casting snide glances at those who adhere to the falling-apart-tender school. (The depth and color of the red ring just inside the crust provides yet another reason to squabble.) Once upon a time there was a debate about whether serious barbecue could be served on anything other than butcher paper, but that has now largely been decided in favor of the contemptible plastic-foam plate. Unfortunately, plastic knives and forks also rule.

Every region has its own peculiarities, especially where sauces and sides are concerned. By far the most common sauce is doctored ketchup (with brown sugar, Worcestershire, cayenne, a little vinegar, and “secret ingredients”), but a thinner, more vinegary sauce is likely to be found wherever the meat is held in higher regard than the sides. Too many places drench the meat in sauce unless you ask them not to, but several pits in the Central Texas Barbecue Belt—the epicenter of all barbecue in the universe—are loath to even offer sauce in bottles as an option. Baked beans supplant pintos along a swath of East Texas we have informally designated Sugar Central, where everything from the slaw to the tea is sweetened. In South Texas black beans occasionally appear on menus. U.S. 59 from Laredo to Houston is a veritable garden of Southern-style sides such as macaroni salad, English pea salad, green beans, and carrot salad.

Yet even the standard sides pose delicate questions. Should potato salad be defined by mustard or mayo? Is coleslaw best if it is vinegary or sugary? How shameful is it if the side dishes come from a can or a restaurant supplier—as many of them do, despite what the servers tell you? Are beans, potato salad, and coleslaw even necessary, or will a slice of raw onion, a piece of cottony white bread, and a jalapeño suffice? Do crackers make a better sop than cornbread (popular around Abilene), white bread, tortillas (big in South Texas), or Texas toast (an East and West Texas staple)? Does barbecue taste better washed down with Big Red or beer?

Even with its many regional variations, Texas barbecue in 1997 has a certain sameness, which says a lot about the intrusions of the modern world on this elemental culinary art. When the owner and pit boss at Austin’s in Eagle Lake utters the phrase “al dente,” you know the twenty-first century is here. The introduction of gas cookers borders on blasphemy, even though those who use them claim they maintain an even temperature and save on wood. Aluminum foil and plastic wrap are now used to keep brisket moist, and at some benighted places, the meat is precooked in foil. Taste- and texture-altering marinades are also occasionally used to tenderize the meat, and microwave ovens are ubiquitous for reheating. Steam tables are fixtures at the Southside Market in Elgin, the motherlode of Central Texas barbecued sausage since 1882, as well as too many other places to mention. All of which raises the question, At what point does barbecue lose its authenticity?

The definition of “barbecue” has certainly broadened. For every aficionado who still believes that a balanced diet is a rib in each hand, there are ten new believers who swear by barbecued chicken, ham, turkey breast, and turkey sausage. These meats have elbowed their way onto menus alongside the basic triad of brisket, ribs, and sausage, but the addition is not always an improvement. Barbecued chicken is fine, but there ought to be a law against turkey breast and ham, both of which are usually cooked deli stuff that has been enhanced by a few hours of smoking. Ruby’s in Austin serves only organic beef. Even meatless barbecue could eventually be an option, if the cashier reading a copy of Vegetarian Times at Smitty’s in El Paso is any indication. At the same time that new meats are showing up, a cherished old one is disappearing. Barbecued cabrito can hardly be found anymore along the Texas-Mexico border, and in Brady, home of the World Championship Barbecue Goat Cookoff, it is vanishing from the menus of local pits because demand for goat by assorted ethnic groups from as far away as Florida has driven up the price.

Perhaps the most significant latter-day development in the ’cue cosmos is the successful cloning of barbecue restaurants. As a matter of principle, we champion the quirky independent, but the barbecue at the chains deserves consideration. It may never be stellar, but it is often very good. On the leading edge of this trend is the County Line–State Line chain in Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, and San Antonio—renowned for its megasized beef ribs and forties-vintage roadhouse motif. The various Lines have elevated barbecue to an upscale cuisine. Similarly, Luther’s of Houston, Bodacious in East Texas, Bill Miller’s of San Antonio and Austin, Colter’s and Spring Creek in Dallas–Fort Worth and points east, even Sonny Bryan’s of Dallas–Fort Worth and Riscky’s of Fort Worth have packaged barbecue into an inexpensive fast-food concept loaded with family appeal. Perhaps the proper attitude is to wish them well. After all, clone barbecue is better than no barbecue.

During the month of March, a barbecue swat team consisting of Texas Monthly editors Joe Nick Patoski, Patricia Sharpe, and John Morthland, plus Austin freelance writers Jim Shahin and Richard Zelade, racked up more than 10,000 miles crisscrossing the state, eating at 245 establishments, gaining a cumulative 12 pounds, and risking life, limb, and clogged arteries to determine the fifty best barbecue places in Texas and ultimately to declare the Big Three of Texas barbecue: Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, and Cooper’s in Llano. The barbecue gang initially devised a five-point rating system, but ended up including only those places with a ranking of 3.5 or better.

You may not agree with all of the choices. In fact, if you do, your barbecue credentials are suspect, since true connoisseurs always defend the honor of their favorite pits no matter what anyone else thinks. Accordingly, we’ll vouch for the places listed here because what they serve is worth arguing about. And if it isn’t worth arguing about, then it’s not Texas barbecue.

The Big Three

Lockhart and Soul

Kreuz Market

It’s been the same for years. At Kreuz Market in Lockhart, you enter from the dirt parking lot through the hellishly hot pit area in the rear. If the line is long enough—and the line at Kreuz is seldom short—the exposed post-oak-wood fire at the end of the pit may lick at your feet for a few minutes before you move up. You order from a wall menu that lists beef shoulder (95 percent lean), brisket (a little fattier), prime ribs, pork loin, and sausage (85 percent beef and 15 percent pork). The meat is served on butcher paper, with white bread and/or saltines and a plastic knife. No fork. You enter the tall, spartan, smoke-varnished main dining area and get your drink and maybe a condiment or two, such as tomatoes, avocado, jalapeños, pickles, or onions. No sides. No sauce. Then you sit at a long table with everybody else and eat with your fingers.

Some people find this appalling, but many think Kreuz’s tender, deeply smoky barbecue is the best in Texas, and therefore the world. “We like to say we don’t use sauce because we have nothing to hide,” says owner Rick Schmidt, chuckling. “We like the flavor of our meat.”

Schmidt represents only the second family to own this place, which has been in operation at least since 1900. It was launched as a grocery store and meat market by Charles Kreuz (rhymes with “brights”). Like many Czechs and Germans in Central Texas, he slowly smoke-cooked leftover tough cuts (like brisket) on weekends. This not only kept the meat from spoiling but also converted it into something tender and flavorful. His three sons took over when he retired, and in 1948, Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt, Rick’s father, bought it after having worked there for thirteen years. In 1984 he sold the business to his sons Don, who retired last year, and Rick.

“Some people seem disappointed,” Rick concedes. “They say, ‘How can it be barbecue without beans and potato salad and sauce?’ We just tell ’em this place was here before all that came along. We don’t do chicken or ribs because those are only good if you eat ’em right when they’re done; if you have to hold the meat on the pit, that’s when you need barbecue sauce to hide that it’s dried out.” And nothing at Kreuz is dried out. Ever.

Kreuz Market, 208 South Commerce, Lockhart, 512-398-2361. Brisket $6.90 a pound. Beer. Rating: 5. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday till 6:30. John Morthland

Where There’s Smoke

Louie Mueller’s Barbeque

There’s something vintage cadillac about Louie Mueller’s. As ’cue joints go, its chassis is a classic—a weathered old brick building on a small-town main street with a black screen door that slams behind you when you enter. The interior? Pure comfort. High green walls faded brown from years of smoke, a faint cloud of it hovering forever over the guys in gimme caps chowing down at blocky wood tables. And under the hood of the 1959 brick pit is brisket that purrs, beef ribs that growl, and homemade beef sausage that rules the road.

Established in the early forties by the late Louie Mueller as a meat market and grocery store that sold a little barbecue on the side, Mueller’s today is a full-time barbecue joint run by Louie’s son, Bobby, and his son, John. They just salt and pepper the meat and let some miracle of smoke do the rest. The brisket cooks for four to six hours in a closed pit with the meat at one end and the firebox fueled by post oak at the other. Served cafeteria-style on butcher paper set atop old plastic trays, the offerings also include chicken breasts, wonderfully chewy pork ribs, and except on Saturdays, big-flavored T-bones and juicy pork steaks. The watery tomato-onion-and-red-pepper sauce is perfect for dipping. There’s also above-average homemade potato salad, coleslaw, and beans for those who appreciate a Caddy’s little touches.

Louie Mueller’s Barbeque, 206 W. Second, Taylor, 512-352-6206. Brisket plate about $4.50. Beer. Rating: 5. MC, V, checks accepted. Open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (takeout till 6), Saturday till 2 p.m. Jim Shahin

Really, It’s the Pits

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q

You can tell from the roadside that Cooper’s is serious. At one end of the parking lot is a small mountain of enormous mesquite logs. Next to it is a barbecue fanatic’s dream landscape: five old rectangular, closed steel pits, lined up in a row. At the pit closest to the door, customers choose their meat, and a pitman pulls it off and slices it up for them on the spot.

The barbecue here is cooked cowboy style, that is, directly over smoldering hardwood coals. The logs are burned down to embers in a big enclosed fireplace, then transferred to the pits by pitmen using shovels with twelve-foot handles. The brisket takes six to eight hours, and it fairly explodes with the robust flavor of meat and smoke. Everything else is fabulous too: the huge pork chops, the sirloin, the pork sausage, the chicken, the pork ribs, the goat, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, the beef ribs. Cooper’s secret? No complicated marinade. No fancy dry rub. “Just salt and coarse pepper,” says pitmaster Lorenzo Vences with a shrug.

The tangy and thin, vinegary, tomato-based dipping sauce cooks on the pit and is flavored with sirloin fat. The sides are homemade and good: creamy slaw, mild potato salad, zippy jalapeño-inflected pinto beans, corn on the cob. The fruit cobbler is not homemade but good enough.

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q, 604 W. Young (Texas Highway 29), Llano, 915-247-5713. Brisket plate about $3.50. BYOB. Rating: 5. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday till 8. JS

The Pit Parade

The fifty best barbecue joints in Texas.

Betty Rose’s Little Brisket
Briskets generally don’t get prettier by closing time, so at 4 p.m. Betty Rose’s juicy, tender, well-marbled, mesquite-smoked brisket and meaty, black-pepper-rub-encrusted pork ribs were nice surprises, expertly held through the long, post-lunch slump. Not so the wrinkled pork-and-beef sausage. We helped ourselves to above-average macaroni salad, coleslaw, cornbread, and pintos. The sauce is sweet-sour and peppery, the banana pudding larruping good. Pleasant, squeaky-clean former gas station. Brisket plate $5.25. BYOB. Rating: 4. 2402 S. Seventh, 915-673-5809. Cash only. Closed Sundays. Richard Zelade

Beans N Things
The little corner pit on old Route 66 with the plastic cow on the roof has gotten even better since Shirley Gallmeier took over from former police chief Wiley Alexander four years ago. There’s the requisite array of smoked meats (brisket smoked over hickory for 12 hours and 45 minutes, mesquite-smoked ribs, sausage, chicken, and fajitas) as entrées, with brisket also added to salads, nachos, Cajun rice, and stuffed potatoes. But the real stars here are the sandwiches—the chunky, freshly cut chopped beef and the unique pig-and-chicken (piles of the smoked meats and melted yellow cheese on a bun). Confirming the place’s semi-secret status are the autographed photos of Mickey Gilley and local comedian Dangerous Don on the wall. Brisket plate $4.99. Beer. Rating: 4. 1700-A Amarillo Boulevard East, 806-373-7383. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. Joe Nick Patoski

Sam’s Bar-B-Que
At this funky little East Austin joint, which was a favorite of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, the locals hang out as if time didn’t exist. The barbecue is erratic, but when it’s good, the green-oak-smoked meat sprinkled with a secret dry rub is a religious experience. After a good mixed plate of Sam’s tender pork ribs, melting brisket, and Samson-strength mutton, you know God’s not a vegetarian. Good beef-and-pork sausage, dryish chicken. Peppery, velvety smooth red sauce. Spicy pinto beans, mustardy mashed-style potato salad. Brisket plate $5. BYOB. Rating: 5. 2000 E. Twelfth, 512-478-0378. Cash only. Open daily. Jim Shahin

Roadhouse-chic live music and ’cue emporium named for the late, legendary pitmaster C. B. Stubblefield, located downtown in a sprawling stone building with hardwood floors, faded brick walls, and an outside deck. Stubb’s meats are pecan-smoked, including usually robust brisket (occasionally pot-roast bland), delectable beef ribs, and juice-oozing chicken. Also turkey breast, good pork-and-beef sausage. Numerous tasty homemade sides such as greens, mashed sweet potatoes, stewed okra, and jalapeño spinach. Desserts include wonderful banana pudding. Sauce is mildly spicy and medium thick. Brisket plate $5.95. Full bar. Rating: 3.5. 801 Red River, 512-480-8341. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. JS

Bastrop Bar-B-Q
With its acoustic-tile ceiling and rusted farm implements placed just so on a redbrick wall, this place has zero atmosphere. The character is in the oak-smoked barbecue: powerful brisket, fall-apart pork ribs, and huge, tender beef ribs as well as pork chops, ribeyes, and finely ground, home-recipe all-beef sausage. The thin dill-pickle-juice-based hot sauce is better than it sounds. Standard sides, homemade. Brisket plate $5.29. BYOB. Rating: 4. 919 Main, 512-321-7719. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JS

Willy Ray’s Bar-B-Q Company
The atmosphere’s way too nice for barbecue, but seventeen-month-old Willy Ray’s redeems itself with terrific meaty, unfatty ribs, moist pork, and tender brisket, all smoked over hickory and oak. The cafeteria line dispenses numerous daily-changing vegetables (including Cajun rice, turnip greens, a carrot soufflé that puts sweet-potato pie to shame, and an honest-to-god green salad). As for the sauce, it is of the stout, sweet-tart persuasion. Brisket plate $6.50. Beer. Rating: 4. 145 Interstate 10 North, 409-832-7770. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. Patricia Sharpe

Schoepf’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
The line forms at the serving pit outside; choose from equally fine brisket, pork ribs and inch-thick chops, chicken, pork-and-beef ring sausage, sirloin, and cabrito (as available), cooked over mesquite coals. Step inside the spacious dining room for potato salad, slaw, excellent pintos, and tangy, thickish sauce, all homemade. The place’s resemblance to Cooper’s in Llano isn’t a coincidence; the owners are friends. Brisket plate $5.95. BYOB. Rating: 5. 702 E. Central Avenue, 817-939-1151. Cash only. Open daily. RZ

Monkey’s Bar B Que Pit
These days, Sutphen’s (see below) isn’t the only great pit in Borger. George “Monkey” Loftis, a former Sutphen’s pitmaster, has juked up the formula with some interesting twists—using mesquite instead of hickory, smoking ribs that are drier (a plus) and a bit saltier (a minus), and introducing delicacies such as the three-meat triple sandwich (choose among brisket, pork-and-beef sausage, smoked turkey, and pork strips), ribs by the slab, and barbecue enchiladas. The glutinous, sweet-spicy sauce is served on the side. In keeping with Loftis’ nickname, the dining area has a jungle theme. Brisket plate $6.25. Rating: 4. 1408 S. Cedar, 806-273-3747. MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays. JNP

Sutphen’s Pit Bar-B-Q Hickory House
Sutphen’s closed the doors of its last, deservedly renowned Amarillo location last year, leaving Joe Sutphen to carry on the tradition at his restaurant in Borger. He does a fine job too, turning out consistently tender ribs good enough to win the nationals in Cleveland as well as ham and chunk-style brisket. Every meal is accompanied by a delightful bowl of puréed apricots, a chutneylike palate cleanser and condiment perfect for dipping crisp battered onion rings or even a rib. Brisket plate $5.30. BYOB. Rating: 4. 300 N. Cedar, 806-274-9472. MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JNP

Lone Star B-B-Q
Spare but pleasant concrete-floored eatery with stained-glass Texas flag in the window. Mesquite-smoked unfatty brisket that comes from a company in . . . Green Bay, Wisconsin?! “It’s better meat,” says owner Chuck Dalchau. “It’ll make people mad when they hear that, but it’s a fact.” Also, thick pork chops, good sirloin, chicken, ribs, undistinguished beef-and-pork sausage, and on Saturdays, goat. Delicious homemade sides and fruit cobblers. Brisket plate about $4.25. BYOB. Rating: 4. 2010 S. Bridge (U.S. 87 South), 915-597-1936. MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JS

Tom’s huge, well-seasoned, meaty pork ribs have fed thousands of Aggies and other meat-eaters, who chase them with moist, fall-apart oak-smoked brisket and pork loin (moderately flavorful) at both locations. Apply the too-strong, unsweet sauce at your own peril. Corn and green beans (two of several vegetable offerings) are blah; chocolate-iced pecan pie will send you into a sugar swoon. The comfortable modern building in Bryan resembles a tall, overgrown log cabin. Brisket plate $5.95. Beer. Rating: 3.5. 3601 S. College, Bryan, 409-846-4275 (closed Sundays); 2001 Texas Avenue South, College Station, 409-696-2076 (open daily). AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. PS

Burnet County Bar-B-Q
Inside this rustic log cabin–style building, warmed in wintertime by a wood-burning stove, patrons enjoy mesquite-smoked meats: meltingly tender pork ribs, fourteen-to-eighteen-hour brisket, Elgin beef sausage from Southside Market, and ham. Pretty good homemade tomato-based sauce. Also, tasty homemade slaw and jalapeño-spiked beans. Yummy pies are made by a woman in Oatmeal. Brisket plate $5.25. BYOB. Rating: 4. 616 Buchanan Drive (Texas Highway 29), 512-756-6468. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Tuesdays. JS

Baker’s Ribs
Hickory smoke and porcine paraphernalia pervade this rustic former warehouse. Tender, lean brisket and pork ribs stand out. Moist and flavorful boneless chicken breast is unorthodox, but it is served here for quality control (traditional bone-in chicken doesn’t age well). Ham, turkey, and beef sausage are no better than commercial. Tasty, from-scratch potato salad has green onions, herbs, and spices; house sauce is orange-red, sweet, runny. Brisket plate $6.95. Beer. Rating: 4. 2724 Commerce (other locations in the Dallas area), 214-748-5433. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays. RZ

Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse
The raison d’eat here is hickory-smoked brisket sandwiches, pork ribs, and thick, crunchy onion rings. The pork-and-beef sausage and ham are forgettable (longtime pitmaster Charlie Riddle passed away last December), the potato salad and slaw pedestrian, the beans not helped by pit time. Scratch sauce is red, sweet, and thick. Two dozen school-desk seats inside for the non-claustrophobic; others eat in their cars, at picnic tables, or on tree stumps outside. Brisket plate $6.25. Beer. Rating: 4. 2202 Inwood (other locations in the Dallas–Fort Worth area), 214-357-7120. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. RZ

Austin’s Bar-B-Que
When a building is this grim, the food had better be good, and it is. The serving line is so narrow that two people can’t pass; the only seating area is a chain-link-fenced concrete slab outdoors by the highway. But your plate is loaded with great, moist pecan-smoked brisket; big ribs, meaty if a little stringy; and pretty good coarse-grained pork-and-beef sausage links. Side dishes include green beans, buttery boiled potatoes, and tart, mayonnaisey macaroni salad. (Vegetables and desserts are made by owners Denice and Ron Janow; Ron allowed as how the rice salad was a bit “al dente” when we visited.) Sauce would go better with spaghetti. Brisket plate $4.50. BYOB. Rating: 4. 507 E. Main (U.S. 90A), 409-234-5250. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sunday through Wednesday. PS

John’s Country Store
This antiques store, with adjoining saloon, offers only pecan-and-mesquite-smoked brisket and sausage (a pork-beef mixture) sandwiches, but the brisket’s so melt-in-your-mouth tender it survives the rather flat sauce it’s drenched in. Brisket sandwich $3.50, sausage sandwich $3.25. Brisket also sold by the pound ($7.50). Beer, wine. Rating: 4. 131 Northington Road, one block north of FM 102, 409-677-3536 or 281-242-7658. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Monday through Thursday. JM

Southside Market BBQ
Talk about big. Every Saturday the Southside sells 2,000 pounds of Elgin beef sausage, 500 pounds of other meats (brisket; beef and pork steaks; beef, mutton, and pork ribs, plus baby back pork ribs), and 50 to 75 chickens. Amazingly, it’s all pretty darned good, though you can quibble that the brisket might not be as tender as some. The pork ribs (big chestnut-colored slabs) are fine. Sauce is thin, red, not strongly sweet or sour, and very distinctive. The crowds eat off butcher paper at school-cafeteria tables in a modern converted bank building. Brisket plate $4.75. Beer. Rating: 4. 1212 U.S. 290, at Texas Highway 95, 512-285-3407. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. PS

Bill Parks Bar-B-Que
Homesick Texans driving from the west get back in touch with their palates shortly after crossing the state line, veering off I-10 in El Paso at the Piedras or Copia exit and pulling into Bill Parks’s, a warm and comfy, red-Naugahyde oasis of soul-style barbecue in the desert. The house specialties are the mesquite-pecan-and-oak-smoked pork and beef ribs (speak up when ordering if you don’t want them bathed in the sweet sauce), roastlike brisket that was slightly overdone, near-perfect sliced pork, pork-and-beef hot links and smoked sausage, sides of mixed greens, rice and gravy, and stewed okra in addition to the usuals, and surprisingly complex sweet-potato pie. Brisket plate $5.85 (fat) or $6.50 (lean). Beer, wine. Rating: 4. 3130 Gateway East, 915-542-0960. AE, DS, MC, V. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JNP

In the town that beef built, warehouse-size Angelo’s, with its bunkhouse atmosphere and stuffed Western critters, needs no introduction. At the beginning of a lunch that soon resembled the Oklahoma Land Rush, we enjoyed tender, marbled hickory-smoked brisket (a little salty); pork ribs that were crusty outside and tender within; and an exemplary quarter-chicken: pink, smoky, juicy meat protected by a lightly browned, supple skin. Barbecued salami sounds sacrilegious but tastes good dressed up as a sandwich on rye; slaw, potato salad, and ranch-style beans did not excite. The homemade sauce is reddish-brown, runny, slightly sweet, and tangy. Brisket plate $6.85. Beer. Rating: 4.25. 2533 White Settlement, 817-332-0357. Cash only. Closed Sundays. RZ

Ken Hall and Company Texas Barbecue
Old cowboy boots and cowboy hats line one wall of this rec room of a place owned by a former pro football player (for the Oilers, among others). Moist mesquite-smoked pork roast, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, and brisket (lean slice: blah; fatty slice: wow!). Also turkey, chicken, and from the local Dutchman’s Market, flavorful pork-and-beef sausage. Homemade sides include unexceptional green beans and corn. Brisket plate $5.49. Beer. Rating: 4. 1.5 miles from downtown on Texas Highway 87 South, 210-997-2353. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Mondays. JS

Novosad’s Meat Market
This no-frills Czech meat market makes its own spicy sausage (beef, pork, or a combination) and serves up commendable oak-smoked brisket, lamb and pork ribs, and chicken as well as pork steaks and chops. The thin brown sauce is hot and vinegary. Fine crunchy potato salad and confetti slaw. Brisket plate $5.29. BYOB. Rating: 4. 105 La Grange, on the square, 512-798-2770 or 512-798-4029. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JM

Here’s a man who knows his barbecue. “We don’t use water in the pit and we don’t poke holes in the meat,” says Bob Allen, the honcho of this small storefront operation. “I’ve been in the business seventeen years, and I know when a brisket is done.” Indeed he does. His slow-cooked hickory-smoked meats (including ribs, turkey, chicken, and pork or beef sausage) stand out in the region. Bob’s wife and two sons pitch in too, dishing out spicy-sweet ranch-style beans, average potato salad, the usual sweet slaw, and thick, red sweet sauce. The only seating is outside under a small wood pavilion. Brisket plate about $4.30. Rating: 4. 1205 Pope, 903-657-8301. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays and Mondays. PS

Goode Co. Texas BBQ
When other places are busy, Goode’s is mobbed. The line moves fast (“Help you, ma’am? Ma’am!”). The reward for enduring is masterful green-mesquite-smoked brisket (moist, yet crumbles when cut); firm, pink pork ribs; terrific plain-style pintos; fine jambalaya; soft, thick jalapeño cheese bread; renowned pecan pie; and more. Sauce medium thick, spicy, red. Texas chauvinism inspires a convincingly antiquated atmosphere (especially on Kirby). Brisket plate $6.95. Beer. Rating: 4.5. 5109 Kirby, 713-522-2530, and 8911 I-10 (Campbell Road exit), 713-464-1901. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. PS

Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue
Going on 65, this tidy little cafe’s original big brick pit is older than most of its customers. At noon hordes of business and neighborhood folks ravage the deliciously moist chicken and very fine hickory-smoked brisket (salt-and-pepper-rubbed and as tender as Granny’s Sunday roast). These two standard-bearers best the skimpy ribs and flavorful but rather ordinary pork-and-beef sausage. Sauce is of the thin, vinegary-sweet, medium-hot variety. Attention health nuts: The grilled vegetables are great. Attention dessert hounds: So is Mrs. Pizzitola’s fluffy homemade coconut cake. Brisket plate $7.95. Beer. Rating: 4. 1703 Shepherd Drive, 713-227-2283. AE, MC, V. Closed Sundays. PS

New Zion Missionary Baptist Church
You can see the plume of smoke before you spot the church and the simple white frame building next to it. Out front are age-blackened steel pits. Inside are communal tables of smiling diners, tended to by a motherly crew, some church ladies, some not. The wondrously flavorful hickory-smoked beef is fibrous yet tender; the ribs are ample but fatty. Excellent plain pinto beans balance mustardy potato salad, and diners have a choice of three sauces, all mild. Brisket plate $5. Rating: 4. 2601 Montgomery (FM 1374), 409-295-7394. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. PS

Buddy’s Bar-B-Que
Cooked over oak and a little mesquite, the brisket at this pretty little house with green walls and a stone fireplace is bland. Everything else, however, is superlative: exquisite pork ribs (slightly charred outside, toothsome inside), full-flavored, ungreasy beef-and-pork sausage, and juicy chicken. Homemade sides include cucumber salad. Brisket plate $4.60. BYOB. Rating: 4. 2900 Junction Highway (Texas Highway 27), one mile east of town, 210-367-4040. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays and Mondays. JS

Country Tavern
Texas’ fastest-moving waitresses work at this legendary spot, where the menu is short and the sauce is sweet. The big, pink, meaty pork ribs are tender to the bone, while the hickory-smoke-tinged brisket is some of the best in East Texas. The large, low-ceilinged room would have no character whatsoever if the diners who fill it weren’t so happy. If you have time, grab a beer and shoot a round of pool. Larry Hagman (J.R. of Dallas fame) ate here in 1987. Brisket plate $9.50 at lunch, $10.50 at dinner. Beer. Rating: 4. Six miles west of town on Texas Highway 31 at FM 2767, 903-984-9954. AE, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Sundays. PS

Lazy-H Smokehouse
Velma Willett has ruled this scruffy, knotty-pine building on the highway for 22 years, selling homemade ice cream and peach cobbler, locally grown vegetables (on the Sunday buffet), and good hickory-and-oak-smoked meats. The homemade sausage (pure lean pork shoulder, no preservatives, no killer-nitrite taste) is great. One caveat: The place has a mothbally, attic smell, but once you start chatting with Velma, you don’t even notice. Brisket plate $5 ($6 on Sundays). Rating: 3.5. Texas Highway 96, six miles south of town, 409-423-3309. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. PS

Prause’s Market
Prause’s is one of those real-life mythical places: a meat market that’s been in the same family for one hundred years (in the present building since 1952). The post-oak-smoked barbecue (dished out by two generations of Prauses, not by clueless local teenagers) isn’t perfect but passes muster: juicy pork loin; dryish if flavorful brisket; short, fat homemade pork sausage links, a tad greasy. Dine on paper plates in the big, airy pea-green back room. The main sauce is sweet, black-peppery, and thick; old-fashioned bottles of vinegar and peppers also sit on every table. Brisket plate about $3.75. BYOB. Rating: 4. 253 W. Travis, on town square, 409-968-3259. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. PS

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q
(see “Really, It’s the Pits,” above)

Black’s Barbecue
There is something timeless about the feel of this relaxed cafe with Texas license plates lining one wood wall and Longhorn horns decorating the others. No wonder: It has been run by the same family since 1932. Owner Edgar Black, the son of the founder, still does things the way Daddy did, using post oak to indirectly smoke the meat, which is seasoned only with salt and pepper. The moist, deep-flavored brisket cooks for 24 hours, the good beef-and-pork sausage is homemade. Hammy pork ribs, chicken redolent of smoke. Made-from-scratch sauce is thick, red, sweet, nothing special. The sides are numerous but uninspired. Brisket plate about $4.60. Beer. Rating: 4. 215 N. Main, 512-398-2712. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JS

Chisholm Trail B-B-Q
Long beige-brick building with lots of pickup trucks in its rutted parking lot. Inside, signs of trouble: a salad bar, fried catfish—in other words, a full-service restaurant. But . . . terrific homemade coarse-ground, peppery beef-and-pork sausage, fabulous oak-smoked beef ribs with the taste of basted-on sauce. Brisket and pork ribs pretty good; thick red sauce undistinguished. Not bad sides, you-name-it, all homemade. Brisket plate $3.60. Beer. Rating: 4. 1323 S. Colorado, 512-398-6027. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JS

Kreuz Market
(see “Lockhart and Soul,” above).

Tom and Bingo’s Hickory Pit Barbeque
A paragon of consistency and simplicity, this luncheonette-cum-hickory pit has featured the same menu of sliced (or chopped) beef and sliced-ham sandwiches (regular and extra-extra lean) in the same location since 1952. Second-generation pitmaster Dwayne Clanton (son of Tom) has run the place for the past 24 years, the last 9 with the help of his wife, Liz, a former Miss Lubbock. Their experience and teamwork show in the snappy service, in the perfection of grilled buns with a slight patina of grease on top, and most of all, in Dwayne’s lean and juicy, crispy-edged brisket, slow-cooked and smoked for eighteen to twenty hours. The rich homemade sauce is smoky-sweet but with a punch. Regular sandwiches $2.55, extra lean $3.15. Rating: 4. 3006 Thirty-fourth, 806-799-1514. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JNP

City Market
Shiny knotty-pine walls, clean-as-a-whistle tile floors, Formica-topped tables. Not to worry, the post-oak-smoked food has character: pork ribs so deep in flavor they’re practically philosophical, addictive all-beef sausage. Alas, the brisket’s a little leathery. Orange mustard-based sauce is odd but engaging. Good homemade beans. Brisket plate about $3.45. Beer. Rating: 5. 633 E. Davis, 210-875-9019. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JS

Ruthie’s Pit Bar-B-Q
Piles of superannuated magazines (including well-thumbed Victoria’s Secret catalogs) entertain visitors who stop by Ruthie’s small, quintessentially ramshackle roadhouse to inhale billows of oak, pecan, and mesquite smoke and some pretty good barbecue to boot. Your affable pitmaster is Louis Charles Henley (son of founders James and Ruthie), who provides brisket, fatty but flavorful ribs, Elgin beef sausage, and the usual sides. Definitely on the short list for Most Soul in Texas. Brisket plate $4.20. BYOB. Rating: 4. 903 W. Washington (Texas Highway 105), 409-825-2700. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. PS

Joe Cotten’s Barbecue
Tex-Mex influence is apparent in the green olives atop the potato salad and in the mild, salsalike sauce (made with fresh ground tomatoes and laced with meat drippings and strips of tomato and onion). Meats are state-of-the-art mesquite-smoked brisket, sliced pork, pork ribs, and pork sausage (no preservatives), served on butcher paper. Fifty years old this year, the sprawling roadhouse seats 365. Brisket plate $7 at lunch, $8.05 at dinner. Beer. Rating: 5. Texas Highway 77 South, 512-767-9973. Cash only. Closed Sundays. JM

Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
From the outside, this cedar-sided building squeezed between a KFC and a burger stand on a busy commercial strip is easily mistaken for a fast-food franchise. Walk inside, though, and it’s everything a barbecue restaurant should be, a spin-off of the legendary Cooper’s in Llano. Five steps past the entrance is the pit, a fragrant furnace where the cook waits for diners to choose among mesquite-smoked brisket (cut and served as a chunk), beef ribs, pork ribs, turkey, chicken, and the house specialty, pork chops, which typically run out before noon, all cooked Llano-style, over direct heat. A crisp and crunchy slaw, corn on the cob, average beans, acceptable potato salad, and warm peach cobbler are spooned out in a cafeteria line, and long communal picnic tables are stocked with rolls of paper towels, loaves of white bread, squirt bottles of a tangy, almost addictive sauce, and giant jars of pickled jalapeños. Rolls of foil are conveniently placed at the door for taking home leftovers. Brisket plate $4.99. Beer. Rating: 5. 1805 S. Bryant, 915-655-2771. DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. JNP

Bob’s Smokehouse
The original of a three-outlet local chain, Bob’s mesquite-smokes a little of everything (including lamb ribs), but specializes in hulking beef ribs and beef sausage so well cooked that it crumbles out of its casing. The thickish sauce has a slight afterburn. Utilitarian, no decor. Brisket plate about $4. BYOB. Rating: 4. 3306 Roland, 210-333-9338. Cash only. Open daily. JM

Charles’ Bar-B-Que
Everything about “Charlie’s” is weird, from the Dr. Seussian red-with-yellow-trim exterior to the tilted, dime-store art, concrete floors, and American flag sagging in the corner inside. Sometimes, though, weird is great. Such is the case with the odd homemade garlic-sage beef-and-pork sausage and the wonderful, tug-at-the-teeth post-oak-smoked pork ribs. Good pork butt, mutton, ham, chicken, and homemade beef “hot guts” sausage; so-so brisket. Standard sides, homemade but unexceptional. The thick, red sweet sauce with onion isn’t weird, but it isn’t great either. Brisket plate $4. BYOB. Rating: 4. 110 Main, 512-237-3317. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays. JS

Brown’s Country Store
Robert Brown does only one thing—beef sandwiches, chopped ($2) or sliced ($2.25)—but he does it perfectly, his judiciously mesquite-smoked brisket merging smoothly with his sweet, mild sauce. Mostly takeout (though the store has one table), served during lunch hours only. Brisket also sold by the pound ($5); drinks (including beer), chips, and such from store. Rating: 5. Take Exit 47 off I-37 to intersection of FM 534 and FM 3024, 512-547-3481. Cash only. Open daily. JM

Louie Mueller’s Barbeque
(see “Where There’s Smoke,” above)

Jackson’s Bar-B-Q
Three’s a crowd in this tiny semi-dilapidated place on the highway where the Jackson family (including current owner Betty) has been selling grand oak-smoked beef (flavorful if a little dry); big, meaty, salty ribs; and fine bacony-tasting beef sausage for more than two decades. The potato salad is the classic mashed, puckery variety that’s native to Central Texas. Come on Saturday for chicken. Brisket plate $4.50. BYOB. Rating: 3.5. Texas Highway 79, 512-898-2210. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Sundays and Mondays. PS

Haby’s Bar-B-Que
Its motto is “Best of the West,” and it’s no idle boast: fourteen-hour mesquite-smoked fall-apart brisket, pork ribs slightly crisp on the outside and limp on the inside, delicious chicken. The pork-and-beef sausage tastes commercial, but that’s forgivable, given the quality of the other meats. Thinnish, tangy sauce is an old family secret. Standard sides, all homemade. Brisket plate $5.25. BYOB. Rating: 5. 529 E. Main, 210-278-5746. MC, V. Closed Sundays. JS

Brother’s Bar-B-Que
Greg Garza, who opened this east-side joint last December after his porta-pit was closed for lack of refrigeration, credits “divine guidance from above” for his cooked-to-the-max mesquite-and-oak-smoked brisket (soft as butter), pork ribs (falling off the bone), and pork-and-beef sausage (extra-succulent). The beans are delicate, the potato salad is virtually mashed. Brisket plate $5. Rating: 4. 2106 Port Lavaca Drive, 512-575-9091. Cash only. Closed Sundays. JM

The Hickory Stick
Our meat was pulled from the pit, not off the kitchen line, at this spotless steak and ’cue restaurant where the decor is fifties Western, complete with stuffed Texas critters. Heavily pepper-rubbed, hickory-and-pecan-smoked Certified Angus beef ribs were tip-top; turkey breast, pork ribs, and pork tenderloin above average. Serviceable pork-and-beef sausage, potato salad, slaw, and pintos. The scratch sauce is thick, sweet, and hot, and desserts include a proper buttermilk pie. Brisket plate $5.95. Beer. Rating: 4.5. 2300 N. Eighteenth, 817-754-5270. AE, DS, MC, V. Open daily. RZ

Hinze’s Bar-B-Que
A barnlike building that has expanded to surround two huge pecan trees dishes out some of the best pecan-smoked barbecue in the region: fabulous brisket (thick cut, firm yet tender); fatty, moist pork butt; big-boned, slightly dryish pork ribs. The meat’s so good it doesn’t matter that the carrot-and-raisin salad has (gag) pineapple or that the dirty rice tastes packaged. Sauce ketchupy, mild, very sweet. Brisket plate $6.25. Beer. Rating: 4. 3940 U.S. 59 Loop, 409-532-2710 (also in Sealy at 2101 Texas Highway 36 South at I-10, 409-885-7808). AE, MC, V, checks accepted. Open daily. PS

Bar-L Drive Inn
Timing is everything at the Bar-L. Order too early (we arrived at eleven), and you get yesterday’s brisket (mediocre to start with) and warmed-over pork ribs. An hour later, we gnawed at big, meaty ribs fresh from the pit, bursting with natural juices and a slightly sweet, oak-smoked flavor. There was no fresh brisket, but the peppery “Polish” pork sausage was an acceptable substitute. Eschew humdrum slaw, potato salad, and beans in favor of fresh-cut fries. Scratch sauce is orange, thick, vinegary, spicy. Dark, fifties beer-bar ambience; booths have CD jukeboxes. Curb service. Brisket plate $7.35. Beer. Rating: 3.5 (fresh ribs are a 5). 908 Thirteenth, 817-766-0003. Cash only. Open daily. RZ

Harry’s on the Loop
Old house nestled among folds of the Hill Country. Folks play dominoes under a lethargic ceiling fan. In a side room, a stand-up piano. Walls thick with signatures, including Eric Clapton’s. Picnic tables out back. Mesquite-smoked brisket: sensational. Pork ribs: meaty and delicious. Custom-made finely ground pork-and-beef sausage: spicy and good. Sharp red sauce. Homemade sides: beans with sausage, beans with brisket bits. Brisket plate $5.20. Beer. Rating: 4.5. From Fredericksburg, take Texas Highway 16 north for thirteen miles, then FM 1323 east for three miles, 210-685-3553. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Closed Tuesdays. JS

The Shed
Situated in the middle of nowhere, 37 miles southwest of Abilene and 60 miles northwest of San Angelo to be exact, the Shed is barbecue with a sense of place. Half the fun is making the drive through what’s known as the Big Country, a mythic expanse of sky and vistas that go on forever. The reward at the end of the road is sublime mesquite-smoked brisket so tender it could be cut with a fork, with a crust of smoked seasoning that is ideal. (Ask to have the fat trimmed in the serving line; owner Hollis Dean is reluctant to cut away too much before cooking, given how it flavors the meat.) The peppery pork ribs are superior as well, accompanied by an original sauce that bites back. Dean’s wife, Betty, is responsible for the homemade sides of pickle-tinged potato salad (in creamy and chunky versions) and sweet, tangy coleslaw, mini-loaves of sourdough bread, and crunchy apple crisp. Grilled chicken, smoked ribeye steaks, and Hillshire Farms pork-and-beef sausage, and Texas toothpicks (strips of onion and jalapeño, breaded and fried) too. Paper towel racks on the wall. Brisket plate $5.75. BYOB. Rating: 5. 2.5 miles northwest of town on County Road 226, 915-743-2175. AE, DS, MC, V, checks accepted. Closed Monday through Wednesday. JNP

Vera Backyard Bar-B-Que

At seven on a Saturday morning, I find Armando Vera and his assistant in the prep room of the tin smokehouse behind Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que in Brownsville. The assistant is cleaning about fifty cow heads with a powerful spray hose; when he finishes, Vera wraps them in extra-heavy aluminum foil. In the room next door large branches of mesquite and ebony are burning down to charcoal in a five-foot-deep, rectangular, firebrick-lined pit dug in the ground.

Vera is probably the last restaurateur in the state who prepares barbacoa, Mexican-style barbecued cow’s head (usually eaten for breakfast on weekends), in the traditional manner. Though the word “barbacoa” is Spanish for “barbecue,” in South Texas it refers strictly to the meat from the cow’s head. Most of the barbacoa served today isn’t even barbecued (though the head is still sometimes smoked in conventional pits): It comes from prepackaged meats—cheeks are the most popular—cooked in massive steamers, or the whole heads are baked in ovens. But Vera cooks barbacoa in the ground.

As he does every weekend, the 36-year-old Vera waits until the wood burns down to the proper heat—which he ascertains by holding his hand over the pit—then puts the heads into that big hole in the ground. Next he covers it with a thick sheet of steel, and covers that with dirt, watering it down to settle the dust. His operation, which doesn’t meet present-day health regulations, is grandfathered in. But if his eleven-year-old son, Armando Junior, does not eventually take over the business, as Vera did from his own father, Alberto, 25 years ago, true barbacoa will come to an end. (Alberto Vera, 73, still helps out around the place.)

After the meat has cooked for about eight hours, the dirt is shoveled off and the lid removed, and an overwhelmingly savory, meaty smell fills the pit room. Armando uses a shopping cart to move the heads to the restaurant building. The slick, shiny meat pulls easily from the bones. He puts cheeks, eyes, brains, and tongues into separate containers, combining the meat behind the tongue (what he calls the “sweetbreads”) with what remains—mostly fat, but also meat scraps from elsewhere on the head—to create the mixed meat. The next morning customers will order their favorite pieces by weight; prices range from $4.50 per pound for eyes to $7.25 for cheeks, with tortillas and fiery homemade salsa a little extra.

The cheeks, which are a dark brown, taste almost like pot roast, while the mixta is stringy and fatty, getting its comparatively bland taste from the sweetbreads. The tongue is similarly mild and juicy. Brains are firm-textured, dry, and bitter; the eyes are almost pure fat and definitely an acquired taste. The deep smokiness of Vera’s barbacoa puts it in a class of its own. “For Latin people, this is like marijuana; they’re hooked on it,” says Alberto. Adds Armando: “That pit in the ground is what gives us our competitive edge. Ninety percent of our business is repeat, so we must be doing something right.”

Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que, 2404 Southmost Road, Brownsville, 210-546-4159. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Open Saturdays and Sundays from around 5 a.m. to around noon. JM

And Honorable Mention to . . .

For Specialties of the House

ABBOTT: the Turkey Shop, for steamed cabbage, black-eyed peas, and cornbread dressing
ABILENE: Joe Allen’s, for yeast-risen whole-wheat bread
AUSTIN: ArtZ Rib House, for country pork ribs
BRADY: Mac’s Barbecue, for crisp-skinned chicken
CUERO: Barbecue Station—B&D Catering and Smolik’s Quality Meats, for exemplary brisket
DEL VALLE: Dan’s Bar-B-Q, for exceptional beef ribs
FALFURRIAS: Strickland’s Restaurant, for outstanding pork-and-beef sausage
FORT DAVIS: Raul’s, for sliced brisket sandwiches with green chiles
FORT WORTH: the Railhead Barbecue Smokehouse, for barbecued salami
GARNER STATE PARK: the River Bend Cafe (opens Memorial Day weekend), for homemade coconut cream pie
GONZALES: the Gonzales Food Market, for garlic-sage beef sausage (order “dry”) and more exceptional beef ribs
JEFFERSON: Riverport Bar-B-Que, for tomatoey sauce with a Bloody Mary nip
JUNCTION: Lum’s Bar-B-Que, for homemade coconut cream and lemon meringue pies
LLANO: Brothers BBQ, for fried yellow squash, and Laird’s, for delicious beef-and-pork sausage
MIDLAND: Honey and Mary’s Barbeque, for being the westernmost outpost of Elgin beef sausage
MISSION: Ferrell’s Pit, for homemade grapefruit pie
ODESSA: Jack Jordan’s Bar-B-Que, for slaw with chopped apple
ROUND ROCK: Bob’s Bar-B-Q, for still more exceptional beef ribs
SAN ANGELO: Jodie’s Bar-B-Q, for beef-pork-and-jalapeño sausage; Mule Creek Bar-B-Q, for Longhorn stew (pintos with sausage, brisket, and pork); and Pack Saddle, for homemade ice cream and speedy service
SPICEWOOD: R.O.’s Outpost, for homemade blackberry, fresh peach, and peanut butter pies.

For Atmosphere

AUSTIN: the Iron Works, for its ambling ranch-house feel in the middle of downtown, and Ruby’s B-B-Q, for its unique slacker-chic barbecue theme
BIG SPRING: Big John’s Feedlot, for its funky pine-post exterior and hunting-lodge interior
BULVERDE: Tommy Wilson’s, for its massive indoor and outdoor dining facilities and adjacent party barn
COMFORT: Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q, a high-ceilinged former feedstore, for its spacious, down-home country feel
DRIFTWOOD: the Salt Lick, for its screened porch and sausages smoking over an open pit in a scenic Hill Country setting
JUNCTION: Lum’s Bar-B-Que, for its haciendaesque flavor and outdoor stone deck, surrounded by hills
KERRVILLE: Bill’s Bar-B-Que, for its friendly, unhurried feel
MIDLAND: Price’s Bar-B-que, for its cinder-block soul and hand-drawn menu
OAKVILLE: Van’s Bar-B-Q, for its coin-operated player piano and ranch look
SANTA ANNA: Dub’s Opera House, for the pit out front that looks like a cannon shooting smoke onto Main Street
TIOGA: Clark’s Outpost, for its rustic, nostalgia-inducing setting
WHARTON: Soul Sister B-B-Q, for the original photos of blues stars on the walls.

For Live Music

ABILENE: Harold’s Bar-B-Q (owner Harold Christian sings gospel songs when the spirit moves him)
BULVERDE: Tommy Wilson’s
COMFORT: Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q
COUPLAND: the Old Coupland Inn
LUBBOCK: Great Scott’s Bar-B-Q and Stubb’s
ODESSA: Sam’s Bar-B-Q
SANTA ANNA: Dub’s Opera House.