We don’t keep our barbecue favorites a secret here. Every four years, we publish our list of the 50 best barbecue joints in the state. Our most recent list ran in 2017, so earlier this year, we highlighted 25 more barbecue joints in our midterm report of great new places in Texas. You’d think that would leave little else to crow about, but Texas’s barbecue bench is deep, and impressive new joints continue to open. From all of the eligible barbecue spots not already mentioned in those lists, I’ve narrowed down the sixteen best bites of barbecue I’ve had in Texas this year (listed alphabetically).
Whole Hog Sandwich at Banger’s Sausage House, Austin
Banger’s pitmaster Ted Prater says that his whole-hog preparation takes cues from both Carolinas as well as from his native Tennessee. This sandwich is like nothing found in those states. The whole hog gets chopped with the crispy skin from the pig along with some vinegar and hot sauce. That’s the base of the sandwich. Then they add deep-fried pork cracklings for a ridiculous crunch and shower the whole thing with their Carolina Gold mustard sauce.
The Firebox Sandwich at Bare Barbecue, Cleburne
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Bare Barbecue, the twice-a-month pop-up in Cleburne, makes a dynamite chimichurri that could make just about anything taste good. For the Firebox, they coat a few hefty slices of fatty brisket with the stuff, add some slices of fresh jalapeño, and put it all inside a soft, white bun. Its simplicity is what allows each of the ingredients to sing.
Albright Special Sausage at BBQ Barn, Beasley
As Mark Albright was preparing the menu for the BBQ Barn in 2016, he sampled different sausages before selecting one from Cernoch’s Custom Caterers & Sausage. A year later, he found out that the sausage was actually his great-grandfather’s recipe; it turns out that Frank Albright had shared his sausage recipe with Cernoch’s when he went to work with them in the eighties. They still make the sausage seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and mustard seeds—they call it the Albright Special.
Beef Short Rib at B-Daddy’s BBQ, Helotes
It’s hard to distinguish yourself with beef short ribs in Texas. Most all of them are seasoned and smoked in just about the same way until they’re shred-apart tender. To make an impression, a beef rib has to be done to near perfection. It can’t be tough, but the fat shouldn’t all be melted away. The seasoning and smoke must be in balance with the beefiness of the cut. That’s exactly what the team at B-Daddy’s BBQ pulled off with this beef rib.
Beef Short Rib at Brett’s BBQ Shop, Katy
Brett Jackson learned under beef rib master Wayne Mueller, the owner and pitmaster of Louie Mueller Barbecue, the joint with the best beef rib in Texas. It’s no surprise that Jackson, of Brett’s BBQ Shop, has a way with beef ribs too. He served me one of the best ones I’ve ever eaten. Much like at B Daddy’s, Brett’s hits the sweet spot of doneness and flavor balance, but with a more powerful dose of black pepper.
Smoked Brisket and German Potato Salad at Brisket Love Barbecue & Icehouse, Lindale
I didn’t think much about the potential of German potato salad until I tried it at Brisket Love. They don’t make many modifications to the classic recipe, but the crisp, diced potatoes and generous chunks of bacon outdid every other version I’ve tried. It doesn’t hurt that you get to pair it with some of the best brisket in East Texas.
Brisket Grilled Cheese at Buck’s Barbeque Co., Galveston
This isn’t the standard brisket grilled cheese that’s become popular recently in Texas. You know, the one with a heap of chopped brisket filling. At Buck’s, they start with Texas toast slathered in garlic butter and use house-made pimento cheese. A few slices of brisket go in between for a sandwich that’s hard to define, but get a few bites into the gooey concoction and you won’t care if it should technically be called a grilled cheese or not.
Baby Back Ribs at Honky Tonk Kid BBQ, Waco
Ginger powder and Chinese five spice aren’t your average Texas barbecue rub ingredients. David Gorham, at Honky Tonk Kid, combines them with white sugar and a little black pepper in his rib rub, and then glazes the racks of baby backs with honey and butter to finish. They’re among the most uniquely flavored ribs in Texas, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re smoked to the perfect doneness.
Jalapeño Popper Sausage and Scalloped Potatoes at Interstellar BBQ, Austin
Interstellar makes all their sausages in house, and the version with bacon, jalapeño, and loads of cheddar is barbecue comfort food at its best. So is the best vegetarian side item in Texas. The scalloped potatoes are sliced very thin. Cream, butter, and garlic are mixed in (I didn’t say it was vegan, mind you), but not so much that it’s gloopy. The mixture is loaded into a shallow pan and topped with copious amounts of shredded Parmesan, then the whole pan goes into the smoker to cook. The smoker reduces the Parmesan to a solid, dark crust. It eats like brisket bark. There’s so much umami packed into each bite, it tastes like a main course.
Smoked Sausage Kolache at Kerlin BBQ, Austin
For all the kolache pedants, I know it’s technically a klobasnek, but at Kerlin BBQ they call it a kolache. Venezuelan native Amelis Kerlin came up with her own dough recipe after some trial and error. She added smoked meats like brisket, pulled pork, and sausage inside the dough, and her barbecue kolaches got as many accolades as Kerlin’s excellent barbecue. My favorite is the sausage version, which gets a punch from the added jalapeño that’s instantly soothed by melted cheddar cheese.
Smoked Chicken and Rice at Khói Barbecue, Houston
Don and Theo Nguyen run a Houston pop-up, Khói, using recipes inspired by their mom’s cooking paired with barbecue. The menu changes often, but the smoked chicken and rice has become a signature. The chicken is brined, lightly smoked, and then sliced for the dish. It’s topped with a modified yuzu kosho, a garnish of minced Thai chiles, ginger, garlic, and citrus. The base is a bowl of perfectly cooked rice fortified with chicken fat.
Brisket Puffy Tacos at Los Muertos BBQ, Katy
Barbecue-stuffed tacos aren’t exactly hard to find in Texas these days. The Tex-Mex barbecue boom has made sure of that. At Los Muertos they go one step further than just a good tortilla. Owner Rick Muniz fries the raw masa into puffy tacos, then stuffs them with well-smoked brisket, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and slices of fresh avocado.
Smoked Pork Chop at Slow Bone, Dallas
For my taste, there aren’t enough smoked pork chops in Texas. The one at Kreuz Market is one of my favorite barbecue items in the state. At Slow Bone, they make it even more unique with a long rest in the cooler where the pork is cured with salt. After three weeks, the pork is smoked then finished on the flat top for each order to add another layer of flavor. Available only Sunday and Monday, these pork chops are worth a special trip.
Rib Tips at Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, Fort Worth
Good rib tips are easy to find in Chicago, but not so much in Texas. We like our spare ribs with the tip still on. They serve those too at Smoke-A-Holics, but the best value on the menu is the rib tips at just $6 per pound. These tips come out of the pit crisp and juicy, and are tossed with just a bit of sauce. They might require some extra work to get all that meat off the bone, but it’s worth the effort.
Brisket and Ribs at Smokey Joe’s BBQ, Dallas
There isn’t a barbecue joint in Texas that improved as thoroughly and rapidly as Smokey Joe’s did in 2019. Owner Kris Manning pulled out the old brick pit his father installed back in 1985 and added a pair of Moberg offset smokers. Pitmaster Earl Harris is using them to smoke some of the best brisket in the city while still maintaining the flavor folks have always loved on the classic spare ribs.
Smoked Brisket at Zavala’s Barbecue, Grand Prairie
What started as a Saturday-only joint now does a light lunch menu on Fridays too. On both days at Zavala’s, you can get their flawless smoked brisket, seasoned with little more than salt, pepper, and oak smoke. It’s got an intense bark, good smoke, and just the right amount of seasoning. Each tender slice is perfectly juicy and needs no adornment.