In June 2013, when we published our list of the fifty best barbecue joints in the state, we declared that “we are now in the golden age of Texas barbecue.” Two and a half years later, this era continues, despite claims by heretics who say the state has achieved “peak barbecue.” It’s hard to deny barbecue’s saturation in our state—more than two thousand joints are in operation today, one for roughly every 12,000 Texans—but it remains notoriously difficult to master the craft. If smoking the perfect brisket is the cuisine’s equivalent of summiting Everest, then Aaron Franklin, pitmaster of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, is Edmund Hillary. In 2015 he became the first pitmaster to win a James Beard Award, the food industry’s Oscar, lending barbecue a dose of much-deserved gravitas. This acknowledgment of barbecue’s influence also ignited a desire in new and old pitmasters alike to reach greater heights. The result is an abundance of succulent smoked meats—and 25 new and improved joints in Texas worth visiting. But you’ll have to wait until 2017 to find out if one of them will reach the pinnacle of their profession: the number one spot on our next top fifty list.
Pitmaster: Matt Proctor
Pro Tip: Order the banana pudding while it’s still warm.
The Big Country, home to the renowned Perini Ranch Steakhouse, in Buffalo Gap, is known as a mecca for steak lovers. Paradoxically, there’s not much good barbecue around these parts, though Matt and Kelly Proctor, founders of Stillwater Barbeque, are aiming to right that wrong. They opened their food trailer in 2013 and started cranking out exceptionally good smoked meats (they went brick-and-mortar in April 2014). The pulled pork shines, but the brisket and spare ribs hold their own too. Meat is clearly on the brain here: few dishes escape the kitchen without at least a smidgen of it, most notably the mac and cheese bolstered with brisket, a “side” that could be a meal by itself. 3365 S. 14th, 325-518-5071. Open Tue & Wed 11–3, Thur & Fri 11–3 and 5–8, Sat 11–3.
Pitmaster: Evan LeRoy
Pro Tip: The smoked-jalapeño pimento cheese is an ideal appetizer.
As the adage goes, timing is everything. Just as Texas Monthly was wrapping up scouting for 2013’s top fifty list, Freedmen’s opened. Despite a solid debut, the place had yet to find its footing and just missed the final cut. Since then, pitmaster Evan LeRoy has more than proved his barbecue bona fides. In particular, his brisket—succulent, fatty, and surrounded by a delightfully crunchy bark—earned him a spot as the official newcomer to the 2015 TMBBQ Festival. But Freedmen’s is no one-hit wonder. LeRoy’s creative sausage selection keeps the menu fresh, as does his propensity to include smoked ingredients—jalapeños, beets, potatoes, bananas—in his appetizers, sides, and desserts. 2402 San Gabriel, 512-220-0953. Open Tue & Wed 11–10, Thur–Sat 11–midnight, Sun 11–10.
Pitmaster: Bill Kerlin
Pro Tip: Arrive early for smoked-meat kolaches.
When Bill and Amelis Kerlin moved from Arizona to Texas, the backyard pitmasters didn’t have much experience with brisket. But soon, the husband-and-wife duo began experimenting with the cut, entering—and winning—some barbecue competitions. The awards were affirmation enough to open a small trailer, and within a few months, the Kerlins were being mentioned in the same breath as the heavy hitters. Bill, who mans the pits, is a fast study, and his skills with a smoker deserve the accolades. But it’s Amelis who has stolen the show. She took another beloved Central Texas staple, kolaches, and began stuffing them with smoked meats, proving that the best ideas always seem to be the most obvious. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez, 512-412-5588. Open Fri–Sun 11 till the meat runs out.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
Pitmaster: Tom Micklethwait
Pro Tip: Get the sausage. Any sausage.
Austin’s DIY, made-from-scratch, ultra-locavore reputation may have haters grumbling that the city has become a bit precious. But then someone like Tom Micklethwait comes along and proves that painstaking attention to detail yields incredible results. It’s been a strange journey to barbecue greatness for Micklethwait, who, when he opened his small trailer in 2012, didn’t even offer brisket on the regular menu—sacrilege in Central Texas. But he mastered the meat, and now he smokes some of the city’s best. That same careful consideration is applied to his innovative sausage creations and house-made pickles and white bread. 1309 Rosewood Ave, 512-791-5961. Open Tue–Sat 11–6, Sun 11–3.
Terry Black’s Barbecue
Pitmasters: Michael and Mark Black
Pro Tip: The beef ribs are the first to go.
Before Terry Black’s even opened, a cloud hung over the restaurant. First, there was the public spat about the name: When Michael and Mark Black announced they would be opening Black’s Barbecue Austin, their uncle, Kent Black—pitmaster of the original Black’s Barbecue, in Lockhart—filed a cease-and-desist order. The brothers chose instead to name the joint after their father, Terry. Then, once they finally started their operation, neighbors complained about the actual cloud hanging over the restaurant and requested a new city ordinance to limit smoke emissions. Despite those bumps, the barbecue is superb. The house-made beef sausage is juicy and peppery, and the turkey is a surprise stunner. 1003 Barton Springs Rd, 512-394-5899. Open daily 11–9.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Pitmaster: Miguel Vidal
Pro Tip: Barbecue breakfast tacos are served every morning.
When barbecue and Tex-Mex come together, they produce the most harmonious marriage of flavor. And when it comes to uniting these two cuisines, there is no better matchmaker than Miguel Vidal, pitmaster and co-founder of Valentina’s. The equation is simple: mesquite-smoked brisket + made-to-order from-scratch tortillas + homemade salsa and guacamole = a blissful bite. Should anyone know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace—unless your mouth is too full to object. 7612 Brodie Ln, 512-221-4248. Open Mon 8–9, Tue–Sun 8–10.
HWY 29 BBQ
Pitmasters: Morgan Scott and Corey Thibodeaux
Pro Tip: The beans are made using J. Frank Dobie’s recipe.
This new kid on the block already looks like a classic, from the no-frills interior (weathered concrete and bare white plaster walls) to the simple menu: four meats—brisket, sausage, pork ribs, and chicken—with a fifth meat special on the weekends. The rugged pork ribs are the highlight, notable for their amalgam of salty, peppery, and smoky flavors. But this is a place that’s as much about the experience as the food. When you grab your loaded-down tray and amble over to one of the picnic tables, it feels as if you’re in a legendary, old-school Texas meat market. 110 W. Texas Hwy 29, 512-277-7020. Open Thur–Sat 11–7:30, Sun 11–3.
Payne’s Bar-B-Q Shak
Pitmaster: Robert Payne
Pro Tip: Don’t skip the sausage.
Robert Payne, a longtime local butcher, and his wife, Penny, who worked at a nearby school cafeteria, retired in 2011, but their plans didn’t include gardening and puttering around the house. Instead they opened Payne’s, on Burnet’s west side. The often-sold-out pork steak and tender ribs won’t disappoint, and the salty, smoky, slightly sweet brisket is a must-order item. Penny leads the charge on the homemade sides, worthy complements to the oak-smoked meats. Now let’s just hope the Paynes don’t retire from retirement. 616 Buchanan Dr, 512-756-8227. Open Wed & Thur 11–2:30, Fri 11–7:30, Sat 11–2:30.
BBQ on the Brazos
Pitmaster: John Sanford
Pro Tip: The tacos come on homemade tortillas.
If you have a low opinion of gas station barbecue, this joint will disabuse you of that notion. BBQ on the Brazos, housed in a Texaco station southwest of Fort Worth, produces fine smoked meats (particularly the lean brisket), but the quirkier menu items shouldn’t be missed. Get the smoked-turkey sandwich (served on jalapeño cheese bread and topped with fried onions and mozzarella) or the Shanghai sandwich (chopped brisket and sausage piled high on a bun). It’s the tacos, though—served during both breakfast and lunch—that will surely have you going out of your way to fill up your tank. 9001 E. U.S. 377, 817-396-4758. Open Mon–Fri 6:30–3, Sat 9–3.
Pitmaster: Todd David
Pro Tip: Grab a free can of beer from the cooler.
This little joint is open only two days a week—and weekdays, at that! If you show up right when it opens, expect to wait in line with the regulars, who know that the early carnivore gets the daily special—items like smoked boudin, lamb sausage, Akaushi beef ribs, and, perhaps best of all, the Que-T-Pie, basically a brisket-stuffed turnover. Come a little later to avoid the line and you might still score some barbecue staples, like incredible brisket, succulent spare ribs, and a few slices of moist turkey breast. 13628 Gamma Rd, 972-805-0999. Open Thur & Fri 10:30–2.
The Slow Bone Barbeque
Pitmaster: Jeffery Hobbs
Pro Tip: The best fried chicken in Dallas is served here.
If we gave a “most improved” award, the Slow Bone would get it. In the past two years, the joint’s barbecue—especially the brisket—has seen a meteoric improvement. Deep smoky flavor permeates the meat without drying it out (the smoked chicken is the juiciest in Texas), but to truly appreciate the Slow Bone’s fare, order the combo plate, which comes with both barbecue and some of the joint’s should-be-famous fried chicken. It also offers brisket tamales, brisket chili, and some of the best sides anywhere (go for the pea salad, mac and cheese, or fried okra). 2234 Irving Blvd, 214-377-7727. Open daily 11–3.
The BBQ Shop
Pitmaster: Kelly Mimms
Pro Tip: Phone in your order before you go.
Tucked up against the western edge of the Panhandle, the BBQ Shop is so close to New Mexico you can see the neighboring state from the parking lot. Thankfully, Kelly and Judy Mimms kept their restaurant on this side of the border, so we can claim it as our own. This tiny place in a tiny town exemplifies the saying “go big or go home.” The Mimmses run two Oyler rotisseries to keep up with demand, with Judy taking phone orders over a headset and Kelly slicing up flavorful smoked turkey, juicy ham, and tender brisket. The ribs smack of sweetness, as does the “pig candy”: spicy, sugar-coated bacon slices akin to beef jerky. 1300 Avenue A, 806-481-2276. Open Thur only, 7 till the meat runs out. Cash or check.
Billy’s Oak Acres Bar-B-Q
Pitmaster: Billy Woodrich
Pro Tip: Go on Wednesday for the smoked pork chops.
When you first enter this weathered structure, a slight variation on Nancy Sinatra’s biggest hit may come to mind: this building’s made for smoking. And as long as Billy Woodrich is here, that’s just what he’ll do. The original smoker, now used by Woodrich (perfect name for a pitmaster, by the way), dates back to the fifties, and in its six-decade history the brick pit has produced innumerable briskets and pork butts, which emerge tender and yielding. The ribs are a sweet treat, but if you’re minding your sugar intake, save it for the apple pie and banana pudding. 1620 N. Las Vegas Trl, 817-367-2200. Open Tue–Sat 11–9, Sun 11–6.
Pitmaster: Travis Heim
Pro Tip: The line can be dreadfully slow.
Travis Heim is living the American dream: after spending time working the catering circuit, he’s now his own boss. A few months ago, he and his wife, Emma, set up a food trailer beside Republic Street Bar, in Southside Fort Worth, an ideal location for their three-days-a-week operation. The barbecue acts as a sort of honey to the barflys who want to enjoy some brews and ’cue—like the already-revered pork ribs and bacon burnt ends—on Republic Street’s outdoor patio. 201 E. Hattie, 817-876-2741. Open Fri–Sun 11 till the meat runs out.
Meat U Anywhere BBQ
Pitmaster: Andy Sedino
Pro Tip: The weekend menu is worth waiting for.
When Andy Sedino, the managing partner and director of operations for Rudy’s Bar-B-Q’s North Texas franchises, left his post in 2012 to launch his own venture, expectations were rightly high. Not only has Sedino met them, but in the short time Meat U Anywhere has been open, the small restaurant has attracted loyal customers eager to pack the joint, especially on weekends, when it serves prime rib, mammoth beef ribs, and thick-cut turkey slices rubbed liberally with herbs. 919 W. Northwest Hwy, 817-251-1227. Open Mon–Sat 6–7:30, Sun 6–3.
Kolacny’s Bar-B-Q and Catering
Pitmaster: Ervin Kolacny
Pro Tip: Preorder by phone before it opens.
If you’ve been paying attention to the details of this list, you’ll notice that Kolacny’s is a bit of an outlier. This tiny joint on Hallettsville’s south side opened in 1989, and for 26 years, Ervin and Carolyn Kolacny have spent Saturdays and Sundays serving locals, who sometimes show up with their own pots and pans to tote home their barbecue. Yes, we’re highlighting the new and improved, but Kolacny’s isn’t quite either of those things; rather, it’s a hidden gem that’s new to us and thus deserving of a spot on the lineup. The juicy $4 half chicken is the best barbecue deal in the state, the pork steak is very nearly unparalleled, and the simply seasoned spare ribs easily outrank those at most of the joints featured here. Once the Kolacnys nail the brisket, they’ll rival the state’s top-tier talent. That this place—which sometimes sells out in just half an hour—has gone mostly unnoticed is incredible. 100 S. Russell, 361-798-4400. Open Sat & Sun 11 till the meat runs out. Cash or check.
Rio Grande Grill
Pitmasters: Daniel Wright and Stefania Trimboli-Wright
Pro Tip: Get the chicken tortilla soup as a side.
Down in the RGV, the smoked specialty is typically barbacoa; finding top-notch brisket is often a tougher charge. The Rio Grande Grill may help change that. Part of the success lies in quality ingredients. The Wrights use prime-grade Black Angus, a decision that pays back in tasty dividends. The fatty brisket is a stunning specimen, with buttery-soft meat imbued with a rich mesquite flavor. Even the dense slices from the flat are a wonder. The smoker is a reclaimed fuel-storage tank, and while it could certainly use a refurbishment, the meat being pulled from its drafty interior is some of the best in the Valley. 417 W. Van Buren Ave, 956-423-1817. Open Mon–Wed 11–3, Thur & Fri 11–3 and 5–9, Sat 11–3.
Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque
Pitmaster: Wesley Jurena
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the beef rib burnt ends.
Wesley Jurena is following a sort of prescribed path for a new pitmaster: He cut his teeth on the barbecue competition circuit before opening a food trailer. After finding success in both arenas, he decided to trade in the nomadic lifestyle for a steadier brick-and-mortar business. This proven formula has served a number of pitmasters well, but even in Houston, the barbecue restaurant scene is an increasingly crowded field. What Jurena has on his side—in addition to consistently excellent beef ribs, addictive beef rib burnt ends, and moist turkey slices rimmed by a thick pepper crust—is a competitive spirit burnished during his time on the circuit. His preferred hot-and-fast method could also give him an edge in the commercial world. The more he can crank out, the more people he can serve. 2012 Rusk, 832-940-1719. Open Mon–Fri 11:30–3 and 5–10, Sat 11:30–10, Sun 11:30–8.
Roegels Barbecue Co.
Pitmaster: Russell Roegels
Pro Tip: Go on Thursday for smoked lamb “pops.”
For fourteen years, Russell and Misty Roegels ran this joint as part of the Baker’s Ribs chain. But a few years back, they began to veer away from the brand’s barbecue methods, until finally they left legitimately as well as spiritually. The Roegelses rechristened the building, but outside of a name change, they haven’t altered much. Except, perhaps, the barbecue, which they continue to improve. It’s hard to pick a favorite protein—the enormous beef rib certainly has a photogenic allure—but if forced to choose, we’d say the crispy-skinned smoked chicken is the sleeper hit. 2223 S. Voss Rd, 713-977-8725. Open Mon–Sat 11–8, Sun 11–6.
Southern Q BBQ
Pitmaster: Steve Garner
Pro Tip: The Big Poppa potato is enough for poppa, momma, and maybe even baby.
Big appetites will be rewarded at Southern Q. A ravenous crowd can likely fill up on the Taste of the South platter—four meats and four sides for $26. But in for a penny, in for a pound: go ahead and also order the Big Poppa, an enormous stuffed potato bursting with brisket, sausage, and a pork rib. The sweetness of the rib meat juxtaposed against the peppery brisket, fatty sausage, and creamy potato innards makes for a heavenly bite. Another standout item? The boudin, made using an in-house recipe. 16540 Kuykendahl Rd, Ste. F, 832-250-4851. Open Wed–Sat 11–7, Sun 11–5.
Opened: 1968 (reopened in 2015 after a short hiatus)
Pitmaster: Jordan Jackson
Pro Tip: The pinto beans are free.
Some may cry foul for including a chain on this list, but the original Bodacious—opened by founder Roland Lindsey in the sixties—deserves clemency. Lindsey fell ill a few years back and was forced to close this location indefinitely. That is, until his son-in-law, Jordan Jackson, stepped up to resurrect it. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Jackson worked with Nick Pencis and Jonathan Shaw at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, in Tyler (a 2013 top fifty joint), and now he produces some of East Texas’s finest barbecue. The ribs, pulled pork, and sausage all surely make Lindsey proud, but it’s the brisket that’s a cut above. A salty black bark surrounds moist, tender beef that could go toe-to-toe with any in Central Texas. 2227 S. Mobberly Ave, 903-753-8409. Open Thur–Sat 10 till the meat runs out.
Pitmasters: Ronnie Killen and Manny Torres
Pro Tip: For dessert, mix together the banana pudding and the bread pudding.
Steakhouse maestro and trained chef Ronnie Killen jumped into the barbecue game almost on a lark. He launched a weekend pop-up at his restaurant, Killen’s Steakhouse, and the small side project grew in popularity until it warranted its own permanent spot. His barbecue has quickly become an area darling, drawing many professional athletes looking to pack a punch of protein into their diets (perhaps you’ve heard of one of Killen’s customers, Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt?). The beef—especially the lean brisket—is grand, but pork is the forte here. Killen has a rotating cast of various homemade sausages, silken bone-in pork belly, and spare ribs, whose mahogany bark encases tender meat that requires only the gentlest tug to separate it from the bone. 3613 E. Broadway, 281-485-2272. Open Tue–Sun 11 till the meat runs out.
Smoke Shack BBQ
Pitmaster: Chris Conger
Pro Tip: Ask for the ribs without sauce.
A visit to Chris Conger’s food truck three years ago made quite an impact on us. The meat showed promise, and we left thinking the young pitmaster could elevate San Antonio’s smoked meats scene. Now that Conger has opened a storefront, it would seem our hunch was correct. The sweet and savory ribs are especially impressive when you learn they come from a gas-fired rotisserie, and the mac and cheese with chopped brisket and sausage is a great meal on the go. Plus, Conger pulls off an amazing trick: he makes lean brisket so good, it’s actually preferable to its fatty counterpart. 3714 Broadway, 210-957-1430. Open Mon–Sat 11–9.
Quality Packers Smokehouse
Pitmasters: Tomas Limon II, Lupe Limon, Victoria Limon, and Steven Karanasos
Pro Tip: Grab a pack of beef snack sticks for the road.
Central Texas barbecue families like the Muellers and the Blacks get a lot of attention, but there’s a different dynasty budding in South Texas. The patriarch, Tomas Limon II, got his start in 1974, when he founded Quality Packers, a meat-processing plant and modest smokehouse. Now his grandchildren have taken the lead, and while processing whole carcasses is mostly a thing of the past, the smokers are going full tilt. They opened a storefront last year on Victoria’s south side, where the smoked chicken quarters and family-recipe sausage are textbook examples of excellent barbecue. But it’s the exemplary brisket—both the silken lean and the perfectly textured fatty—that catapults the Limons’ operation to new heights. 3494 SW Moody, 361-572-3227. Open Mon & Tue 10–9, Wed 10–6, Thur–Sat 10–9.
Evie Mae’s Pit Barbecue
Pitmaster: Arnis Robbins
Pro Tip: All the desserts are gluten-free, but you’d never know it.
For decades barbecue lovers have lamented the paucity of proper barbecue in West Texas. But the long arm of the barbecue renaissance seems to be extending its reach. A fine example of this is the recent opening of Evie Mae’s, a food trailer parked along U.S. 82 in tiny Wolfforth, in the southwest corner of Lubbock County. Owner and pitmaster Arnis Robbins, who impressively hand-built his own pit, is less than a year into his operation, and already trucks line the grassy strip along the service road to get a taste of his smoky brisket, sweet pork ribs, and green-chile sausage links. Come early if you want a monster beef rib. 717 U.S. 82, 806-782-2281. Open Thur–Sat 11 till the meat runs out.
Want more great barbecue? Come to our TMBBQ Fest 2015!