Pitmasters:Tootsie Tomanetz, 82, and Kerry Bexley, 50
Method:Post oak; both direct- and indirect-heat pit
Pro Tip:This is some of the least expensive top-quality brisket—around $15.95 a pound, in case you're planning a party.
It’s early morning and the air is not yet blistering, so you roll the car windows down. You turn off the highway onto a farm road and meander through pastures and farmland, anticipation growing with every mile. Thirty minutes later you arrive in the micropolis of Lexington (population 1,200) and head for a small red building. Joining the line, you turn to gaze at the big open-air shed out back. That’s where the magic happens. Moving deliberately amid an array of magnificently battered barbecue pits—which resemble something from the dawn of the industrial revolution—are three people oblivious to the gawkers fifty feet away. They consist of the dean of Texas pitmasters, Tootsie Tomanetz; her boss and the owner of Snow’s, Kerry Bexley; and the new kid on the block, pit hand Clay Cowgill. Their skill and the indelible experience that they create are the reasons why Snow’s is once again at the top of our list. They might lift the lid on a pit occasionally to prod a pork steak (the cut’s gnarly exterior belies the succulent meat within), they might pause to inspect the rows of briskets. Every so often, Tomanetz will take a little cotton mop and baste the chicken halves with a thin, sweet sauce. Periodically, trays of aromatic meats are toted inside to be sliced by the efficient crew overseen by Kim, Bexley’s wife, in the small dining room. Meanwhile, you’ve ordered and paid up. You look for a picnic table to share (if you’re lucky, there’s space at one under the shed—think of them as chef’s tables). You settle down and dig into brisket so succulent your eyes close involuntarily. But it’s the chicken (yes, chicken!) and salty pork steaks with pockets of buttery fat that will have you wondering why you don’t spend more Saturday mornings in Lexington. Rating: 5. 516 Main, 979-542-8189. Sat 8–1:30 or till meat runs out.
Snow's BBQ. Photographs by Wynn Myers.
Pitmaster:Aaron Franklin, 39
Method:Post oak; indirect-heat pit
Pro Tip:Beef ribs are Saturday only, making them the hardest get in Texas barbecue.
Four years ago, Franklin Barbecue was our hands-down pick for best barbecue in the state (i.e., the world). A couple of years later, Aaron Franklin published a best-selling cookbook and won a James Beard award for best chef in the region, a first for a pitmaster. He’s the most famous barbecue cook in the country, and he’s recently a co-founder of a new Austin food blowout, the Hot Luck Festival. Given all that, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the barbecue at his restaurant had started to slip. But one taste of the brisket, the one every pitmaster from Texas to Timbuktu wants to emulate, tells you otherwise. (Yes, Franklin has ceded its number-one place on our list to Snow’s, but that’s not a knock on it so much as a reflection that Snow’s is currently smoking hot.) On a lean cut of Franklin brisket, a line of soft, yielding fat gilds the edge, carrying with it the vanilla-tinged flavor of oak smoke and a black-pepper bite. The beef is tender enough to cut with a spoon but holds together until the first luscious mouthful. Needless to say, the quality extends across the menu, yea, even unto the turkey, which is not commercially brined and thus tastes fresh and fantastic. How does Franklin do it? With a little help from his friends: there’s his tireless wife and co-owner, Stacy; Benji Jacob, his best friend since high school, who tends the front of house and the restless line of customers; and meat master Braun Hughes, who ensures that a hundred or more briskets come out perfect every time. Rating: 4.75. 900 E. 11th, 512-653-1187. Tue–Sun 11–3 or till meat runs out. Closed for vacation Aug 1–10.
Franklin BBQ. Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden.
Pitmaster:Todd David, 59
Method:Post oak and hickory; indirect-heat pit and wood-fired rotisserie
Pro Tip:For the best twenty seconds of 'cue porn in Texas, go to Cattleack's website (sorry, it's not on mobile).
Every ounce of your being recoils at the idea of eating barbecue in an industrial-area strip center in north Dallas. It’s just wrong! How could it have any soul! Calm down. Walk to the end of the line and start inching along (it’s like going through airport security). Pass the time identifying famous Texas pitmasters from their mug shots on the wall, and have your order well in mind when you get to the counter, because the meat cutters work at supersonic speed. Tote your tray to a varnished picnic table, amid all the cute signs and tchotchkes, and take your first bite. Prepare to feel the earth move, because, yes, it’s that good. Cattleack is the project of Todd David and his wife, Misty, who’ve given it all their love and then some. Their Akaushi ribs give new meaning to “well marbled,” while incredibly moist brisket is cradled by bark that melds into the meat. Elemental pulled pork separates into succulent strands at the touch of a fork. The pork ribs, hefty and high quality, beat the sausage, which is nice and coarse but awfully salty. Don’t pass up specials like house-made boudin or lamb-and-fig sausage. Rating: 4.75. 13628 Gamma Rd, 972-805-0999. Thur & Fri and first Sat of month 10:30–2.
Cattleack. Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden.
Clockwise from top left: detail of toothpicks from Louie Mueller; paper menu from Bodacious; temperature gauge from Truth; creamy baked potato salad from Evie Mae's; pile of post oak in front of a old "Duroc Hog" sign at Truth (all of Truth's pork products are Duroc hogs); smoked beans from Evie Mae's in Wolfforth. Photographs by Jody Horton, Wyatt McSpadden, and Wynn Myers.
Opened:1968 (reopened in 2015)
Pitmaster:Jordan Jackson, 34, and Scott Turner, 30
Method:Mesquite, post oak; four different pits: vertical flow, offset, indirect heat, direct heat
Pro Tip:The brisket is marathon-smoked for 24 to 26 hours. Get some.
Jordan Jackson graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, in Austin, in 2011, but he never wanted to be a chef. He moved back home to East Texas, honed his smoking chops at Stanley’s, in Tyler, and then made his move. In 2015, he took over the location of the original Bodacious mini-chain from founder Roland Lindsey. Then he enlisted another Cordon Bleu grad, Scott Turner, and they started upping their game, doing things like buying hormone-free Angus briskets from 44 Farms, in Central Texas, and making their own sausages (each falling-apart, gloriously greasy bite of the jalapeño version is a little different from the one before). The brown wooden building has a proper old-fashioned feel, with pictures of almost fifty years of the Lindsey family on the walls. Founder Roland Lindsey still stops in often to eat and check on the joint he opened in 1968. He’s entitled. In 2012, his daughter married Jackson, making the original Bodacious a true family business. Rating: 4.75. 2227 S. Mobberly Ave, 903-753-8409. Tue–Sat 10–5.
Bodacious Bar-B-Q. Photographs by Wynn Myers.
Louie Mueller Barbecue
Pitmaster:Wayne Mueller, 51
Method:Post oak; indirect-heat pit
Pro Tip:Call in your order to skip the line.
Many a barbecue joint is named the Shack. Louie Mueller could be the Court. Not only is its building a former basketball court/gymnasium, its place in the history of Texas barbecue is unquestionably regal. Its ownership is a dynasty—founded by Louie Mueller in 1949, passed down to his son Bobby in 1974, and assumed by Bobby’s son Wayne in 2008—and its inner circle has set standards for the realm, starting decades ago with skilled pitmaster Fred Fountaine, whose tricks of the trade made the barbecue a phenomenon. He shared that knowledge with Bobby, who presided over the restaurant’s rise to legendary status. But mainly Louie Mueller is a court because it has served its subjects wisely and well. It bestows upon them lavishly peppered brisket, beef ribs of monumental heft, and snappy house-made jalapeño sausage oozing with beefy deliciousness. Pork is treated with equal care, smoke penetrating every molecule of both the ribs and the shoulder that’s destined to become pulled pork. Finally, the enterprise’s size and character assure its place among barbecue royalty: vast rooms filled with a fragrant, smoky haze, walls cured to the color of post oak, an array of venerable wooden tables and chairs. Louie Mueller is the most enlightened of monarchies. Long may it reign. Rating: 4.75. 206 W. 2nd, 512-352-6206. Mon–Fri 11–6, Sat 10–6.
Louie Mueller. Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden.
Tejas Chocolate Craftory
Pitmasters:Scott Moore Jr., 53, and Greg Moore, 51
Method:Post oak; indirect-heat pit
Pro Tip:The carrot soufflé will change your mind about what's possible in a barbecue side.
Scott Moore and his partner, Michelle Holland, had a problem: their bean-to-bar chocolate business had a loyal following but not enough revenue. So they rented the oldest building in Tomball, roped in Scott’s brother, Greg (who just so happened to be a chef), and opened the most unexpected barbecue outfit in the state. They now serve, alongside house-roasted-cacao truffles, superlative smoked meats. The USDA Prime brisket is rich, juicy, and encased in a well-balanced pepper-and-salt bark. The pork ribs all but collapse with tenderness. The beef short ribs, available only on Saturdays, are damn near perfect. It all comes out of a double-propane-tank, nuclear-submarine-looking offset smoker Scott calls the Black October. Greg’s kitchen turns out sides that taste more like the work of a Parisian/Mexican bistro than a Texas smokehouse, specifically the tomatillo-based Verde Que sauce and cazuela-prepared mole sauce. As for desserts, well, remember how they started as a bean-to-bar chocolate shop? Rating: 4.75. 200 N. Elm, 281-892-1700. Tue–Fri 11–6, Sat 8:30–10:30 (breakfast tacos), 11–5 (barbecue).
Tejas Chocolate Craftory. Photographs by Jody Horton.
Pitmaster:Will Buckman, 38
Method:Red oak; wood rotisserie pit
Pro Tip:You know you're in Texas when you can add pico to any item for a dollar.
Moving into a brick-and-mortar from a cute but cramped trailer was a blessing for owners Will and Nichole Buckman. Their numbering system is a blessing for customers, who can now hang out and avoid the line. It’s pleasant inside the new digs, with touches like canning jars for light covers and an array of vintage license plates. Finding the place is easy; just follow your nose through the historic neighborhood of Old Town Spring. We have recommendations, but everything on the menu is superb, from the Black Angus Prime all-natural brisket and the beef rib in a black-pepper jacket to the Duroc pulled pork and the succulent whole chicken. Visit on a Saturday to snag said chicken or a dino-size beef rib. And if you’re running late, check social media to see what’s sold out. Rating: 4.75. 26608 Keith, 832-592-1184. Tue–Sat 11–6 or till meat runs out.
Corkscrew. Photograph by Jody Horton.
Clockwise from top left: red velvet cake from Truth in Brenham; variety of chocolates from Tejas Chocolate Craftory in Tomball; prep work for banana pudding from Louie Mueller; fresh strawberry pie from Evie Mae's in Wolfforth; Janel Botello from Truth holding one of her strawberry cakes; slice of coconut cream pie from Evie Mae's. Photographs by Jody Horton, Wyatt McSpadden, and Wynn Myers.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
Pitmaster:Tom Micklethwait, 39
Method:Oak; indirect-heat pit
Pro Tip:This place is four tenths of a mile from Franklin Barbecue, and the wait is usually only 15 to 30 minutes.
With its rounded corners and neatly painted garlands of oak leaves and acorns, Micklethwait’s fat little cream-colored trailer looks like part of a Hobbit community. It sits amid picnic tables on a tree-shaded lot in East Austin and offers superlative victuals, including brisket (embraced by a super-peppery, midnight-dark bark), rosy pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and a spectacular, fat-slicked beef rib that will feed four (and set you back a very-much-worth-it $20 a pound). The word “craft” in the name also refers to a short list of fine homemade sausages such as kielbasa and andouille and the occasional specialty like coarse lamb-and-beef with tangerine zest, courtesy of owner Tom Micklethwait (the “th” is silent, by the way). Other standouts are jalapeño-cheese grits; a creamy, mustard-rich potato salad; and chef-quality lemon poppy-seed slaw. Oh, and leave room for buttermilk pie. Rating: 4.75. 1309 Rosewood Ave, 512-791-5961. Tue–Sat 11–6, Sun 11–3 or till meat runs out.
Mickelthwait. Photographs by John Davidson.
Evie Mae's Pit Barbecue
Pitmaster:Arnis Robbins, 33
Method:Oak; offset smoker
Pro Tip:Grab a free Shiner from the beer tub while you stand in line.
Evie Mae’s shiny new strip-center spot has been open a little more than a year, but visitors from nearby Lubbock don’t seem to miss the food truck (conveniently, the new place is about a quarter mile from the old location). An early arrival meant we not only avoided a wait but also were able to secure one of the coveted beef ribs, massive in size, perfectly tender, and with just the right amount of bark. Ditto for the spectacular burnt ends, which actually bested the somewhat undersalted brisket. Three choices for sausage, including spicy green chile and German, satisfied everyone in our group. We pondered a huge array of sides and desserts as we moved along the cafeteria line, deciding on subtly spicy green-chile cheese grits, tangy smoked beans, and—to seal the deal—creamy coconut pie. Rating: 4.75. 217 U.S. 62, 806-782-2281. Wed–Sat 11–2 or till meat runs out.
Evie Mae's. Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden.
Pitmaster:Leonard Botello IV, 28
Method:Post oak; indirect-heat pit
Pro Tip:The "Love Texas" sign makes a perfect background for selfies.
Truth looks too cute to be serving serious barbecue. The carefully curated interior—with its hand-lettered signs, Texas license plates, and Instagram-ready desserts—is a far cry from a no-frills meat market or a rusty roadside pit. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin. The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration, and a fine black-pepper crust. On occasion, they’re in a hurry to get a brisket out and the fat doesn’t render enough, but that’s a very rare flub. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw. The homemade white bread will make you reassess the spongy store-bought stuff. Somehow you must leave room for one of Truth’s five or so different monster cakes, which Botello’s mother, Janel, makes from scratch. Liberally slathered in homemade frosting, the slice you couldn’t finish will be your dessert that evening. Rating: 4.75. 2990 U.S. 290 West, 979-830-0392. Thur–Sun 11–4 or till meat runs out.