Taste Texas: Exploring the State’s Superior BBQ Culture

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It’s fair to say that Texans have mastered the art of slow-cooking meats over the past 200 years or so. The Lone Star State is renowned for its legendary BBQ, and patrons travel worldwide to sample Texas’ signature flavor. While many regions have their own style of BBQ, the Texas style is typically seen as the best. 

Texas and BBQ have enjoyed a long and tasty history, dating back to the early 1800s. The tradition was started by Haitians who used to cook large pieces of meat over wooden sticks. While grills and BBQ equipment have evolved over the years, the Tean methods still produce a distinguished smoky and woody flavor.

Why Texas BBQ Is The Best - Texas View

Why Texas BBQ Is The Best

Texas BBQ has a distinct flavor that combines smoky and salty notes with soft and smooth textures. It has that melt-in-your-mouth kicker that stems from the hours and hours pitmasters spend cooking it. Although you can sweeten the flavor with sauce, Texas BBQ is typically rich and savory. 

The meat is usually prepared with rubs and spicy seasoning rather than sweet marinades. This is vastly different from many other types of BBQ, like Kansas City-style. Furthermore, Texas BBQ heavily features beef rather than pork, which is the favored protein of North Carolina and Memphis. 

Beef brisket is one of the main components of Texas BBQ. The brisket is generally the main litmus test for a BBQ joint, and so most smokehouses make sure that their brisket is on point. And as the saying goes, smoking brisket isn’t hard, but smoking great brisket is. 

The key to preparing great brisket, or any other BBQ meat for that matter, is to smoke it low and slow. In Texas, pitmasters cook their meats in large smokers which allows them to smoke an entire cut of meat without trimming. This keeps all of the beautiful flavors inside, especially the tough chunks of fat which eventually caramelize. 

Depending on the size of the piece of meat, they can take anywhere from 8 to 18 hours to smoke. Another key factor is the use of wood as the heat source. This is perhaps the most important ingredient in creating that quintessential smoky BBQ flavor. Mesquite is one of the most popular woods for smoking in Texas BBQ. 

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So, as you can probably tell, there isn’t just one thing that makes Texas BBQ the best. It’s a combination of years of tradition, meticulous preparation, seasoning, slow cooking, and, most likely, a few family secrets. 

Different Types of Texas BBQ

By now have a good idea of what most people deem Texas BBQ to be. But the reality is that what we described above is Central Texas BBQ, which is the benchmark. It’s the most well-known and popular style in the state. So, if Texas BBQ is the best, then Central Texas BBQ is the cream of the crop. 

That said, we highly recommend trying BBQ from different parts of Texas. Below, we break down the key characteristics of Texas BBQ from north to south and east to west. Perhaps the central style doesn’t appeal to you as much as one of the rest. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Cut a large piece of smoked beef brisket to the ribs with a dark crust. Classic Texas barbecue - Texas View

Central Texas-Style BBQ

Central Texas-style BBQ is the original Texas BBQ. On paper, this style seems straightforward. You apply a dry rub all over the meat, then smoke it at a low temperature for several hours. But the truth is, getting each of these steps right can be a challenge. 

Plus, the seasoning and wood you use can make an enormous difference. The base of any dry rub is salt and pepper, which is applied generously. Depending on the pitmaster, other ingredients may be added, like brown sugar, cayenne, chili pepper, or garlic. However, it’s essential that the spices suit the meat and are well-balanced. 

In Central Texas, the most popular type of wood for smoking is mesquite, but some smokehouses use oak or pecan. Pitmasters learn the perfect amount of wood needed to smoke different cuts and know precisely how much additional wood is required during cooking. This is one of the most challenging parts of the process.

Brisket and beef ribs are the standard bearers of Central Texas-style BBQ. However, other meats are also cooked in this style, including pork ribs, sausage, pulled pork, and turkey. The meat is usually served on its own, but it’s common for people to eat it with white bread or cornbread. 

If the meat is as good as it should be, you won’t need sauce with your central-style BBQ. But ultimately, it’s a matter of preference. Austin is perhaps the most popular city in Texas for this style. 

West Texas-Style BBQ

West Texas pitmasters like to do things a little differently. Traditionally, they cook their meat over an open flame with direct heat. This approach is a lot more like grilling than smoking, and ultimately, it gets the meat cooked a lot faster. 

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Although mesquite is the wood of choice, West Texas BBQ doesn’t have as smoky a taste as the central style. The main reason for this is that it spends less time cooking. The snappy wooden flavors don’t get the same chance to absorb into the meat 

Although it varies, the most popular cowboy-style meats in West Texas-style BBQ are sausage, pork ribs, chicken, turkey, and sometimes mutton. Fortunately, you can find quality West Texas-style BBQ all across the state. One of our favorites is Big Boys Bar-B-Que in Sweetwater. 

Grill restaurant kitchen chef smoked pork ribs - Texas View

South Texas-Style BBQ

In South Texas where Mexico and the U.S. meet, the BBQ takes on a host of different flavors, most notably the ones from south of the border. In addition to Mexican spices, South Texas-style BBQ also features sweet molasses-based sauces that give it its signature twang. 

It’s also common to find popular Mexican cuts of meat, like beef cheek, head, or tongue (lengua). These cuts are usually used to make barbacoa, which is beautifully tender and sweet shredded beef. The meat is generally cooked or smoked in an underground oven (or a steamer) for around 12 hours with the sauce. 

The sauce helps keep the meat moist and creates a magical fusion over time. One of the most famous South Texas-style BBQ restaurants is Vera’s Backyard BBQ in Brownsville. In addition to barbacoa and brisket, you can find a host of mouth-watering Tex-Mex dishes. 

East Texas-Style BBQ

East Texas-style BBQ is similar to the central style in that it involves smoking meats over long periods using indirect heat. However, the wood of choice is usually hickory, and the primary meat is usually pork. East Texas BBQ is known for being served to fall off the bone, ensuring mouth-watering goodness. 

Perhaps the biggest distinction with East Texas-style BBQ is the sauces.  For the most part, the meat is heavily marinated in tomato-based sauces which also feature when the food is served. Naturally, the meat and sauce combination makes for delicious sandwiches, which are popular in East Texas BBQ restaurants. 

For some people, the sauce is the most appealing part of BBQ, so East Texas-style BBQ is extremely popular. There are high-quality restaurants scattered throughout the state, especially in major cities like Houston. Since this type of BBQ is influenced by southern cooking, the desserts are also phenomenal.

Best BBQ In Texas Map

Texas is the second largest state in the U.S. and significantly larger than most others. So, unfortunately, you probably won’t get to do a statewide BBQ tour. But don’t worry, you can sample your fair share of scrumptious Texas food wherever you are. 

To make your culinary trip a little easier, we’ve outlined our favorite BBQ restaurants in Texas’s biggest cities: Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. It’s important to know that there is a lot of BBQ in Texas and restaurants often have long lines. Many restaurants in the Top 10 BBQs in Texas sell out of food by lunchtime. 

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So plan ahead, pack some lawn chairs, and enjoy the experience. If you’re lucky, the restaurant staff will hand out some free samples. 

Large barbecue smoker grill at the park. Meat prepared in barbecue smoker - Texas View

Best BBQ In Austin

Although some claim that San Antonio has the best BBQ in Texas, Austin probably has the best selection of quality restaurants. Honestly, we’re yet to try an Austin BBQ joint we didn’t like. Yet still, some are a must-visit, even if it means waiting in line at 6 am to ensure you get brisket (Franklin, we’re looking at you). 

  1. Franklin Barbecue
  2. Terry Black’s Barbecue
  3. Micklewait Craft Meats BBQ & Catering
  4. Leroy And Lewis Barbecue
  5. Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

Best BBQ In Dallas

Succulent BBQ is part of the Dallas experience. The most common style is Central Texas-style BBQ, like in Austin. There’s no end to the number of beef ribs and brisket to try. Nonetheless, here are our top picks if you’re visiting the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

  1. Pecan Lodge
  2. Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ
  3. Terry Black’s Barbecue
  4. Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que & Home Cooking
  5. Cattleack Barbeque

Best BBQ In Houston

Over the past few years, the BBQ scene has exploded in Houston, with several new restaurants opening up. Many offer fresh and modern takes without straying too far from the traditional methods. If you’re traveling to Houston, be sure to try out at least one or two of these spots. 

  1. The Pit Room
  2. Pinkerton’s Barbecue
  3. Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue
  4. Burns Original BBQ
  5. Gatlin’s BBQ

Best BBQ In San Antonio

The culinary arts have deep roots in San Antonio and the Alamo City is widely regarded as Texas’s culinary capital. What’s more, it has perhaps the widest selection of BBQ so you can sample all types, including Mexican-inspired BBQ restaurants which are the best in the state. 

  1. 2M Smokehouse
  2. Big Bib BBQ
  3. B&B Smokehouse
  4. Garcia’s Mexican
  5. Curry Boys BBQ

References

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Christian Linden Texas View Headshot 3 - Texas View
Author at Texas View | Texas View

Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.

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