A renaissance in Texas barbecue has transformed what was once a hidebound tradition into one of the country’s most dynamic vernacular cuisines, changing the landscape of American barbecue in the process — and turning Texas into the country’s ultimate barbecue destination.
These new faces of Texas barbecue tell the story of that transformation, and offer a taste of what it has wrought. All have all opened their restaurants since 2011, when Franklin Barbecue opened its doors in Austin, a turning point in American barbecue history.
The new faces of Texas barbecue bring more to the craft than previous generations. They learned from traditional pitmasters, but many also come from fine dining backgrounds, or are self-taught. Many come from other countries. The food at each of their restaurants is testimony of an individual Texas experience; together they give voice to a population enriched by waves of new arrivals from other states and countries.
The hours at barbecue joints can be unpredictable. Be sure to check hours before you go.
Here are 20 of the best of what we found, in alphabetical order:
The brisket, sausages, pork ribs and even the smoked turkey at 2M are exceptional, evidence that co-owner Esaul Ramos Jr. — who learned his craft at La Barbecue in Austin — ranks among the state’s most talented pitmasters. At the place he opened with his partner Joe Melig IV in 2016, Mr. Ramos is setting a high bar. If San Antonio barbecue has a terroir, it tastes like 2M’s brisket and pickled nopales taco, or the pork sausage spiked with serrano chiles and enriched with Oaxacan cheese. Also, Grecia Ramos, Esaul’s wife, makes terrific cheesecakes, galettes and Pop Tarts with seasonal fruits.
What to order: Pork ribs, brisket, chicharoni macaroni, pickled nopales, Pop Tarts.
2731 South WW White Road, 210-885-9532, 2msmokehouse.com
Barbs was the most hotly anticipated new barbecue restaurant in Texas when it opened in May. Two of its three owners (Alexis Tovías Morales, 24, and Haley Conlin, 30) are former vegans. The third, Chuck Charnichart, 25, was relatively inexperienced when she joined the staff at Goldee’s Barbecue (see below), where she was cooking brisket when it was named the state’s top barbecue joint by Texas Monthly in 2021. The food showcases the honed technique of precocious talents with influences from Brownsville, the Texas border town where Ms. Morales and Ms. Charnichart grew up. In its first month, Barbs’s food met its lofty expectations.
What to order: Beef ribs, lamb chops, brisket, blue corn tortillas, green spaghetti.
102 East Market Street, barbsbq.com
The trio behind this pioneering strip-mall joint includes two actual blood brothers (Terry and Robin Wong) and Quy Hoang, an honorary family member and childhood friend who is Houston’s first working Vietnamese American pitmaster. The old-school Texas barbecue served here is top shelf. The innovations on that tradition reflect the owners’ upbringing and imaginations: Thai chile-peanut butter ribs, pho-rub beef belly spring rolls and Thai green curry boudin balls are just a few recent examples. Last year, the partners opened Luloo’s Day & Night, an all-day cafe, joining the ranks of Texas barbecue operators trying other styles of restaurants.
What to order: Togarashi chicken, gochujang-glazed pork ribs, smoked char siu pork belly, brisket.
5425 Bellaire Boulevard, 713-664-7776, bloodbrosbbq.com
Brisket & Rice
It’s not unusual to find delicious Texas barbecue inside former gas stations. Finding one inside a working gas station is less common. The brothers Phong and Hong Tran opened their place in a Phillips 66 station last year, in part because it was the best place the self-taught pitmasters could afford. The menu represents what the Trans ate growing up in Vietnamese communities. “We always had rice to stretch the meat,” said Hong, who, along with his brother, still works as a machinist in the blue collar, northwest Houston neighborhood they serve. “People always ask, Why didn’t you open a machine shop?” he said. “It’s too boring.”
What to order: Brisket and rice, jalapeño sausage, barbecue fried rice, cranberry almond slaw.
13111 Farm to Market Road 529, 713-936-9575, brisketnrice.com
Burnt Bean Company
Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland, Burnt Bean’s co-owners, are buddies from the barbecue competition circuit. Mr. Servantes is an experienced culinary professional — the former executive chef of nearby Texas Lutheran University — who knows how to keep the quality high. In his hometown, Uvalde, Mr. Servantes’s family ate barbecue with guacamole, pico de gallo and tortillas. Burnt Bean’s Sunday brunch is a tribute to the menudo, barbacoa and huevos rancheros his grandmother made for a post-church feast. “A lot of people come here and are confused, they think we’re from Mexico,” he said. “We’re Texans from South Texas. This is our food.”
What to order: Brisket, jalapeño Cheddar sausage, bone-in pork chop (weekends only), street corn pudding, peach cobbler.
108 South Austin Street, burntbeanco.com
Barbecue in Beaumont is synonymous with links. It’s a style of beef sausage that varies from kitchen to kitchen but is distinguished by a soft, spicy filling wrapped in a thick casing. The links at Charlie’s, based on a recipe from owner Charlie Brewer’s grandfather, Leroy Ardoin, are less greasy than the Beaumont norm. They’re also far from the only reason to visit the joint Mr. Brewer opened in 2017. The mahogany-skinned chicken is redolent of smoke, and the smoked boudin (“boudain” on the menu) rivals any from nearby Louisiana.
What to order: Links, oxtails, boudin, rice dressing.
3125 College Street, 409-767-7683, facebook.com/charliesbbqbeaumont
Mark Scott remembers Marfa before it was hip, and before there was good barbecue. “Growing up, people would throw brisket in the oven, wrapped in tin foil, with liquid smoke and Claude’s marinade,” he said. “That was brisket in Marfa.” Barbecue is much different in the far West Texas town today thanks to Convenience West, the joint Mr. Scott opened in 2017 with his wife, Kiki, and partners Adam Bork and Katy Rose Elsasser, a talented pastry chef. The food blends fine dining techniques (most evident in the sides, desserts and singularly creative sausages) with regional flavors and flights of imaginative fancy that match the personality of one of the country’s most stylish rural destinations.
What to order: Whole or half chicken, sausage, curried green beans, carrot dip, icebox cake.
1411 West San Antonio Street, conveniencewest.com
Inspired by his family history, the food of the African diaspora and the work of pitmasters (particularly Latin-American ones) in his adopted hometown, Damien Brockway stepped away from fine dining restaurant kitchens to open Distant Relatives. The dishes on the food truck’s menu piece together a larger story. Take the peanuts. They are roasted at the head of the smoker, close to the fire, a nod to Mr. Brockway’s West African ancestors, and his great-grandparents, who were sharecroppers in Virginia. “It’s one of those things that encapsulates everything we do,” he said.
What to order: Chicken leg quarter with chile vinegar, pulled pork sandwich, burnt ends and black-eyed peas, spicy smoked peanuts.
3901 Promontory Point Drive, 512-717-2504, distatantrelativesatx.com
Evie Mae’s Pit Barbeque
When you run a barbecue restaurant on the outskirts of Lubbock, as Arnis and Mallory Robbins do, your livelihood depends on satisfying locals, again and again. Evie’s does that with extensive dessert offerings (two kinds of pecan pie!), smoked prime rib specials and free beer when you’re waiting in line (seriously) to go with its top-notch traditional smoked meat. The sausage and cheese grits are spiced with green chile, not jalapeño, a regional distinction in this West Texas town and a nod to the Robbins’s childhood in eastern New Mexico.
What to order: Beef ribs, green chile cheese sausage, brisket chili, baked potato casserole.
217 U.S. 62, 806-782-2281, eviemaesbbq.com
The Gatlin family helped bring the new Texas barbecue boom to Houston, with a blend of east and central Texas barbecue styles. What started as a small takeout operation expanded into a full service restaurant in 2015. The food is precise and delicious across the restaurant’s all-day menus — from the fluffy breakfast biscuits to pitmaster Greg Gatlin’s juicy brisket and whole chickens. Mr. Gatlin, collaborating with chefs Michelle Wallace and Darius King, stretched out even more last year with the opening of Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers, a Louisiana-flavored Southern restaurant with amazing jerk chicken.
What to order: Fried chicken biscuit, spicy sausage, whole chicken, dirty rice, candied yams.
3510 Ella Boulevard Building, gatlinsbbq.com
Jalen Heard, Lane Milne and Jonny White have created an Avengers-like supergroup — for barbecue. They’ve collectively worked at stalwarts like Franklin, Valentina’s Tex Mex Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats BBQ, and it shows. The meats at Goldee’s are far more than just fat, salt and smoke; they’re deftly seasoned, juicy all the way through and complex in a way that barbecue often is not. The white bread is freshly baked, there’s kale in the coleslaw and the standout side is a hearty pork gravy served over rice called Kennedale stew. The genre is far more interesting with Goldee’s in it.
What to order: Brisket, pork ribs, Kennedale stew.
4645 Dick Price Road, 817-480-4131, goldeesbbq.com
Kemuri Tatsu-Ya is not a Texas barbecue joint, exactly. It’s a full-service restaurant that imagines what a Japanese chef might be cooking at a Texas roadhouse 100 years ago. Called a Texas izakaya by chef-partners Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto when it opened in 2017, Kemuri remains arguably (along with Blood Bros., outside Houston) Texas’ most fully realized Asian-influenced barbecue restaurant. Mr. Aikawa, whose family moved from Tokyo to central Texas in 1989 said, “Texas barbecue has always been about the blending of cultures.” He pointed out similarities between smoking brisket and making ramen, a specialty of his restaurant group. “It’s about taking a long time to make something perfect.”
What to order: Smoked tuna collar, brisket, barbecue eel, chicken meatball kushiyaki, cornbread taiyaki.
2713 East Second Street, 512-803-2224, kemuri-tatsuya.com
LeRoy and Lewis
This food truck serves some of the most justifiably praised barbecue in Austin. Evan LeRoy, a co-owner, started as a pitmaster at Hill Country Barbecue Market in New York City. “I started working there because I was homesick,” he said. He moved back to Austin in time to take part in the barbecue boom of the early 2010s, mentoring a number of talented barbecue entrepreneurs before opening LeRoy and Lewis in 2017 with his wife, Lindsey, and Sawyer and Nathan Lewis. The menu brings New American vibes to Texas barbecue: Beef cheeks and cauliflower “burnt ends” both pair well with the house kimchi. The repertoire will expand further at the partners’ first brick-and-mortar location in Austin later this year.
What to order: Beef cheeks, citra hop pork sausage, L and L burger, kale Caesar slaw, Frito pie.
121 Pickle Road, 512-945-9882, leroyandlewisbbq.com
Pitforks and Smokerings BBQ
Isaac Arellano grew up in the gas station his father, Cruz, purchased in the early ’80s, just before he was born. In 2017, Isaac started converting the family business into a barbecue joint with his wife, Ashley. The dining room is where the mechanic’s shop used to be; the menu for the breakfast burrito business his parents ran is still on the wall where diners now place orders for smoked meat, handmade tortillas and daily specials that can include smoked baloney, barbacoa, burgers and fajitas. The Arellanos plan to expand into dinner hours. “It’s an old gas station on a highway,” Mr. Arellano said. “The ambience is too damn awesome not to do something at night.”
What to order: Turkey, pork ribs, creamed corn, tortillas.
1808 U.S. 84, 806-317-5818, facebook.com/pitforksandsmokeringsbbq
Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack
Ray is Ray Busch, a retired sheriff deputy, who started cooking barbecue out of a food truck in the ’80s. He opened a permanent location in 2011, in Houston’s Third Ward, and moved to its current location in 2018, with Maxine Davis and Herb Taylor, a former N.F.L. player, as partners. It serves some of the best East Texas barbecue, a style that covers a lot of ground, from traditional smoked meats to soul food to Cajun and Creole dishes, like boudin, gumbo and dirty rice. Mr. Taylor, a Houston native, said he grew up eating ribs and brisket: “I seen my uncles dig out a hole, do a whole hog down there.”
What to Order: Fried catfish, gumbo, rib tips, smoked oxtails (Thursday only).
3929 Old Spanish Trail, raysbbqshack.com
Smoke ’N Ash Barbecue
The Tex-Ethiopian platter at Smoke ’N Ash is a thing of beauty: pork ribs rubbed with fiery awaze; doro wot, chicken that’s been coated with berbere and charred in a smoker; beefy collard greens — all of it piled on injera, the juices seeping into the tangy, absorbent bread. The singular cuisine served here is the product of the husband-and-wife team Fasicka and Patrick Hicks. She is from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and he is from Waco, Texas. While Smoke ’N Ash started as a traditional barbecue joint that also sold Ethiopian food, the couple realized the sum could be more interesting than the parts. You have to wonder: What took so long for this to exist?
What to order: Tex-Ethiopian platter for two, awaze pork ribs, smoked brisket tibs, rib tip tibs, smoked doro wot.
5904 South Cooper Street, 817-987-7715, smokenashbbq.net
When you’re at Teddy’s, you know you’re in a South Texas border town. There are uniformed border patrol personnel filling the small dining room and Tex-Mex crosscurrents in the food: the whiff of cumin and chile powder in the sausage, the pork belly whose exterior is crispy as chicharron, the menudo on the weekends. The brothers Joel and Jesse Garcia opened this joint in their hometown in 2019, after receiving a barbecue education in Austin. Their mother, Ann Maria, makes the tortillas, from rendered brisket fat, and a number of the side dishes. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is a long way from the hot barbecue scenes of central Texas, but Teddy’s serves some of the best barbecue in the state.
What to order: Brisket, chicken, sausage, tortillas, Mexican rice, mac and cheese.
2807 Texas Boulevard North, 956-532-6124, teddysrgv.com
Opening first in rural Brenham, in 2015, Truth brought some of rural Texas’ finest barbecue to Houston when it opened in the state’s largest city four years later. The meat done by Leonard Botello IV, the owner and pitmaster, is superlative, even when he’s venturing into Carolina territory with the whole hogs his team smokes on Saturdays. You’ve likely heard how Texas’ best barbecue joints attract legendary lines. Truth is a good place to visit to find out how worthwhile that wait can be. Don’t miss the desserts, made by Mr. Botello’s mom, Janel, and the restaurant’s baker, Laquita Wilkins.
What to order: Beef ribs, brisket, burnt-end boudin, creamed spinach, chocolate cake.
2990 U.S. 290, Brenham, 979-830-0392; 110 South Heights Boulevard, Houston, 832-835-0001, truthbbq.com
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Miguel Vidal started Valentina’s as a food truck in 2013, aiming to blend new Texas barbecue (the brisket is made with grass-fed beef) with the food he grew up eating in San Antonio. The result offers three of Austin’s most famous food categories — barbecue, Tex-Mex, breakfast tacos — on one menu, making Valentina’s popularity perhaps preordained. The business, which Mr. Vidal runs with his wife, Modesty, helped bring Mexican influences into the Texas barbecue mainstream. Last month, Valentina’s opened its first brick and mortar location, in a suburb 15 miles south of downtown.
What to order: Breakfast taco, brisket tacos, spicy Oaxacan sausage, pork spareribs.
308 South Main Street, valentinastexmexbbq.com
Vaqueros serves Texas barbecue with Mexican influences, but it’s not quite Tex-Mex. There’s no queso or chili con carne. Instead, there is cochinita pibil that begins in a smoker, rubbed simply with salt, pepper and garlic, before it is wrapped in banana leaves, bathed in a citrusy marinade and served in handmade corn tortillas. Birria tacos are made with brisket, the fat transformed into a soul-enriching consommé. The owner Arnulfo “Trey” Sanchez has the chops of an old-school pitmaster — his father ran the traditional barbecue joint Arnold’s Texas Bar-B-Q. At Vaqueros, Mr. Sanchez, whose family is from Mexico, brings the same finesse to smoked ribs and sausage as he does to carne asada and barbacoa, showing that these barbecue traditions can be more similar than they are different.
What to order: Barbecue birria with consommé, smoked cochinita pibil, any of the rotating selection of tacos.
906 Jean Street, vaquerostexasbarbq.com
Additional reporting by Matthew Odam
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