Barbecue is serious business in Texas, a state where scenic ranchlands have rambled for centuries.
Traditionally, Texas barbecue means one thing — beef — and spicy, smoky beef brisket holds an enduring place in the state’s barbecue tradition. Today, however, pit masters smoke a variety of meats, and preparations vary depending on the region you’re visiting.
Not All Texas Barbecue Is the Same
Meat cooked so slowly it falls off the bone is typical of East Texas barbecue, which is also known for its sweet, tomato-based sauce. Rubbing the meat with spices and cooking it indirectly over pecan or oak wood is Central Texas’ style, while West Texas favors cooking over mesquite wood. (True ’cue connoisseurs will appreciate the unique flavor profiles that each of these woods imparts during the cooking process.) In South Texas, you’ll find meat slathered with thick, molasses-like sauce. Each style is delectable in its own way, and every bite is an authentic representation of a Texas culinary tradition.
Part of the appeal of barbecue is that it's so personal — each pit master has his own style and traditions
Tour the Texas BBQ Trail
To better understand what makes Texas barbecue iconic, hit the Texas BBQ Trail. Within an hour’s drive of Austin, the trail leads to the towns of Taylor, Elgin, Luling and Lockhart, the “Capital of Texas Barbecue.” Gather with locals at family-owned barbecue joints and markets, each with a unique taste: In Elgin, sample the renowned sausage, made according to the recipes of Texas’ German immigrants.
Grilling meats low and slow over a flame at The Salt Lick BBQ
From Small Towns to the Big City
In Luling, savor barbecue in a tangy mustard-based sauce right out of its butcher paper wrapping. In Lockhart and Taylor, you might find the rustic markets and cafes as intriguing as the barbecue. Houston also offers a hearty concentration of barbecue restaurants — try local — and critically acclaimed favorites including Gatlin’s BBQ, Goode Company BBQ and Rudy’s BBQ.
Follow the Texas BBQ Trail to Snow's BBQ in Lexington for tempting plates like this served only on Saturdays
From Restaurants to Rodeos
For a different experience, time your visit with an event or festival that celebrates Texas barbecue. February and March in Houston are prime time, with the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World’s Championship BBQ Contest followed by the Houston Barbecue Cook-Off, a 20-plus-year tradition. The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Bar-B-Que Cook-Off unfolds annually in September, drawing more than 250 competitive cooking teams.