Central Texas Barbecue Belt Road Trip
Texans take their food seriously—and their pride. If a barbecue joint notches a best-in-Texas award, it’s thereby considered the best in the world.
For the past decade, Texas barbecue fans have been touting the perfectly smoked brisket at Snow’s BBQ in tiny Lexington, 50 miles east of Austin. When ‘cue connoisseurs set out to sample this award-winning beef, their expectations soar skyward like billowing smoke from a barbecue pit.
The Snow’s experience begins when fresh slices of brisket slap the butcher paper. The light red smoke ring just below the crispy outer bark hints at the quality craftsmanship, and the balanced flavor of savory meat and hearty smoke is absolute perfection. Rounding everything out is a satisfying combination of peppery sausage, tangy cole slaw, and a backyard-style scene with couples and families lingering over slowly dwindling piles of expertly smoked meat.
This lofty achievement can’t be replicated at most Texas barbecue joints, but there are still many worthy options throughout the state. Each region offers a slightly different approach to the art of cooking based on local wood sources (oak, mesquite, pecan) and sauce preferences (spicy, tangy, sweet).
Fortunately, a weekend journey featuring these different Lone Star legacies is doable, even though you’ll probably reach meat saturation after three or four stops. The following itinerary provides a starting point and ideas for blazing your own trail across Central Texas’s “barbecue belt.”
Begin your journey in Austin, home of celebrity pitmaster Aaron Franklin and his impeccably smoked brisket, the only true contender for Snow’s top title. The three-hour tailgate-style line at Franklin Barbecue is equally legendary. If you’re looking for quality brisket without the wait, head to the commendable La Barbecue trailer in East Austin, or try the reliably meaty beef rib at Stiles Switch north of downtown.
After feasting, you’ll appreciate the leisurely 90-minute drive northwest into the Hill Country, where panoramic views will keep you awake and captivated en route to Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano. Pork is the main draw here, particularly the “big chop.” Smoky goodness permeates every juicy fiber of the massive two-inch cut.
From there, head 80 miles east to Taylor, where the king of Central Texas ‘cue awaits: Louie Mueller Barbecue. Operating since 1949, Mueller’s is the essential small-town barbecue experience, where you can gaze upon the hazy smoke-stained walls while savoring perfectly peppered brisket that defines the word tender.
Take the 90-minute journey from Taylor southeast to picturesque Brenham, where you’ll find LJ’s BBQ in the back of a historic downtown building. Order the jalapeño sausage, which is made fresh daily and packed with hearty flavor.
For the return trip to Austin, you may want to take it easier and order brisket sandwiches or smoked meats to go. Even if you simply choose side dishes like potato salad and pinto beans, you’ll be rewarded with distinctive small-town scenes. Highlights en route to Austin include the old-fashioned deli counter and tasty pork shoulder at La Grange’s Prause Meat Market, the historic Main Street ambience and legendary beef sausage at Giddings’s City Meat Market, and the smoldering pit flames and flavorful pork ribs at Lockhart’s Kreuz Market.
If wanderlust leads you to another charming Central Texas town, just follow your nose to the welcoming smell of barbecue pit smoke. You’ll know you’ve found the right place if there’s a long line of hungry-looking folks waiting outside the front-screen door.