By: Dan Meade
Provided by WorldNow
Over the last few years, as I've searched for the best BBQ in America, my travels have taken me to some very good places. I've eaten the ribs at Rendezvous in Memphis, which were so good that I can still taste them three years later. I've sampled the Pig In Pig Out brisket in Wichita and the "Badwich" served at Elmer's in Tulsa. As good as each of those meals was, I still found myself compelled to search out more of best BBQ that America has to offer.
The latest leg of my BBQ quest led me, along with three friends, down to Texas to taste what the local grill masters had to offer. Texas Monthly Magazine has created a Google Map of the best BBQ joints in the Lone Star State and we based our trip around those recommendations.
The four of us each flew in from a different city, met at the Austin airport, rented a Mazda6, and hit the road for three days of the best barbeque that I have ever tasted. Here is a rundown of where we went, what we ate, and how good it was:
The weekend started on a bad note: my flight out of New York was delayed causing me to arrive in Austin three hours behind schedule. We wanted to drive out to Llano (84 miles west of Austin) for dinner that night, so there was only time for a quick bite to eat before the drive.
We went to Stubb's Bar-B-Q located right in downtown Austin. I was excited because I buy Stubb's pork marinade at my local supermarket and based on what they have written about themselves on the label, I was expecting a grand BBQ experience. However, when we arrived at Stubb's, what we found was a quiet, almost generic looking restaurant that more resembled a Charlie Brown's Steakhouse than the modern-day chuck wagon that I had imagined. There, I was served a sliced beef sandwich that was small in proportion and did not have much taste, unless you added ample sauce yourself.
I wanted to give Stubb's the benefit of the doubt, after all they do have an acclaimed live music venue right on their back porch, but on that day, the food left us all wanting more. One other disappointment: the food was served on plates rather than butcher paper, a nicety that none of the other BBQ joints bothered with.
We left Stubb's, got into the car, and headed northwest to Cooper's BBQ in Llano. We never did figure out the correct way to say the name of the town (even the locals had different answers), but Cooper's was exactly what we had been looking for: when you pull up, you walk directly to the outdoor grills and order you meal straight from the grill master.
There were six or seven different kinds of meat on the grill. When I ordered the ribs and jalapeño sausage, the meat was forked, dipped in a bucket of BBQ sauce, and dropped directly onto my tray. I then walked inside, and gave my tray to the counter workers, who wrapped the meat in butcher's paper, weighed it and charged me by the pound. We found this to be the customary way to order and serve BBQ throughout the rest of our trip; it was a fantastic method to trick you into ordering more than you should eat.
Cooked with mesquite wood through indirect heat, the ribs were covered in what tasted like a butter-vinegar sauce and they came off the bone with just the right amount of pull, and were quickly and happily consumed. I didn't have enough room to finish the entire sausage, which was as hot as its name would lead you to believe, but I did make room for the fantastic blackberry cobbler that was served warm and fresh.
We awoke Saturday morning to a chorus of cell-phone alarms and plenty to do. For breakfast the four of us shared a Danish and an apple because we wanted to save room for our next stop that had been awarded the distinction of being the best BBQ in Texas.
Snow's BBQ in Lexington, 50 miles east of Austin, is only open one day a week. They start preparing the meat in the wee hours each Saturday morning, and once it's all been sold, they close down until the next Saturday. From what we had read, Snow's could close as early as 10:30 AM on a quick day, so to say that we had a small window of opportunity of sampling their barbecue would be putting it mildly.
Upon arrival, we ordered $25 worth of brisket, half a chicken, a hunk of pork, and a round of sweet teas. We sat down at a picnic table in the back near the grilling pits and dug in. Before long, as we were talking about how succulent and delicious the food was, I had to stop myself. I had noticed something odd about the way that I was talking, and asked my friends if I was speaking in reverential tones. I was told that they had never heard me speak like that before, and that yes, it did sound reverential. Such was the delight and awe that my taste buds were experiencing.
Kerry Bexley, the owner of Snow's came over to ask us how we liked everything. He then told us a story of one Saturday, when they had a line of ninety or so people out the door, a county official asked if he could go up and down the line and have the people sign a petition that he wanted to see passed. A short time later, the official came back to Kerry with a defeated look on his face - not a single person in the line had been from Lexington! To further prove how far people travel to sample Snow's BBQ, I noticed that the last person to sign the guestbook had come all the way from Australia!
After Snow's, our next stop was Southside Market & Barbecue in Elgin (21 miles northeast of Austin), home of the Elgin Hot Sausage. While the sausage was sweetly hot and very good, it was their barbequed mutton that stole the show. Covered in dry rub, smoky red on the inside, the mutton may have been the surprise hit of the trip with a taste that recalled a pleasant combination of beef jerky and freshly cooked lamb.
After getting lost in the back roads of the Texas countryside for a bit, we finally reached the town of Lockhart (30 miles south of Austin) just before dusk. Lockhart is the home of three of the joints on Texas Monthly's list: Smitty's Market and Kreutz Market, which are owned by the same family, and Black's Barbeque, which we did not have time to sample.
The Kreutz brisket was thickly cut and tasty, and the German potato salad had a pleasant little pepper-y kick to it, which was a nice change of pace to the blander and mayonnaise-laden potato salad that I am used to. Looking through their guestbook, I noticed that someone had traveled from Peru for a taste of what Kreutz had to offer.
Smitty's is known for their hot sausage rings, which are actually shaped more like horseshoes. The rings had a sweet twang to them, but they also may have been the greasiest food that we ate the entire weekend. After all the traveling and eating, we could not finish the three sausage rings that we had ordered, and did not eat anything for the rest of the night.
Our Sunday in Texas consisted of one final stop on the BBQ tour: a large and long meal at Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood, 32 miles west of Austin. Sitting under a TV tuned into football and next to a table of hunters in full camouflage, we feasted on a full rack of sweet and spicy ribs, a half chicken, some of the best prime rib I have ever had, and a pair of cobblers -- peach and blackberry - that battled one another upon our tongues for the distinction of being named the most delicious.
While the prime rib was the best thing that we had at Opie's, I also need to mention how their spicy and sweet corn, prepared in a jalapeño cream sauce, blew away the table. It was perfect contrast to the sweetly succulent prime rib, and complemented the ribs quite well when a dash of Opie's horseradish was added to them.
Once we left Opie's at around 2:30 PM on Sunday, I can honestly say that I was not hungry again until 10:00 AM Monday morning. Now that the trip is over, it is pretty clear that we all ate way too much over the course of three days, but it was all so good that I regret none of it. If anything, my only regret is that the trip did not last long enough to try all of the BBQ joints in the greater Austin area.
Dan Meade is the Travel and Auto editor for WorldNow, and has driven-though twenty-four states and four Canadian provinces over the past few years, sampling the local food along the way.