Leave that sweet barbecue sauce to the other guys. In Texas, it's all about the beef, the smoke, the rub—and nothing else.
Texans have never been accused of being modest, but singing the praises of the state's barbecue is boasting that's warranted. Unlike the pork belt of the Carolinas and the Deep South, Texas is all about beef, specifically smoked brisket. Near Austin, little has changed since the days more than a century ago when Czech and German butchers began using hickory, mesquite, and oak to smoke leftover cuts of meat. To visit the temples of Texas barbecue, you'll have to hit the road and travel to the sleepy ranch communities and small farming towns of hilly central Texas.
—Daniel Vaughn, Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog (fullcustomgospelbbq.com)
If you're looking for a Texas barbecue tutorial, make this urban Austin joint your first stop. Aaron Franklin got his start in a vintage trailer—complete with garden gnome—and moved into his current location this year. He'll school you in the relative merits of brisket (fatty or lean?), pulled pork, and even how to make sausage with beef heart. 900 E. 11th St., Austin, 512/653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com, brisket $13/lb.
Once upon a time, the knives at Smitty's were chained to the tables as communal cutlery. Those days are gone, but the market still fancies itself a shrine to the state's culinary history. Beef shoulder clod has fallen from popularity in most spots, in favor of brisket, but here the cut comes beautifully marbled and moist. 208 S. Commerce St., Lockhart, 512/398-9344, smittysmarket.com, shoulder clod $10/lb.
Cele Store is only open for dinner on Fridays—football night!—and you need reservations, but this place is far from exclusive. Housed in an 1890s saloon, Cele feels like a honky-tonk. Choose from ribs, brisket, and smoky sausage (or all three). It all comes piled high with pickles and cheddar cheese.18726 Cameron Rd., Manor, 512/869-9340, celestore.com, 3 meats $9.50 per person.
Louie Mueller Barbecue
You'll wait in line here, and there's not much to look at aside from the smoke-darkened ceiling and the wall of soot-covered business cards. Well, there is the James Beard Award, awarded in 2006. We're sure the massive, Flintstone-worthy beef ribs, coated in a simple salt and cracked black pepper rub, had something to do with it. 206 W. 2nd St., Taylor, 512/352-6206, louiemuellerbarbecue.com, beef ribs $13/lb.
The beef with most Texas barbecue joints is that the sauce usually gets second billing. At City Market, however, the spicy, mustard-based concoction ups the ante; slather it on brisket for that extra kick. 633 E. Davis St., Luling, 830/875-9019, brisket $9/lb.