Central Texas: The Best in Texas Bar-B-Que

In my mind there’s nothing more quintessentially Texan than bellying up to the table for a big ol’ meat feast. Add beer, mustard-based potato salad, cole slaw, beans, white bread, and fruit cobbler and you have a picture of any given weekend in Texas.

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Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’ve had bar-b-que before. What makes it so great in Texas?” Well, if you’re basing your knowledge on what you’ve eaten in Kansas City, Memphis, North Carolina, or any other place famous for their bar-b-que, then you haven’t a clue what Texas bar-b-que is about. Things are a bit different in the Lone Star state. Let’s put it this way, you’ll likely starve if searching for a pulled-pork sandwich.

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In Texas, beef is king.

Oh, you’ll find the occasional pork ribs {they really are the best kind}, but most Texas bar-b-que menus offer brontosaurus-sized beef ribs, and brisket is far-and-away the most popular item on any menu. Instead of pulled pork sandwiches, Texas has chopped beef. Brisket is beaten within an inch of its life and piled high onto a hamburger bun. Add raw onions, pickles, and sauce as you see fit. Some Texan bar-b-que places will also offer steaks. Prime rib, rib eye, and even T-bone steaks are cooked in the same fashion as the brisket and ribs.

We love our beef, but that’s not to say that there is no other type of meat to be had in Texas. Bar-b-que is actually a cooking method that involves meat being smoked over wood at low temperatures. Any and all meat can be deemed bar-b-que in Texas, as long as its been smoked over mesquite, oak, or the like. Turkey, chicken, sausage, pork, and cabrito {that’s goat in Spanish}, are often just as common as beef.

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As you probably know {because we can’t help but remind everyone}, Texas is a huge place. It’s as diverse in its landscape as it is in its culture and influences. Therefore, just because you’ve had bar-b-que in the dry plains of West Texas with it’s Mexican and Southwestern influences doesn’t mean that the meat will taste the same as in the humid Piney Woods of East Texas.

The bar-b-que that I love most is found in Central Texas with its German and Czech influences. There the meat is smoked and dry rubbed with spices; sauce is only applied after the smoking process is complete {just as it should be}.

If you ask 100 Texans what their favorite bar-b-que place is you’re likely to get 100 different answers. Taste is such a subjective thing, but I never hesitate giving my opinion on food, especially when it comes to Mexican and bar-b-que. Go to these spots for the best bar-b-que in Central Texas.

1. Cooper’s Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Que:

I must admit that Cooper’s is my absolute favorite bar-b-que in the whole wide world. Really. I’ve had plenty others that are good, but nothing even comes close to Cooper’s. I was friends with the owner’s son in college, and when my family found that out, they started some sort of arranged marriage scheme before even meeting him. That’s how good this place is.

Before getting out of the car, you can smell the deliciousness awaiting. The pits are located just outside the entrance; that’s where you’ll pick your meat. Choose from brisket, pork chops, sausage, steak, chicken, turkey, cabrito, and beef ribs. It’s a carnivore’s dream. After making your selection, take your meat into the restaurant for weighing and slicing. There you’ll find coleslaw, potato salad, corn, and cobbler.

After paying, find a seat. It’s communal seating, so just squeeze in somewhere. Beans, jalapenos, onions, bread, and pickles are all available for free. Grab a piece of butcher paper and silverware and dig in. But don’t forget the sauce! I could write a song about this sauce. It’s not a typical thick ketchup-type sauce. It’s more of a liquid; you could drink it if you like. And you’ll want to. I have.

You used to have to go to Llano if you wanted Cooper’s, but now there are locations in New Braunfels and the Stockyards of Ft. Worth. Anytime I’m within an hour of a Cooper’s I make it a point to visit. It’s definitely worth the detour.

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Honestly, all of my other picks are not ranked. They’re just great substitutes for when I can’t get to Cooper’s.

2. Opie’s BBQ:

When I’m driving along Highway 71 from Austin to my family’s home in Marble Falls, I often find myself stopping at Opie’s in the tiny “town” of Spicewood. The brisket is tender and good. The jalapeno sausage will light you up, and that’s just how I like it. The thing I really enjoy about Opie’s is their creative sides. Along with the typical beans, cole slaw, and potato salad, Opie’s has tater tot casserole and spicy corn. I haven’t run across any other place with those particular sides, and I think they’re certainly worth stopping for. And if you needed another ringing endorsement, Forbes recently named it as one of the 5 best BBQ joints for an all-American road trip.

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3.  The Salt Lick:

I don’t think you can watch a program on the Travel Channel or the Food Network about Austin or bar-b-que in general without the host going to The Salt Lick. Located in Driftwood, about 25 minutes outside of Austin, this perennial popular spot is the place to go for an over-the-top, Texas-sized dining experience. The smell of smoke and meat can be detected a mile before even arriving. The parking lot alone could use its own traffic light. On the weekends there are even shuttles that pick people up in the parking lot and deliver them to the entrance. The scope and size of The Salt Lick even causes this Texan to shake her head.

 

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I’ve never been to The Salt Lick when there wasn’t at least an hour’s wait. For me, going to The Salt Lick isn’t really about the food. It’s more about the experience. That’s not to say that the food isn’t delicious. It is! It’s just not the place I’d make a pilgrimage to if I didn’t have Salt Lick virgins in tow.

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Here are some tips to make your experience at The Salt Lick the best possible:

  • It’s BYOB! That’s right, bring your own booze, folks. Load up that cooler with whatever your heart desires. However if you can’t be bothered, they do have a few beer stands and also a place to purchase wine.
  • Bring Cash. They don’t take plastic. There is an ATM if you happen to forget, but just bring the greenbacks and save yourself the fee.

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  • Check out the picnic tables as an alternative to eating in either of the two dining buildings. The last time I went I was told that is was a 1.5 hour wait. Damned if there weren’t picnic tables open and a waitress ready to serve my party.

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  •  Make an evening out of the trip. You’re driving all the way out to Driftwood, so you might as well make the most of it. There’s a wine garden where kids are forbidden {yay!}, a bocce ball court, and plenty of great people-watching opportunities.
  • Go inside the main dining area and check out the pits. It’s like a meat orgy in there. And bonus, the folks at The Salt Lick allow you to go behind the counter, gawk and take pictures of the meat all you want.

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  • After you’ve gotten your eye full of smoked deliciousness, take a peek at the t-shirts. There’s some funny ones and they make great souvenirs. And if you love their sauce, there are bottles for sale.

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On my most recent visit I had Thurman’s Choice, which includes brisket, pork ribs, sausage, potato salad, beans, cole slaw, and homemade bread. Let’s just say that over-all, I had a wonderful time. I exposed the aforementioned Yankee and California-types to a slice of  Texas life, ate a fantastic meal, and I found $40 on the ground. I’d say that was a successful evening.

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4. Lockhart:

Alright, so Lockhart isn’t the name of a particular bar-b-que restaurant, instead it’s town 30 miles due south of Austin. It’s also known as the “Bar-b-que Capital of Texas”.  This is another one of the Food Network and Travel Channel’s favorite spots to feature.  Look, I’m not even going to attempt to pick the best bar-b-que in Lockhart. It might must start some sort of bar-b-que holy war, and I certainly don’t want that on my conscience.

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Here are the main contenders:

  • Black’s:  This place is the oldest bar-b-que restaurant in Texas that has been continuously run by one family. It’s been around since 1932 and counts former President Lyndon B. Johnson as one of its admirers. Black’s also gets Forbes recent endorsement as one of the 5 best BBQ joints for an all-American road trip.
  • Kreuz  Market: Pronounced Krites, this is Lockhart’s oldest bar-b-que restaurant. It’s been smoking meat since 1900. And what about the sauce? Forget about that. The folks at Kreuz think their meat is better without it.
  • Smitty’s Market:  One of the newest kids on Lockhart’s bar-b-que block, Smitty’s has “only” been in business since 1999. HOWEVER, that year is a bit deceiving. Kreuz Market once was located where Smitty’s is now.  The owners of Kreuz and Smitty’s are family. Keep up, now.  A possible {and probable} feud divided this bar-b-que empire, and one sibling took Kreuz Market to a fancy, new building on the edge of town, while the other sibling opened Smitty’s in Kreuz’s original location. Scandal and dramatics aside, Smitty’s still serves up some damn fine meat.

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So, I could write an e-book about all the great Central Texas places to eat bar-b-que…Snow’s in Lexington, Inman’s Ranch House and Holy Smokes BBQ in Marble Falls, Louie Mueller in Taylor…the list is a mile long. And as I mentioned before, taste is subjective, but I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the places I’ve mentioned. Each have their own unique spice blends, sauce recipes, and atmosphere.

The bottom line is that you can’t say you’ve had bar-b-que until you’ve eaten it in Texas.

All of these photos were taken by me in August 2012 at The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. No Yankees or California-types were harmed in the taking of these pictures.

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54 Comments
  • mika
    October 2, 2012

    Amazing. The barbecue looks perfect!

    • Leah Travels
      October 2, 2012

      Haha…thanks, Mika. You can’t go wrong with great bar-b-que!

  • Frank DiCesare
    October 2, 2012

    Geeze! I just had lunch and I’m hungry all over again!

    • Leah Travels
      October 2, 2012

      Just another reason to take that Texas road trip, Frank.

  • Aaron
    October 2, 2012

    I’m hungry now haha. Even more reason to get to Texas stat. Meat photography, drinking the sauce, love it!

    • Leah Travels
      October 2, 2012

      You think I’m kidding, Aaron, but I do drink that sauce. It’s the nectar of the gods!

  • Linda James
    October 2, 2012

    Drive an hour or so north of Austin – from what I remember, Clem Mikeska’s in the Temple area was pretty darn good. I’ve also visited Tom’s *coughTigerBaitcough* Aggie BBQ in College Station – but you’d probably break out in hives at the mere suggestion of going there, Leah…

    • Leah Travels
      October 2, 2012

      I know there’s a Mikeska’s in Sealy, but I haven’t eaten there and I’m not sure if it’s Clem or another Mikeska. And you’re right about Tom’s *coughTigerBaitcough* Aggie BBQ. I avoid College Station unless Texas Tech is in town, and we all know that’s not happening anytime soon, so I’m off the hook for a LOOOONG time!

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    October 3, 2012

    This all sounds amazing. Although I’m tempted to do a trip + article called “The search for pulled pork in Texas” and see what I can come up with.

    • Leah Travels
      October 3, 2012

      Scott, that may be the funniest thing I’ve read this week. If you’re looking for a fast, I think that would be an easy way to do it. Hahaha! Let me know if you decide to do it. I’d love to tag-a-long. 😉

  • The World Wanderer
    October 3, 2012

    OMG, I’m coming to Texas!!! Will you take me out for BBQ?!

    • Leah Travels
      October 4, 2012

      Consider me your guide to Texas bar-b-que. I’ll make your Yankee head spin!

  • Allison
    October 4, 2012

    Leah, you’ve got my mouth watering all the way from Spain. Texas sure looks like it knows it’s BBQ- but I must ask- have you been to Arthur Bryant´s in Kansas City? My best BBQ to date. Granted I am from the Midwest…

    • Leah Travels
      October 4, 2012

      How about you send me some ham from Spain and I’ll send you some brisket from Texas? I think that’s an even exchange. I’ve not tried Arthur Bryant’s, but I’m sure I’d like it. I really do like pork BBQ. I make pulled pork at home and love pork ribs. I just don’t want my Texan citizenship pulled by saying that too loudly.

  • Kimberly
    October 4, 2012

    Oh, Texas, how I miss your BBQ. And your Shiner. Cooper’s is the best! I’ve only been to the one in Llano, but it is awesome. Great post.

    • Leah Travels
      October 10, 2012

      The original is the best, but the others will do in a pinch. I’m glad I’m not the only one to vouch for Cooper’s!

  • D.J. - The World of Deej
    October 4, 2012

    Ready for your mind to be blown? We spent 3 days in Austin, and never once had BBQ!

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      I’m pretty sure you’re going to burn in hell for that.

  • Craig Zabransky
    October 4, 2012

    some sweet bbq photos in this post, delicious… and bbq is first in mind when i travel to texas, now it is great to have a few of the classics on my must eat list. I expect to be in San Antonio in late November, any recommendations?

    And boy do I love Salt Lick concept and making of day of it… that’s eating.

    stay hungry, Craig

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      Honestly, Craig, the only bar-b-que place I know in San Antonio is Rudy’s. I REALLY like it, but it’s now a chain. It began just outside of San Antonio though. I could do some research for you though.

  • Traveling Ted
    October 4, 2012

    I have had some great barb-b-que in Tennessee, so I would love to compare and have a feast or two in Texas at some of these joints.

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      It’s so different from Tennessee, Ted. I’ve had both. I really like both, but I’m partial to my home state’s version.

  • Jeremy
    October 4, 2012

    Oh my those BBQ’s look good… I’m missing out big-time… really need find my way down there someday!

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      You say the word and I’ll take you on a bar-b-que run across Central Texas, Jeremy.

  • Margyle
    October 5, 2012

    Thanks a lot… now I want BBQ… I don’t care if it’s before 10am and I’m having it later tonight… I want it now! Although mine is going to have jerk seasoning in addition to a wicked bbq sauce. Oh I know you’re jealous lol

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      I like jerk seasoning…if I’m in the Caribbean, but not on my bar-b-que. I believe that God considers that blasphemy.

  • the lazy travelers
    October 5, 2012

    i don’t eat pork, so texas style bbq is way more my style. though i’ve only ever had new york’s version, which, yum as it may be, i’m still assuming is not as good as the real deal.

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      Texas-style bar-b-que in NYC? Oh, I’ve heard it all now.

  • Pola (@jettingaround)
    October 5, 2012

    OK this is more MR. Jetting Around-friendly… I saw cheese and chocolate in one of the pictures, that would make me quite happy. 😉 OK and maybe I’d try some of the local beer.

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      Oh yeah! You’re a vegetarian. I guess you could have the cole slaw, bread and potato salad. 🙁

  • Tawny- Captain and Clark
    October 5, 2012

    I feel like I gained at least ten pounds just from reading this. I am a BBQ lover although I’ve never had it Texan style. Now I know where to come for recommendations whenever I find myself in Texas. Bookmarked!

    • Leah Travels
      October 18, 2012

      Just add the bar-b-que tour to the long list I’m going to show y’all in Texas. When’s that road trip again? 😉

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)
    October 6, 2012

    Not fair, Leah!!! Texas is not on my schedule the rest of this year!!! 🙂 I know when I go back, I will let you take me to the places you mention that I haven’t tried. Because, thanks to you, I have already checked out Salt Lick. Your pix have made me hungry now so I must go get some food. Anything…

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I’m pretty booked myself for the rest of the year, Raul. I’ll gladly take you to Cooper’s on your next trip. Pencil it in, ok?

  • Cathy Sweeney
    October 6, 2012

    I was looking for the best BBQ in Houston when I visited this past year, but had to come home before I succeeded. Maybe I should try Austin instead. This is one DELICIOUS post! Yum!

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I’ve only found one place in Houston that I can even stomach, and luckily it’s right near my house. I rarely eat bar-b-que in Houston. Austin is where it’s at!

  • Tom @ Waegook Tom
    October 6, 2012

    Why aren’t I going to Texas next year?!?1 Seriously Leah this sounds amazing, and hilarious that your parents tried to marry you off to the son of one of the owners hahaha! I’d have jumped right in there (I assume he looks like Hugh Jackman, right?)

    I cannot WAIT to try BBQ in the US next year, but won’t have time to make it to Texas. South Carolina maybe, but dammit I want the beef…

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I’m afraid he doesn’t look like Hugh Jackman or I’d be the current queen of bar-b-que in Texas. Perhaps I can meet you in Boston with Lola. I took her a brisket on my trip there in July. We can just crack it open in Boston Common. 🙂

  • mika
    October 7, 2012

    I just can’t get enough of this barbecue. Here are some of recommendations from BBQ lovers Pigout at Bacliff and Outlaws in Dangerfield.

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I’ve heard of Outlaws. It’s owned by the dad of a college friend. I didn’t realize they had good bar-b-que. I’ll have to check it out! Thanks.

  • Lauren
    October 7, 2012

    And now I’m looking at heading to Austin next year! 😉

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I would highly recommend Austin, especially in the spring or fall. Let me know if you decide to go.

  • @mrsoaroundworld
    October 8, 2012

    OMG, it is lunchtime here. On your last post, I booked a flight to Houston. Needless to say I am now salivating for some BBQ. You will take me, right???

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I’ll have to bring some good bar-b-que home from Austin for your Houston visit. I just haven’t found anything in the Bayou City that compares. I’ll fatten you up with Cajun food in NOLA and bar-b-que in Texas come December.

  • Lane
    October 8, 2012

    Ok, Leah, here’s my rebuttal: http://southwestcompass.com/2012/10/great-bbq-battle/. Carolina BBQ Rocks!

    • Leah Travels
      October 8, 2012

      I want to know the name of the place where you got the crappy brisket!

  • Tom @ ActiveBackpacker
    October 9, 2012

    Yummmmmmmmm! Being an Aussie I love a good BBQ. However, some of those shots of beef and ribs look simply divine! Will definitely be trying some tasty Texan BBQ when I finally make it to the south of The States.

    • Leah Travels
      October 9, 2012

      I’d love to know how Australian BBQ tastes. I’ve not been there…yet. When you do come to the South, take note of the different flavors and preps. It varies from state to state. Texas is beef, while the rest of the Southern states is pork. I like both, but grew up with Texas-style, so I’m certainly partial to that.

  • Wedding Limos Melbourne
    October 10, 2012

    Wow its really yummy all dishes are looking delicious and i personally like to taste different kind of foods. i like you post so much i can get some new dishes and i really want to tel you that you make me hungry

    • Leah Travels
      October 10, 2012

      I’ll have you know that it looks as good as it tasted. I can’t look too long at the photos myself or else I’ll start to salivate.

  • Stephanie
    October 11, 2012

    I sure do love me some Salt Lick (County Line comes in a close #1 too) :)) great, great entry!

    • Leah Travels
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks, Stephanie. I haven’t eaten at the County Line in a while. I got burned out on it long ago in college. It seemed like every event was catered by them. Perhaps I should give it another shot based on your comment. Hmmmm….a trip to Austin might just be in order.

      • Stephanie
        October 16, 2012

        LOL! I didn’t realize that! But their 2222 location is nice, with access to the docks. I think people can ride into with their boats. People also keep talking about Franklin and Iron Works, both of which I have yet to try.

        • Leah Travels
          October 17, 2012

          Yes, I think you’re right. It is a good location, although I hate driving on 2222. I almost died on that road! Crazy-ass drivers. 🙂

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