Houston's 12 Best Barbecue Joints, According to Local Pitmasters

Bottled beer, beef brisket, and (vegan) burnt ends.

As one of the most diverse cities in the country, Houston truly lives up to its Mutt City moniker. It’s a place where over 145 languages are spoken, more than 90 nations are represented, and a laundry list of cultures blend together to create an epic food landscape—and that last part rings especially true when it comes to our ever-evolving, always exciting barbecue scene. Hou-que, if you will, is a culinary mash-up that draws heavily upon everything from the African American and Creole influences of the Gulf Coast to traditional Czech and German cooking and a whole slew of global imprints spanning Korea, Mexico, and Vietnam, among other international destinations.

Yes, the Lone Star’s largest city has finally gotten some much-deserved recognition in the past few years, but it wasn’t always that way. Peek at any dated “best of” list and you’ll find plenty of Texas headliners like longtime Lockhart darling Black’s and Austin institution Franklin’s, while Pizzitola’s, a local gem that’s been serving up slow-smoked spare ribs slathered in their signature spicy, tangy sauce since 1935, was routinely snubbed. And as Central Texas’ penchant for tender beef brisket took the Bayou City by storm—not to mention its M.O. of simple, aggressive dry rubs paired with low-and-slow, pecan and oak wood-smoking—staples like Fulshear darling Dozier’s (established 1957), along with several places on this very list, failed to make much of an impact beyond the Metro area’s hazy borders.

But, of course, time heals all wounds, and Houston’s historic fleet eventually got their due. Not only that, but thanks in part to these legendary pitmasters’ perseverance, a cresting wave of modern barbecue joints have since joined the city’s saucy revolution, making for an even stronger BBQ landscape imbued with lasting staying power.

Immerse yourself in today’s meaty landscape and you’ll find classic ‘que rubbing elbows with newfangled creations like a taco-inspired riff on the classic birria de res, Gochujang glazed pork ribs, and even vegan innovations like cauliflower burnt ends.

With options like these, it can be hard to pinpoint where to start your wood-fired journey. That’s why we turned to some of Houston’s finest pitmasters for the inside scoop on the city’s very best BBQ purveyors. Roll up your sleeves, loosen your belt, and get ready to rumble at these standout H-town smokehouses.

JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ

Independence Heights

The basics: Chicano-style BBQ is the name of the game at this groundbreaking Astral Brewing-based weekend pop-up. The birria tacos are the thing to get: Plump with fall-apart birria de res, crisped up, and flying off the griddle good and greasy, even arriving with consommé for your dipping pleasure. You can easily take down a few of them, but you may want to save room for other delights like cheesy carnitas and smoked brisket.
What the pitmasters say: “There’s something about a pop-up that makes me giddy and JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ just does it for me. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t just walk into a BBQ joint and eat his food anytime I want, but his brisket birria tacos are hands down the best in town... when you can get ‘em.” - Vince Boisaubin, Feges BBQ
“Love his take on Tex-Mex BBQ. His birria tacos are [fire emoji, fire emoji, fire emoji]” - Quy Hoang, Blood Bros. BBQ
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out online.

Salon A/B
Courtesy of Travel Texas

There’s truly no place like Texas when it comes to barbecue. You’ll find various styles of its signature slow-smoked, pit-style brisket, pulled pork, and ribs at festivals, food trucks, and restaurants across the state — which means you’re going to need to stay awhile to try them all. Plan your Texas vacation now and travel when you’re ready to have a barbecue experience that’ll blow your mind (or at least your taste buds).

Fainmous BBQ

Arts District Houston

The basics: Knoxville-inspired hickory smoke and savory vinegar based sauces are at the forefront of this Tennessee-style outpost from husband and wife team James and Karen Fain. The duo first gained loyal fans in Meyerland before opening up shop in the artsy Sawyer Yards district in 2020 and keying in on what sets them apart: smoked vegetarian and vegan options. Feast on dishes like Mama’s Backyard BBQ cauliflower, chickpea salad, and spinach casserole alongside staples like badass pulled pork, ribs, and smoked whole chicken, if you’re so inclined.
What the pitmasters say: “They were my neighborhood BBQ joint for so many years—it's not Texas BBQ, it's Tennessee BBQ. I always get the pulled pork sandwich, and now they serve cauliflower that's been smoked, breaded, fried, and then tossed in BBQ sauce like a cauliflower burnt end. It's one of my favorite bites.” - Patrick Feges, Feges BBQ
How to book: Stop by for counter service, order take-out online, or get nationwide delivery via Goldbelly.

The basics: Down near Galveston Bay lies a smokin’ newcomer that’s already garnering fans far and wide: Central Texas-style BBQ truck Smokin’ Z’s. Aside from their solid version of the traditional stuff, husband and wife duo Zaid and Mallory Al-Jazrawi put out outrageous riffs on just about everything else. Expect a gooey mac’ and cheese bowl ladled with pulled pork, pork belly BLTs, brisket grilled cheese, and even a smoked cheesecake.
What the pitmasters say: “Smokin Z's should be on everyone's radar! Like us, they have already started making a name for themselves and they are amazing!” - Joseph Quellar, JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ
How to book: Stop by for counter service or call 832-586-6160 for take-out (five pound minimum).

Gatlin's BBQ

Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

The basics: This family-run fan favorite underwent a bigger, better facelift when it moved from 19th to its new location on Ella. Order pit boss Greg Gatlin’s trio of smoked ribs (there’s a short and meaty baby back varietal, a St. Louis-style spare rib, and a megaton beef number) and engage your inner-caveman as gnaw ‘em straight down to the bone or change it up with a fully loaded "kitchen sink" sandwich. Either way, you’ll want to accompany your main with a giblet-laden dirty rice so filthy you’ll need a cold shower afterward.   
What the pitmasters say: “The breakfast! Brisket tacos! Chicken and waffles! And the Sink sandwich—so good. Southern hospitality and BBQ at its finest.” - Don Nguyen, Khói Barbecue
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

The basics: What started out as a pop-up between brothers Robin and Terry Wong (Glitter Karaoke) and best friend/chief smoker Quy Hoang has turned into a full-on barbecue love affair. These blood brothers opened their brick-and-mortar location in Bellaire in 2018, taking inspiration from their Chinese and Vietnamese roots to create next-gen, outside-the-box barbecue that challenges everything you thought you knew about smoked cuisine. Get ingenious specials like brisket burnt end steamed buns, gochujang glazed pork ribs, smoked turkey banh mi, and thit nuong pork belly, among other enticements.
What the pitmasters say: “I could eat green curry boudin balls at Blood Bros. week-in, week-out and die happy.”  - Vince Boisaubin, Feges BBQ
How to book: Stop by for counter service, call 713-664-7776 for take-out, place catering orders online (five pound minimum).

The basics: Helmed by married duo Russell and Misty Roegels, this cult favorite brings the heat with its righteous fat-capped brisket and beef rib, both of which come smoked beneath a gorgeous, crusty, jet-black bark. Said brisket was an instant hit, even earning the smokehouse a spot on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list back in 2017. Since then, the hype has continued thanks to a new special: the Thursday-only smoked pastrami reubens that sell out each and every week. Pick your poison and pair it all with Misty’s homey sides—we’re talking potato salad, collarards, Texas pinto beans, macaroni and cheese, and bourbon banana pudding, because that’s a side, right?
What the pitmasters say: “Like a fine wine, the food’s gotten better and better over time. The pastrami sandwich is a must get. Russell and the crew are awesome people.” - Don Nguyen, Khói Barbecue
My kids love it and they're extremely picky eaters, especially when it comes to BBQ. They also absolutely love Russell and Misty, so they like to go and visit with them.”  - Robin Wong, Blood Bros. BBQ
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 713-977-8725 for take-out.

The basics: Once a pink & black trailer, this now-bigger pink-and-black brick-and-mortar outpost is co-owned by BBQ hotshots Will and Nichole Buck. With a silky, perfectly-rendered cap and crusty, blackened bark, the brisket here is one of the finest specimens in all of Houston. Venture out to Spring to grab some, then blissfully destroy it alongside stupendously blistered ribs, overloaded taters, and snappy pork sausage. 
What the pitmasters say: Touted by both Chef Ara Malekian of Harlem Road and Quy Hoang of Blood Bros., the move here is to get the “Texas Trinity.”
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out and catering online.

The basics: Over in the oldest town in Tomball, this sweet and smokey chocolate and barbecue joint is absolutely killing the game. As the name suggests, Tejas started as a small bean-to-bar chocolate business and eventually expanded into smoked meats when it realized the area’s barbecue scene was lacking. Today, it’s regarded as one of the best spots in and around Houston for slow-smoked, USDA certified 100% all-natural Prime grade brisket (don’t forget the burnt ends) alongside pork belly and ribs, chile relleno sausages, and daily specials like barbacoa tacos, pastrami beef ribs, and Tejas cheesesteak wraps. Yes, you can get truffles and chocolate bars to-go, too.
What the pitmasters say: “I love Tejas for their creative sausages and chocolate.” - Quy Hoang, Blood Bros. BBQ
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or take-out and delivery online.

The basics: Trained first in Switzerland then later by some dude named Wolfgang Puck, chef Ara Malekian developed an affinity for Texas barbecue after years traversing the global restaurant scene. Enter his smokin’ hot slow-and-low emporium, set on the outskirts of town in a rustic shack off Harlem Road. There, Malekian applies chefy French techniques to his food, infusing smoked chicken, brisket, and pork with the staves of vintage oak wine barrels, incorporating fat drippings into everything from a stupendous pulled pork shoulder to baked beans, and finishing dishes with homemade butter, naturally.
What the pitmasters say: “The best thing about going to Harlem road is getting to enjoy things you can't get other places—Lamb Chops, Duck, and Octopus. The second best thing is sharing a cup of Armenian Coffee with Ara and catching up.” - Robin Wong, Blood Bros. BBQ
“Harlem Road is one of my favorite places to go because I’ve never hung out with Ara and had a bad time. He is a great friend and puts out some damn good ‘que. His lamb chops are my favorite!” - Brett Jackson, Brett’s Barbecue Shop
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 832-278-2101 for take-out.

Feges BBQ

Greenway

The basics: Husband and wife team Patrick Feges and Erin Smith have been fixtures in Houston’s restaurant scene for some time, honing their skills everywhere from Underbelly and Southern Goods (Feges) to Plonk! and Blacksmith (Smith), before they joined forces to open this Greenway Plaza food court spot in 2018. Offering next-level staples like ribs, brisket, and house-made sausage alongside specialties like pig wings and beef belly burnt ends plus unusually well-balanced sides like Moroccan-spiced carrots, elote corn salad, and braised collards, the duo has announced a second location planned for Spring Branch Village. 
What the pitmasters say: “I also enjoy visiting Patrick Feges over in Greenway. It's always good to sit down with him over a great meal and talk shop.” - Robin Wong, Blood Bros. BBQ 
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out online.

Truth BBQ

Washington

The basics: Before the world was turned upside-down, everything felt right when Brenham’s finest barbecue joint made its way to H-town, landing inside the loop in an unprecedented move. No longer barren of brisket, Washington Avenue now draws enthusiasts near and far. Hit it up to snag fatty, 18-hour-smoked brisket and succulent and crisp burnt ends, peppery pork ribs, and sides from old-school tater tot casserole to a corn pudding that you absolutely need in your mouth right now. Pro tip: Do not skip dessert.
What the pitmasters say: “My go-to for taking friends from out of town. Everything is done so well here. And the dessert game is strong.” - Don Nguyen, Khói Barbecue
Truth is one of the best BBQ restaurants in the state. Everything they cook is done at such a high level.  And those cakes are so good!” - Patrick Feges, Feges BBQ
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

The basics: Vietnamese thịt nướng pulled pork, lemongrass- and garlic-crusted and smoked in banana leaves. Smoked beef rib panang curry, hit with local microgreens for good measure. Smoked yard bird chicken rice (cơm gà) with yuzukoshō. When brothers Don and Theo Nguyen announce their next Viet-Tex pop-up creation on social media—Khói translates to “smoke” in Vietnamese—Houston foodies pay attention. It’s Mutt City barbecue at it’s finest.
What the pitmasters say:These days, there’s no shortage of great BBQ in Houston, but I get most excited about pitmasters putting out creative BBQ at pop-ups around town and Khói BBQ is one of my favorites. They serve some phenomenal Vietnamese-inspired Texas BBQ. The flavors and techniques are always perfectly executed and incredibly inventive.” - Erin Smith, Feges BBQ
How to book: Follow Instagram for upcoming pop-ups and order take-out online.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston writer who always saves bits of meat candy for later. Follow her @BrookeViggiano or @brookiefafa to see what other bits of candy she keeps around.