Far-Flung Texas Barbecue Joints That Are Definitely Worth the Drive
These spots are proof that if you build it, they will come.
While there’s no shortage of excellent barbecue joints in Texas’ big cities, it’s worth driving a few miles — or hours — to explore the state’s tastiest destinations that lie beyond the major tourist centers. These pitmasters and chefs are serving destination-worthy smoked meat (and sides!) in locales that range from a small desert intersection to the Rio Grande Valley. So, wherever you’re traveling from, curate the perfect Texas artist road trip playlist and buckle up, because you’ve got some serious bucket-list eating to do.
A pilgrimage to Evie Mae’s requires some commitment — unless you live in nearby Lubbock — but oh, is it worth it. Texas Monthly ranked it #9 on its most recent “Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas” list and for good reason; everything they do is out of this world. The brisket melts in your mouth, the German sausage has the best snap and flavor, and homemade sides like jalapeño cornbread and green chile cheese grits explode with flavor. Enjoy a complimentary beer while you wait, but save room for these drool-worthy, daily-made pies and pastries!
Big-city barbecue may not be what you think of when you hear a quaint name like “Mimsy’s”, but this East Texas barbecue joint is delivering some seriously crafty ’cue with a heaping side of fine-dining sensibility. And, well, the word’s out. In 2020, husband-and-wife team Wade (a self-taught pitmaster) and Kathy Elkins (a classically trained chef) opened Mimsy’s in small-town Crockett, Texas, after working at some of Houston’s top barbecue joints and eateries. Since then, the couple has earned lots of attention and praise for their Central Texas-style smoked meats and menu of yummy sides, tacos, and desserts. Must-trys include: juicy smoked turkey and two-day-brined chicken; the American cheese-topped burger made using brisket trimmings (available on Wednesdays); the El Jefe taco, a brisket-fat flour tortilla filled with chopped brisket, crisp fries, smoked queso, and pico; and Kathy’s maple-glazed Brussels sprouts and cheesecake. Mimsy’s is open until 8 pm Thursday through Saturday and 3 pm Tuesday and Wednesday.
At this locals-approved, family-run spot in Bryan (just down the road from Texas A&M University), Alan Caldwell and Belender Wells deliver straight-up glorious, perfectly seasoned, perfectly smoked barbecue and sides — no frills required. Pitmaster Caldwell’s textbook brisket highlights the beautiful contrast between the crunchy bark, rendered fat, and juicy meat while his incredible smoked chicken with both super moist meat and beyond-crispy skin defies logic. The made-from-scratch sides are so good you’ll want to grab some to-go; order the creamy mac ’n cheese and homestyle peach cobbler for your drive back. (Fargo’s Pit BBQ is a two-hour drive from Austin and a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Houston.)
In a state where brisket is the litmus test for a ’cue joint’s capabilities, it’s refreshing to see a pitmaster take the humble chicken and knock it out of the park. This is the case at Helberg Barbecue, opened in 2018 by Phillip Helberg and his wife Yvette just outside Waco, about halfway between Dallas and Austin. Pitmaster Phillip Helberg brines the chicken halves before they’re smoked, then, as they’re ordered, they get deep-fried in beef tallow for incredibly moist meat and crispy spice-coated skin. Don’t miss the USDA Prime brisket and mac ’n cheese with crunchy fried onions and bacon, either.
You can count the number of places to eat in Marfa on two hands, but even if there were hundreds of options in the single four-way-stop desert town, you’d still choose Convenience West BBQ. Pitmaster Mark Scott, a fixture in Marfa’s community, worked in fine dining and ran other concepts before teaming up with wife Kaki, Food Shark’s Adam Bork, and baker Katy Rose Elsasser for Convenience West. Moist, juicy smoked chicken and turkey, well-salted black-barked brisket, lightly-sweet spare ribs, and snappy links are served along with sides that give away the team’s culinary pedigree. Try the blue maize cornbread, zesty Mexican-style street corn salad, and fire-roasted red pepper-spiked carrot “dip dip,” served with a heaping pile of corn chips. Make it a weekend trip — Convenience West is only open Friday and Saturday from 5 pm until sold out.
Before opening Teddy’s Barbecue in their hometown of Weslaco, in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, siblings Joel and Jesse Garcia honed their skills at some impressive barbecue joints. (Joel’s experience includes stints at Austin’s Freedman’s and Terry Black’s, as well as Pharr’s Smoking Moon alongside Jesse.) The brothers have deviated from typical RGV barbecue in favor of Central Texas-style, but with a few surprises thrown in the mix. The rubs have a generous amount of pepper and everything is smoked low and slow over post oak resulting in moist brisket, tender pork ribs, surprisingly juicy turkey, and links that must be tasted to be believed. Don’t miss Thursday’s smash burgers (made with brisket trimmings). Saturday’s Wagyu beef ribs, or the rendered beef fat tortillas handmade by the brothers’ mom, Ana.
About 45 minutes southeast of Austin, just off of Smithville’s main street is Carne Lenta, the smoked meat hub for all of Austin’s Taco Flats restaurants, also from owner Simon Madera. Here, an array of proteins and cuts are smoked daily over local post oak wood but instead of a typical sold-by-the-pound menu, these tender meats end up tucked into fresh, handmade corn and flour tortillas. Lots of restaurants offer the same cuts but Carne Lenta’s use of live fire adds a smoky dimension you can’t get in your run-of-the-mill commercial kitchen. The smoked chicken taco is a favorite with its moist smoked chicken breast, crunchy seasoned cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, queso fresco, and zesty aioli, as is the barbacoa — slow-smoked beef cheek, tongue, and chuck, plus cilantro, pickled jalapeño, and onion. Even better, Carne Lenta has a full bar, ample seating, live music, and is open until midnight Thursday through Saturday.
A trek to Seguin’s Burnt Bean Co. is a no-brainer — just get a look at THIS. At this spot an hour-ish drive from both San Antonio and Austin, pitmasters and barbecue competition champs Ernest Servantes and Dave Kirkland are not only masters of their craft, but they have fun with it as well. In addition to a masterfully-executed holy trinity — tender, black-barked Prime brisket with a perfectly rendered fat cap, sweet-and-spicy fall-apart tender pork ribs, and downright heavenly house-made sausage with a snappy casing — we love the playful Tex-Mex-inspired sides and specials. Get the queso mac ’n cheese topped with crunchy corn puffs and the street corn pudding flecked with zingy chili-lime seasoning.
Halfway between Houston and Austin, Brenham brims with both wholesome Americana charm and really, really great barbecue. (The town is home to the original location of the acclaimed Truth BBQ.) Pitmasters Matt Lowery, Corey Cook, and their team are pumping out skillfully executed smoked meat and funky specials that locals and visitors are eager to line up for. Don’t worry, the line moves very quickly and there’s free beer on Friday and Saturday! Tender pepper-barked brisket is a must-order, as is the juicy sausage, but don’t skip the creamy, buttery brisket-topped mac ’ n cheese. LJ’s also offers inspired and tasty daily specials and creative mashups — think pork belly bánh mi, smoked cheeseburgers, and brisket Philly cheesesteaks.