The Best Snacks and Drinks from Texas Grocery Stores
Sweet tea, venison jerky, and caviar—not the kind you think—are Lone Star state must-haves.
When I first came to Texas in 2018, I asked Whataburger if I could modify my order protein style and hold the sauce. They had no idea what this meant. See, I’m a spoiled Londoner, who’s only lived in New York City and Tokyo, so I swore I’d never relocate to my husband’s drab and dusty home turf. We argued over the heat, the guns, the amateur entertainment scene, and, above all, the food. He told me I behaved like the cast of Schitt’s Creek. I told him he behaved like Kelly Clarkson. I eventually kicked and screamed all the way to Austin, trading our shoebox Brooklyn apartment for a surprisingly nice Austin condo with amenities—and a working elevator!. Things did get better…because I learned to adapt.
The first thing I embraced was Texas-size portions. (It’s true, everything is bigger in Texas.) Blue Bell became my savior, especially during the pandemic; I mean, six bucks for half-gallon of ultra-sweet ice cream? Screw the Halo Top vegan, I’m addicted to cow now. Speaking of cow, that’s one protein source you really have to like in Texas, because if not, you go hungry half the time you step out with pals.
And now? I do things like glamping in Wimberley with coolers of H-E-B grub, and I voluntarily holiday in Galveston with in-laws to eat deep-fried catfish like any good Southern boy. I totally don’t complain about the butter content on the corn, not to their faces.
If you’re one of the millions of newbies in Texas keen to acclimate to this wonderfully indulgent space, there are a bunch of grocery items you’ll need to swot up on—this vital intel took me years to acquire. My best advice? Don’t ever look at the ingredients label.
Our favorite Texan snacks and drinks
There’s a ton of deer in Texas, and what do Texans like to do with excess-anything? Eat it of course (that’s why we spend so much time at Kroger’s “Oops, We Baked Too Much” racks). Venison jerky is not what you think. It’s not as tough as beef jerky, and I actually find that it’s soft and packed with flavor. Try Central Market’s Smoked Venison Jerky, which is crafted by the pit masters of family-owned Texas smokehouses. It’s always delicious and tender and makes for a great high-protein snack on the go.
Quite the opposite of the decent fish eggs, cowboy caviar is cheap, rarely paired with champagne, and has had zero contact with a fish. Also known as Texas caviar, it’s actually a salad that doubles as a dip: black-eyes peas, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, black beans and avocado. Folks down here just shove them in their mouths by the spoonful or on a tortilla chip. We go down the chip route and get it all from Whole Foods (founded in Austin, FYI).
I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. Whether you’re at a party, a festival, or a gas station, there will be cow. Cow in the form of dairy or meat, that is. Beef brisket sandwiches can be found all over the state, and they’re a convenient way to scratch that barbecue itch without the effort. We often stop at Rudy’s when driving out to a getaway in the Hill Country, and go for the half pound of moist brisket (which can get a lil’ messy!). Pulled pork is another popular barbecue sandwich option.
Whole Pickled Cucumbers
If you love slices of pickles on hamburgers, then come to Texas and go the whole hog! Here, we stock, sell, and eat whole-picked cucumbers like they’re churros. You can find them not only on supermarket shelves but even in movie theaters and school cafeterias. Next time you go and see a film, why not switch popcorn for a couple of tangy cucumbers? A little crunch and a little zest will keep you focused. Better still, have your pickle thrown into your bucket of popcorn: also known as the “popcorn pickle.”
Chips and Guac
I love guac, so I was delighted that every time we visited friends, a big bowl of chips and guac automatically hit the table. The guac, made of smashed avocado, is mixed with a bunch of chopped veggies and seasonings. Some people make it, but it’s easier just to buy a big tub from H-E-B or Costco. Texans never go to Target for guac because they only have small packaged varieties. Remember, everything needs to be bigger here. Likewise, you’ll need to pick up large bags of chips while at the store; H-E-B’s own brand of Sea Salt Tortilla Chips are great because they’re even tasty on their own when you’ve run out of dip. Game day, sorted.
No family reunion is complete without my partner’s Aunt Treena and her famous homemade peanut brittle. Since that is harder to come by for the masses, well, there’s always Central Market’s! Peanut Brittle is a sweet treat that’s made of flat, jagged pieces of hard sugar candy, mixed with nuts. When in Texas, though, you’ll want brittle made with local pecans. The famous roadside gas station and market chain, Buc-ee’s, has you covered with its pecan brittle.
Jarred Jams and Jellies
All of the South, and Texas especially, is heavy on fruit jam or jelly consumption. We have a major sweet addiction down here. Thanks to the bountiful peach and berry crops, farm-to-can jams are staple pantry items. I like local brands like Austin Jam Company, but you’ll find roadside sellers all over the state. Spread on your toast, glaze it on some meat, or simply add to your choice of kolache.
Kolaches are a traditional “Tex-Czech” breakfast pastry, and a nod to the state’s history of immigration. They date back to the 1800s when Czechoslovakian immigrants moved to Texas and brought the pastry with them. Today kolache shops are still thriving. You’ll find them at every family gathering too. My favorite is the Poppy Seed Kolache, and the best place to buy them is The Czech Stop Bakery in West, Texas (note: the town is called “West”, it’s not actually in the western side of Texas).
When I first landed, I was terribly confused that chilled sweet tea was what I’d get served when I simply asked for ‘tea’ in restaurants. Down here, tea is made of Lipton and sugar. This needs to be emphasized in ALL CAPS: A LOT OF SUGAR. My husband grew up with gallons of the stuff from Chicken Express, and I’m surprised he doesn’t have diabetes. Today we prefer varieties that use brown sugar, agave, or stevia. Moonshine has half’n’half Lemonade Tea which you can buy in packs of 12.
Texas is nearly as famous as Georgia when it comes to peaches (we just don’t have a Justin Bieber song). This baked, casserole-style dessert is peach fruit filling covered with batter, and served piping hot. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar, top with whipped cream or side with ice cream. This is a really easy dessert to make, but most Southern-style or comfort food chains, like Cracker Barrel, sell it to-go.
Where to shop for Texan products
These Texan treats can be found in all the big supermarkets, such as H-E-B, Walmart, and Kroger. You’ll find the local brands stocked in carefully curated market retailers like Whole Foods, Central Market, and Royal Blue Grocery, as well as Farmer’s Markets, where you can buy from them directly. On a road trip? Well, you simply must stop at Buc-ee’s gas station convenience stores. They are huge and have awesome barbecue to-go items, snacks, drinks and souvenirs. The New Braunfels branch even holds the world record as the largest convenience store in the world.