9 Relative Newcomers to the Texas Barbecue Scene That Are Worth a Visit
There must be something in the barbecue sauce.
Thanks to the barbecue boom Texas has experienced over the last decade, ridiculously talented pitmasters have cropped up everywhere, breathing new life into a regional cuisine once associated with dusty roads and weathered picnic tables. (Okay, there’s still plenty of that.) These pitmasters and chefs are not only crushing classic ’cue like they’ve been at it for 70 years, but infusing their food with just as much culture as smoke. From a group of twenty-somethings who are masters of their craft to a former fine-dining chef whose approach to barbecue is refreshingly stripped-down and honest, these are the relative newcomers (all opened within the last four years) who are dominating Texas’ vibrant barbecue scene.
Since receiving the coveted number one spot on Texas Monthly’s list of the top 50 barbecue joints, the buzz surrounding Goldee’s has grown to a roar — a far cry from the smokehouse’s quiet opening in early 2020. Before joining forces, Goldee’s five 20-something owners honed their skills at some of the best barbecue spots in Texas including Franklin, Valentina’s, la Barbecue, Micklethwait, and Terry Black’s in Austin as well as Houston’s Truth BBQ, and San Antonio’s 2M Smokehouse. Today, the line at Goldee’s starts forming two hours prior to opening with folks eager for a taste of the best smoked meat in Texas — moist and lean brisket with a flavorful crisp bark, tender pork ribs with just the right amount of sauce, juicy smoked turkey, housemade sausage, and comically large beef ribs that are often first to sell out. The homemade brioche bread is an unexpected standout as are the desserts, a cinnamon-spiked banana pudding and Sunday-only bread pudding. Goldee’s is well worth the drive to the outskirts of southeast Fort Worth and hey, the free beer and meaty samples fresh from the smoker don’t hurt, either.
Inspired by his father’s meat smoking skills, Joe Zavala quit his job in IT and (luckily for us) pursued his passion for barbecue by opening his namesake smoke shack in 2019. People from all over flock to the Mid-Cities region in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex for expertly executed brisket (Texas Monthly has called it “flawless”) with a coarse peppery bark, transcendent beef ribs, and pizza pepper sausage with a spicy kick. And, as a nod to his South Texas roots, Zavala’s offers fluffy flour tortillas perfect for tucking barbecue into before drizzling with fresh, housemade salsas. Feeling adventurous? Go for the Sloppy Juan, a flour tortilla that’s stuffed with a mountain of chopped brisket and pulled pork.
Before opening Burnt Bean Co., Ernest Servantes already had a reputation as a top pitmaster on the competition barbecue circuit; winning countless championships on a state and national level as well as on TV. It was at these competitions where he met fellow elite pitmaster Dave Kirkland and in 2020, Burnt Bean Co. was born. Yes, they absolutely crush when it comes to the holy trinity: tender, black-barked Prime brisket with a perfectly rendered fat cap, sweet-and-spicy fall-apart tender pork ribs, and downright heavenly housemade sausage with a snappy casing. (The jalapeño-cheese sausage, which oozes with gooey cheese, is a must order.) Folks even rave about their impossibly juicy smoked turkey. But, for anyone who gets as excited about the sides as the main attraction AND loves Tex-Mex, Burnt Bean Co. seriously delivers. Try the queso mac ' n cheese topped with crumbled spicy corn puffs and the street corn pudding topped with crema and chile-lime seasoning. On Sundays, hit up the Tex-Mex breakfast menu for favorites like the brisket huevos rancheros and the aptly-named “Hangover” with the magical healing powers of menudo, barbacoa, and tortillas. Oh, and as a bonus, you’ll be able to walk off your meal smack-dab in the heart of Seguin’s picturesque downtown district.
Comfort and convenience are rarely considered when it comes to seeking out great Texas barbecue; 5 am road trips and sporks are simply chalked up as necessary evils, a part of the “Texas barbecue experience.” However, this is not the case at the San Antonio outpost of Houston-based Pinkerton’s, a cozy 2021 addition to the city’s vibrant downtown. The restaurant — which is located in a beautifully landscaped urban park that’s perfect for letting kids run around— looks like a modern hunting lodge complete with communal tables and taxidermied deer mounts. Unsurprisingly, the food is fantastic; menu standouts include the glazed pork ribs with perfectly sweet caramelized crust, the incredibly moist brisket, jalapeño cheese sausage, rosemary bacon mac ’ n cheese (add brisket!), and the South Texas beans. And, Pinkerton’s is open late and has a full bar, spacious covered patio, and regular live music, so feel free to stay a while.
At InterStellar BBQ, Chef John Bates infuses his fine-dining sensibility into every smoky bite of his ridiculously good barbecue. In 2019, after stints at some of Austin’s fine dining institutions and the shuttering of his eatery, Noble Sandwich Co., Bates jumped headfirst into the barbecue world. The menu is a blend of traditional Central Texas ’cue — like the expertly executed Certified Angus brisket and pulled pork — and deliciously unorthodox offerings, like peach tea-glazed pork belly and jalapeño popper sausage. The sides are also far from basic with chef-y delights like Gouda mac ’n cheese and smoked scallop potatoes. InterStellar is located in a massive strip mall, but it’s easy to find: just follow the smoke.
Panther City BBQ — named as an homage to Fort Worth’s feline moniker — was founded by buddies Chris Magallanes and Ernest Morales after the duo took top prize at a barbecue competition and decided to quit their AV jobs. Since opening in 2018, the Near Southside neighborhood trailer has earned itself a legion of fans for slinging killer barbecue and fun, Mexican street food-inspired “twists.” Drop in for brisket with a classic peppery bark that melts in your mouth, brisket elote (creamy smoked corn topped with brisket, queso fresco, cilantro, and salsa) and delicious crunchy pork belly burnt ends inspired by the trailer’s former occupant, Heim BBQ.
Upon opening in 2018, Feges BBQ set itself apart from the city’s many other ’cue joints by serving not only great barbecue, but the kind of barbecue and sides you’d find in a James Beard Award-worthy Southern eatery. And, with the 2021 opening of their Spring Branch location, husband-and-wife team Erin Smith and Patrick Feges have continued to up the ante, literally bringing their experience in barbecue, fine-dining, and hospitality to the table with a well-curated wine list and inspired dishes. Try the tangy pork ribs, southern fried chicken, brisket burnt ends tossed in red syrup, and Money Cat Potatoes (deep-fried potatoes tossed in gochujang, mayo, and green onions). At the original Greenway Plaza Food Court location, sink your teeth into classic offerings — super moist brisket, crisp pork belly — and unexpected hits like the roasted sweet and sour Brussels sprouts.
What started as a pop-up in 2018 has evolved into two brick-and-mortar locations and a lot of well-earned praise for Brandon Hurtado and his playful Tex-Mex take on Central Texas barbecue. Order skillfully-executed mainstays like smoked Prime brisket, ribs, and sausage by the pound alongside smoked quail and brisket birria tacos. Save room for the Texas Twinkies, the restaurant’s spin on a Texas Tornado: Hurtado stuffs jumbo jalapeños with brisket and pimiento cheese, wraps them in applewood bacon, and brushes them with barbecue sauce before finishing on a smoker.
Chef Damien Brockway previously served as chef at notable Austin eateries Uchiko and Counter 3 Five VII, as well as Jester King Brewery, so while Distant Relatives is a departure from his fine-dining background, it feels more like an arrival. Opened in 2021 and now located at South Austin’s Meanwhile Brewing, Distant Relatives’ modern African-American barbecue is inspired by “the textures, flavors, heritage, and narrative of the African diaspora within the United States.” Here there’s an emphasis on use of live fire and smoke, sourcing locally, preservation, employing a nose-to-tail ethos, and incredible spice profiles. The result: Central Texas-style barbecue that’s both familiar and inventive. Try the smoke-tinged pulled pork with tangy tamarind molasses barbecue sauce and the sublime beef brisket, sliced thick with a side of smoked mustard butter sauce.