Plenty of states are ripe for a barbecue road trip, but in Texas you could fill an entire summer vacation with them. From Beaumont to El Paso, from Mercedes in the south to the Panhandle in the north, the challenge isn’t building an itinerary but limiting it. A good place to start is Austin—no other U.S. city has as many truly great joints. These eight stops offer some of the best brisket and hot links in Texas. Just be prepared to never be happy with mediocre barbecue again.
Vaughn is the barbecue editor at Texas Monthly and author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat.
Valentina’s Tex-Mex Barbecue; Austin
Tender mesquite-smoked brisket and smoked-pork carnitas fill house-made tortillas at this South Austin food truck, but consider starting with breakfast: one Holyfield taco—brisket, bacon, potatoes, beans and a fried egg—is enough to rev the motor all day.
La Barbecue; Austin
Some of the best hot-gut sausages come from this popular truck just east of downtown, and the fatty brisket and beef ribs are not to be missed. Get pork, brisket and sausage together on a bun in the El Sancho Loco sandwich.
Louie Mueller Barbecue; Taylor
Many smoked-meat lovers have found their barbecue epiphany here in the Hill Country. Peppery brisket, homemade beef sausages and the monster beef ribs can affect the mind and soul, as well as fill the stomach.
Southside Market; Elgin
The oldest barbecue joint in Texas has been serving its famous all-beef hot-gut sausages since 1882. The links are still ground, seasoned and stuffed in the back, and smoked in oak-fired brick pits. Try the lamb ribs if you’re feeling bold.
Smitty’s, Kreuz and Black’s; Lockhart
Lockhart is Texas’ barbecue capital, with three great joints that lend themselves to a combo meal. Go for the sausage at Smitty’s and soak up the history. Black’s helped make the beef rib famous, and Elvis look-alike Roy Perez makes one of Texas’ best smoked pork chops at Kreuz Market.
City Market; Luling
It’s hard to find a better bite in Texas than the house-made beef links dragged through the signature mustard sauce. Order all three items served—ribs, brisket and sausage—directly from the pit room in back, and bring cash.
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que; San Marcos
It doesn’t look like much, in a converted used-car salesroom alongside an Interstate 35 service road, but it serves some of Texas’ best barbecue. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but snag a giant beef rib over the weekend if there’s one left. House-made sausage, brisket and ribs are all phenomenal as well.
Freedmen’s Bar; Austin
Barbecue is lunch food across Texas, but this place back in Austin is one of the few that serve it for dinner. It’s also hard to find a joint that does the rest of the meal well too, but the smoked jalapeño pimento cheese, smoked beets and smoked banana pudding are delicious divergences. And don’t miss the sausage of the day.