The debate between the best regional BBQ will always exist, however to many like myself, Texas BBQ wins the debate everytime. While the beef is the most previlant meat that people seek when enjoying Texas BBQ, you simply cannot fall asleep and miss out on the other meats (hence why you always go with a 3 meat plate). Before I start thinking about the meats, I believe you should start with an ice cold Shiner. My 3 meat choices is usually beef brisket, pork ribs, & either jalapeno sausage or smoked turkey. Choose your 2 sides, grab yourself some slices of bread, load up on the pickles, onions, & jalapenos, sit back and enjoy. My choices on sides varies depending on the place. Some of my favorites include mac&cheese, pinto beans with bacon, cole slaw, homestyle potatoes (I like smashed with bacon & carmelized onion). While in Texas, dessert is a must following the proper BBQ meal. You can never go wrong with banana pudding or some thick cookie crusted pecan pie. After your feast, find a comfortable place to relax for the next few hours, and enjoy.
Texas is home to the famous Texas BBQ Trail that winds its way around central Texas, with the ultimate center of attention in Lockhart (the BBQ capitol of Texas). I will take you on a route covering roughly 250 miles, that will without a doubt satisfy your BBQ tastebuds.
The route starts in Pearland, just south of Houston.
Killens BBQ - 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, Texas
- Get here early, because the line is almost always out the door, and like any good Texas BBQ joint, they close when they sell out. Brisket & beef ribs are always the first to go. This spot is relatively new, but its succulent BBQ has people raving & coming back for more. It sits in a cozy former school cafeteria building that was converted into the tastiest BBQ you can find in the Houston area. If your a first timer, I would encourage you to go with the beef rib plate (add a little bit of brisket & sausage to sample making your custom 3 meat plate). This thing is like something out of the Flintstones, and melts the second each bite hits your tongue. They have 3 different sauces to choose from, with a unique espresso style sauce that pairs incredibly well with the beef. Whats even more awesome is the ice cold keg of Lone Star outside. Get your cup, and fill up.
From Pearland, you'll need to make your way west to I-10, and start heading to Luling, Texas. First, make sure you stop off at Buc-ees for a quick refresher, then head 5 minutes up the road.
When you stumble into the tiny town of Luling, what stands out is the old timey town that sits this legendary Texas BBQ icon. Walk in and you are in the local carryout store. As you walk to the back, and go through the 2nd set of doors, you are now in a room filled with years of pecan & mesquite smoke, and a tradition like no other. This is a simple place, its all about brisket & sausages. Grab a side of potato salad, and all of the standard BBQ fixin's all placed on butcher paper, and dive in.
Don't fill up too much though, because the next spot is only 20 minutes north on 183 in Lockhart, the infamous BBQ capitol of Texas. Home of 3 of Texas's most legendary BBQ families. Pick any of the 3 and you cannot go wrong (Smitty's Market, Kreitz's Market, and Blacks BBQ).
They claim to be the oldest BBQ joint in Texas, and they also claim they are the people that brought the beef to Texas BBQ. While I did say all 3 spots in Lockhart have incredible BBQ, I always gravitate to Blacks because they have a better selection of delicious sides. I get the burnt end brisket, pork ribs, and smoked turkey every time. Mac&cheese and a side of pinto beans rounds out this satisfying meal. You will likely eat a large quantity, so you are probably done for the day
From here, your best move is to head up to Austin and catch some live music and relaxation before embarking on your 2nd day's journey. I recommend catching a performance at Gueros on South Congress or Stubbs BBQ on Red River. However, don't stay out too late, because you'll want to get an early start in the morning.
On day 2, I recommend just grabbing BBQ at one spot, so you can enjoy some time relaxing in Austin at one of the famous swimming holes the fine city has to offer. You'll also want to try a few other non BBQ items that the city is known for (you can never go wrong with the many food trucks scattered throughout the city).
Franklin BBQ - 900 E. 11th St, Austin, TX
Austin is another town that has several killer options, but Franklins is a lifechanging BBQ experience with brisket that literally melts before you even bite down into the smokey awesomeness. This one of a kind experience requires an early start. I would recommend arriving with lawn chairs, and a fully charged smart phone to play on. You will want to be in line before 8am if you want to guarentee yourself some of their world famous brisket or beef ribs. In fact, kids make money as line savers for people who do not have the patience to wait 3 hours for their beef. Just order whatever sounds good to you, its all incredible. One trick to avoid the line is to call ahead and order for pickup. The only downside to that is that you don't get the total experience. The line itself is like a local social gathering, so time passes quickly.
If for some reason, you are running behind, and miss your opportunity to get in line, or you just simply do not want to wait 3 hours, then you can always go to La BBQ just a few short blocks away, and also near the I-35 feeder road. The owners of La BBQ got their BBQ education from Aaron Franklin himself, and even purchased on of his old perfectly seasoned pits. Their meats and their sides have several similarities. They also have a free keg of ice cold Lone Star to enjoy while you wait and with your meal.
After your big BBQ lunch, head over to Zilker Park, and cool off in the river near Barton Springs. Along the river, you can rent canoes & paddle boards to head into Lady Bird Lake. The water of Barton Springs is always a little cold at first, but on a 100+ degree day, it invigorates your senses to get you back on your feet after your 2 days of feasting. You can always grab dessert at Gourdoughs Donuts on 1st St, and a taco from Maria's Taco Express on Lamar to get you through Day 2. If your out late night, and looking for a great late night breakfast, head to either 24 Diner on Lamar or Magnolia Cafe on South Congress.
Pack a cooler loaded with Shiner, and start your 30 minute drive west of the city in to Driftwood, Texas, in the heart of the Hill Country. You saved this legendary experience for last, and for good reason. You are going to spend a good chunk of your day enjoying a truly one of a kind BBQ experience like no other.
The Salt Lick - 18300 FM 1826, Driftwood, Texas
I recommend making this day trip during a weekday, because this place is a mad house on weekends when they have police directing traffic in and out. You'll know you have arrived when you start seeing wine country vineyards all around. After you walk in to the main building, you will want to be a typical tourist, and get pictures taken with one of the most famous BBQ pits in America. The beautiful horseshoe shaped stone pit turns out a non stop rotation of meats. When its time to order, just remember why you are there in the first place - the all you can eat BBQ feast. The burnt ends from the brisket is like sweet & savory meat candy. Your first platter will have the brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. By your second platter, you'll be requesting only the burnt ends (they are that good). Pace yourself, and allow time for to empty your cooler of beer. They typically have live music outside to enjoy before & after your feast.
After hitting 5 of the states best BBQ joints in 3 days, you'll need a break from BBQ for a while. I might suggest you reset your body by going to a whole food clean diet for at least a week to rebalance your system from the severe meat coma you embarked on. Add a good regiment of exercise to shed the 5lb's you gained in your 3 day adventure. If you love BBQ like I do, this is a fun and unique getaway that gives you a great view of the Texas Hill Country.