Marnay and I just had our “Babymoon” in the great state of Texas, specifically Austin and Houston. We were in El Paso last summer, but barbecue country West Texas is not.
In preparation for our trip, I read a lot of articles and listened to a lot of podcasts about barbecue. I would like to thank Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly and J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle for giving me a crash course on Texas barbecue. I also don’t want to leave out Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook. If you are traveling to Houston any time soon, I definitely recommend the Barbecue State of Mind podcast from the Houston Chronicle.
And while I always enjoy Daniel Vaughn’s writing, his Texas Monthly’s Top 50 is the barbecue list that every single barbecue joint in Texas wants to be on. It is like the Bible of barbecue.
Below is a recap of the barbecue joints we visited on our trip. We won’t be ranking them in any particular order, because they were all amazing. Also, we consider all of them to be important building blocks in our Texas barbecue journey.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait, in East Austin, consists of a barbecue trailer, a giant outdoor smoker and a covered picnic area. The morning we went, it was in the 30s and windy. That would stop a lot of folks from going (resulting in a very short line) but it didn’t stop us! These were the meatiest pork ribs of the trip and they were our favorite item at Micklethwait. If you take a look at them, the smoke ring is insane. The brisket stood on its own, but was even better on Texas toast with pickles and onions.
All of the joints we visited were friendly, but Micklethwait gets bonus points for being friendliest. And even though it was really cold on the day we went, it was a lot of fun eating the barbecue outside, picnic-style.
Terry Black’s Barbecue
This was the best beef rib of the trip. It was gigantic and SO fatty, in a good way, but not too fatty either. You bet we each took pictures of ourselves trying to eat the whole thing. The flavor reminded us of pastrami. Terry Black’s brisket was top notch, superbly fatty and with a killer bark. The sausage was also quite good.
The atmosphere at Terry Black’s is a little touristy, likely owing to its location across the Colorado River, near downtown. That means doubling up with strangers at tables, but the staff is very helpful in organizing the restaurant and eating barbecue with strangers is fun.
Kreuz, in Lockhart, was on our 3 hour drive between Austin and Houston, so of course we made a stop. The sausage was excellent, with a nice kick to it. However, we were a little disappointed by the beef rib as it was too dry for our liking. Kreuz’s shoulder clod, which is a leaner cut than brisket, did have a nice meaty “chew” to it.
The sausage, which Kreuz is famous for, was the best of the trip, with some serious heat. We had eaten Kreuz sausage at Hill Country in DC and, fortunately, the real deal tasted MUCH better. No surprise that it would taste better fresh versus shipped halfway across the country! If we went back I would get the pork chop, which is a rare sight in a barbecue restaurant. Alas, we did not see the famous pitmaster Roy Perez, who is a ringer for Elvis Presley.
Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ
I can think of few better combinations than barbecue and tacos. It is likely the future of Texas barbecue and has always been important in the San Antonio area, where pitmaster Miguel Vidal grew up. Valentina’s is a food truck in a parking lot in suburban South Austin. It was originally an unincorporated area and was very recently annexed by the City. Behind the truck is a wonderful partially enclosed dining area with picnic tables, TVs and lot of sports memorabilia. You can tell that this is a great place to watch the big game.
The menu is separated between “Tex” and “Mex”. Anything on the “Mex” side of the menu gets served in Valentina’s incredible housemade flour tortillas. The smoked brisket taco was unreal – we got two! The brisket itself is perfect, but then it is topped with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa. We LOVED the guac! The smoked carnitas tacos, made from Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, had a sweet taste from the super high-quality meat and were topped with caramelized onions, cilantro and a tomatillo habanero salsa for heat.
We did not get a chance to try it, but Valentina’s opens at 7:30am for breakfast and it looks like it would be fantastic. In fact, you could probably do a barbecue tour of Austin starting out with breakfast at Valentina’s. Maybe an idea for us in the future??
Our favorite all-around barbecue joint of the trip, as well as the best brisket. They open at 11am and despite the fact that we arrived at 11:10am on Thursday, the line was well out the door. It is an indisputable fact of life that fatty brisket is better than lean brisket. That being said, the brisket at Tejas Chocolate managed to be the best EVEN THOUGH it was not the fattiest. That feat can be attributed to the cooking technique and to the well-seasoned bark. Similarly, the pork ribs were not as fatty as some other places but were still a cut above the rest. Tejas Chocolate also was the only barbecue joint we visited on the trip that had pork belly and boy, was it tasty. It was great on its own but even better with the famous mole barbecue sauce, aka “the most expensive barbecue sauce in the world.”
The crazy thing about Tejas Chocolate is that, as the name suggests, they started out making bean-to-bar chocolate. Their revenue wasn’t as good as they hoped and they realized that they needed to try something different. After a few years of experimenting at home making barbecue, they started serving it at the shop and almost IMMEDIATELY landed in the top 10 of the Texas Monthly Top 50. What a story!
I bought a T-shirt at each barbecue joint and chef Greg at Tejas noticed my Valentina’s shirt when I went to pick up our food. “Great food and great people,” he said.
We couldn’t agree more.
Best Bite of the trip
Paul: a tie between the Brisket at Tejas Chocolate and Beef Rib at Terry Black’s
Marnay: brisket at Tejas Chocolate
Places we visited
Micklethwait Craft Meats: 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin, TX 78702
Terry Black’s Barbecue: 1003 Barton Springs Rd Austin, TX 78704
Kreuz Market: 619 N Colorado St Lockhart, TX 78644
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: 11500 Manchaca Rd Austin, TX 78745
Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue: 200 N Elm St Tomball, TX 77375