These Are the Best Houston Barbecue Joints, According to Texas Monthly
After four long years, Texas Monthly has published a new list of the top 50 barbecue joints in the state. The process of whittling down hundreds of barbecue restaurants across the state to a list of 50 involved vetting by Texas Monthly barbecue columnist Daniel Vaughn and executive editor/food writer Patricia Sharpe, and visits by 32 editorial staffers and 3 freelancers. Combined, the team visited 411 barbecue joints over eight weeks, with Vaughn and/or Sharpe making the final selections for the Top 50.
The visits revealed the staying power of time-honored traditions and, conversely, exciting new trends. The holy barbecue trinity of brisket, sausage and ribs ain’t going anywhere, but a new generation of pitmasters have contributed an infusion of ambition and creativity. Just a few examples of this multicultural flair that Texas Monthly cited include Bacon Burnt Ends, birria and Guava-Glazed Pork Ribs.
Desserts and sides haven’t stood still, either, and some of the most interesting, as noted by Vaughn, include Big Red Tres Leches Cake (find it at Burnt Bean in Seguin), Carrot Soufflé (an acclaimed side at Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue in Tomball), blistered Brussels sprouts (a notable side at Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland) and Brisket Fried Rice (a mainstay at Blood Bros. BBQ).
Another feature at some of the newer barbecue restaurants are respectable wine lists — and why not? Hearty wine has long been an ideal companion for red meat.
Surprisingly, no restaurants in venerated barbecue capital Lockhart, Texas made the top 50. Franklin Barbecue in Austin and Snow’s BBQ in Lexington are still in the top 10, but they both slipped some notches. Franklin was number two; it dropped to number seven, and Snow’s fell from number one to number nine. It’s testament to how much good barbecue there is in Texas and the idea that if you’re not innovating, you’re risking some young upstart taking the spotlight — in this case, 29 of them. Of course, Houston is home to a few of the notable innovators that made the list.
We spoke with Vaughn about where Texas barbecue is now, where it might be going, and about the methodology used in determining the rankings. He points out that, despite all the new barbecue restaurants offering creative fare, there are plenty of traditional joints on the list. However, high beef prices, which show no signs of declining anytime soon, are a serious concern. “I just hope that four years from now that it’s still affordable for places to serve brisket — and that’s still one of the cheapest cuts of beef,” he said. Speculating on our own: at the rate beef prices are going, there could be a time when for financial reasons restaurateurs and customers shift their focus to poultry and pork.
Regarding the new vegan barbecue trend, such as at the Houston Sauce Pit, Vaughn said, “I’m happy for anyone out there who can be part of the barbecue offerings. However, from my experience, the flavors of mock-meat vegan barbecue come almost exclusively from the sauce.”
Concerning the list, some will wonder why Pinkerton’s Barbecue, which started at 1504 Airline, was recognized for its new San Antonio location rather than the Houston original. “I just thought it was fair that the location that got the nod from our reviewers was the one that made the list,” Vaughn explained. He went on to say that Texas Monthly will be publishing a map of all of the Top 50 BBQ Joints, and in the case of restaurants with multiple locations such as Pinkerton’s and Feges BBQ, all locations will be included.
Some may wonder why some places dropped entirely off the Top 50 list (such as The Pit Room) while others, like Roegels Barbecue, slid from the Top 50 to the Honorable Mentions. “While I’m not going to speak specifically about why certain locations dropped off, it came down to basing the decisions on a certain number of visits during a short window of time. We don’t count prior visits. Even if I had incredible meals at some place in the past, those don’t count,” Vaughn explained.
With no further ado, here are the best barbecue joints in Houston, according to Texas Monthly (with a note on 2017 rankings). This year only the top 10 are ranked in order. The remaining 40 are clustered as “The Best of the Rest.” On a final note: when visiting, bring some patience. Lines at barbecue restaurants tend to be long, especially with new staff shortages and newfound popularity.
In The Top 10
Truth Barbeque, 110 South Heights (original Brenham location was number 10 in 2017): At number three, and the only Houston spot that made the top 10, this is Texas Monthly’s top-rated barbecue joint in Houston. Owner Leonard Botello IV started his business with a small, homey location in Brenham. (That location is currently only open on the weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) It wasn’t long until Texans from miles around were driving there (myself included) to find out what the buzz was about. As Beth Levine reported when the much larger Houston location opened in early 2019, some of Truth BBQ’s most notable items include “the brisket, the Saturday only beef ribs and the jalapeño cheddar sausage.” The big surprise at Truth, though, are the diner-style cakes created by his mom, Janel, who now has some help from head baker Laquita Wilkins. The hours are Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In The Top 50
1701 Barbecue, Beaumont, 1701 Calder Ave (new to the list): This Top 50 mention is about a 90-minute drive from downtown Houston. If you’re willing to make the journey, you may be rewarded with post-oak smoked brisket and pork ribs, which the magazine declared “the best in southeast Texas.” 1701 Barbecue also offers other southeast Texas specialties such as beef links and smoked boudin. Texas Monthly says that the turkey is also a don’t-miss, and notable sides include sweet-jalapeño-relish potato salad and cilantro slaw. Technically, the hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Texas Monthly warns that sell-outs often happen well before closing time.
Blood Bros. BBQ, 5425 Bellaire (new to the list): If you’re surprised that this Bellaire restaurant made the list, you simply haven’t been paying attention. (Vaughn himself dropped a big hint when he named it to his Top New 25 barbecue joints list in 2019.) Owners Quy Hoang and Terry and Robin Wong grew up together in Alief and went from pop-ups to a brick-and-mortar in 2018. If the pop-ups established their reputations as barbecue innovators, the storefront cemented their standing as barbecue masters. Not only were they named to this list, they were recently named one of the 50 most exciting restaurants in America by the New York Times. The trio fuses techniques and ingredients from their Chinese and Vietnamese heritage with traditional Texas barbecue and other cuisines found in the Bayou City. The results include Brisket Fried Rice, Char Siu Banh Mi and Guava-Glazed Ribs. Recently, they parlayed their Houston success to open a second location in an unexpected place: the Famous Foods Street Eats center at Resorts World Las Vegas. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to sell out. On Thursdays, they reopen from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Brett’s BBQ Shop, 606 South Mason, Katy (new to the list): Everyone loves an unexpectedly great hole-in-the-wall, and this one, located in a strip center, might blow you away not just with barbecue but with great service. Though our readers may already know that since we named it one of the best new restaurants of 2019. Pitmaster and owner Brett Jackson learned the ins and outs of barbecue at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. After stints working with chef Eric Aldis, first at Corner Table and then at Midtown Barbecue, the duo headed west to Katy to work at Agave Rio. Though, it wasn’t long before Jackson struck out on his own with his eponymous barbecue joint. Texas Monthly cites tender brisket, sweet-and-spicy sausage and juicy turkey as just a few of the reasons to visit. The reviewers were also knocked out by the slaw, dressed in vinaigrette and studded through with bits of carrots, red bell pepper and jalapeño. The hours are Wednesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until sold out, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until sold out. (Watch for a new, bigger location opening next year.)
CorkScrew BBQ, 26608 Keith, Spring (number seven in 2017): Will and Nicole Buckman have been on the leading edge of the Texas barbecue revival. They opened a barbecue trailer in 2011 before landing a storefront in Spring in 2015. According to Texas Monthly, red oak is the wood of choice, and Will uses it to smoke what I consider some of the best brisket in the Greater Houston area, and Texas Monthly’s crew thinks the pulled pork is “some of the best in the state”. Corkscrew BBQ’s hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Feges BBQ, 8217 Long Point (new to the list) and 3 Greenway Plaza: This is another unsurprising entry on the list. Like Blood Bros. BBQ, Vaughn included its Greenway Plaza location on his Top 25 Best New BBQ Joints list in 2019. He dropped further hints when he gave the new Spring Branch location a glowing review in August. The special sauce here is the combined and considerable talents of pitmaster Patrick Feges and his wife, chef Erin Smith. This is also one of the places that is establishing the trend of offering fine wines alongside barbecue, and that’s thanks to Smith deliberately expanding her wine knowledge while working at Camerata at Paulie’s in Montrose. While it’s the new, brick-and-mortar Spring Branch location that got the nod, the original is in a food court at Greenway Plaza. Quite a lot of work and specialized equipment was needed to pull off executing genuine, wood-smoked Texas meats in the basement of an office building. With more space and capability, the expanded menu at the Spring Branch location includes not only traditional brisket and ribs, but also Texas Monthly favorites such as fried chicken and porcini-rubbed hanger steak. The spicy Korean greens are cited as a side that “might be the best barbecue side dish in Texas”. Feges BBQ in Spring Branch is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Greenway Plaza location is open for breakfast Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., then resets and opens for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Killen’s Barbecue, 3613 Broadway, Pearland (also in the top 50 in 2017) and 8800 Six Pines in The Woodlands: When James Beard Award-semifinalist chef Ronnie Killen opened this restaurant in 2013 — his second after Killen’s Steakhouse — he built on his experience as a barbecue competitor. Since then, he’s built a restaurant empire that stretches from his hometown of Pearland to The Woodlands. In addition to competition-quality brisket, now overseen by pitmasters Margarito Pineda and Manny Torres, Vaughn and company were impressed by the “succulent beef ribs and well-seasoned pork ribs, smoked turkey rubbed with generous handfuls of pepper and crackly fried chicken (Sundays only).” As we pointed out in May, the unsung heroes at Killen’s Barbecue are the desserts, a point not missed by the Texas Monthly crew, who recommends bringing a group so you can try them all. Told y’all. Killen’s Barbecue is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. until sold out.
Mimsy’s Craft Barbecue, 1979 South 5th, Crockett (new to the list): Though this restaurant is a two-hour drive due north from downtown Houston, its roots are in Houston, so we’ve included it. Pitmaster Wade Elkins was previously at Reveille Barbecue Co. (which made Vaughn’s 2019 picks for best new barbecue joints) in Magnolia while his wife and childhood sweetheart Kathy led the kitchen as executive chef at Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room in the Heights. They moved to Crockett and opened Mimsy’s Craft Barbecue in 2020, which is named after Wade’s great-grandmother. Texas Monthly applauds its Central Texas-style smoked meats, boudin made with brisket, chef Kathy’s excellent sides, including Smoked Queso and Poblano Mac and Cheese and catch-them-if-you-can specials like shrimp and grits. The hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (or until sold out).
Pinkerton’s Barbecue, 1504 Airline (also in the top 50 in 2017): As previously mentioned, the Houston location is the original, but it’s the San Antonio location at 107 West Houston that officially received the Texas Monthly accolades. Still, both serve the same dishes, so we’re commandeering this as another Houston win. Pitmaster Grant Pinkerton uses mesquite and post oak to lend smoky Texas-style flavor to Louisiana-influenced creations such as Duck and Sausage Jambalaya, boudin and even bread pudding. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t offer all the standards, and those include glazed pork ribs, jalapeño pork sausage and brisket that the Texas Monthly team couldn’t get enough of.
In The Top 100
Dozier’s BBQ & Meat Market, 8222 FM 359, Fulshear (new to the list): It’s been a long road for pitmaster Jim Buchanan, who went from Pappa Charlies Barbeque to his own Galveston joint, which ultimately closed. But he’s now found a good fit at this long-running barbecue restaurant and deer processor. According to Texas Monthly, Buchanan’s wood of choice is pecan, and beyond classic barbecued meats, guests can also find specialties such as boudin, loaded baked potatoes and sausage wraps. Some of the more interesting sides include collard greens, Broccoli Slaw and Texas caviar. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Gatlin’s BBQ, 3510 Ella (in the Top 50 in 2017): Before several new players jumped into the Texas barbecue game in the mid-2010s, pitmaster Greg Gatlin had a five-year head start and a fan-following. He operated a location in the Heights for five years before relocating to its current digs in Oak Forest, which was recently featured in Netflix’s series “High on the Hog.” These days, Michelle Wallace is working at Gatlin’s BBQ as one of the few female pitmasters in the business. Gatlin’s opens at 7 a.m., serving full fledged breakfast platters in addition to tacos and hefty sandwiches, such as the triple-decker GBBQ Big Boy Sandwich with three fried eggs, smoked ham, bacon, spicy sausage, American cheese and jam. At lunch, the teams serves barbecue favorites like brisket, burgers, ribs and sausage link sandwiches. The dirty rice is legendary, but don’t pass on the yams or smoked corn, either. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; breakfast is served 7 to 10 a.m.
Harlem Road Texas BBQ, 9823 Harlem, Richmond (new to the list): Ara Malekian is one of few pitmasters on this list who is also a classically trained chef. Malekian — an iconic figure thanks to his black cowboy hat, love of cigars and expertly brewed Armenian coffee — was trained in Switzerland and eventually worked with the legendary Wolfgang Puck. He’s now well-respected for his Double R Ranch Brisket and hefty beef ribs. It’s also well worth checking the menu for eye-opening and hearty daily specials, such as the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Hungry Cowboy Baked Potato laden with brisket, pulled pork, sausage and mac and cheese. Hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday through Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Pizzitola’s Bar- B-Cue, 1703 Shepherd (new to the list): This old-guard restaurant, which boasts the oldest indoor wood-burning pit in Houston (it was grandfathered in by the City of Houston when the laws changed), is undergoing a significant revival under pitmaster Eudel Hernandez. According to Texas Monthly, he’s using mesquite and post oak to smoke meats, including Pizzitola’s famous slab of pork spareribs. The brisket is put to good use in stuffed baked potatoes, Shepherd Drive Frito Pie and very tempting-sounding brisket enchiladas, served only on Fridays.
Roegels Barbecue Co., 2223 South Voss (in the Top 50 in 2017): In December 2014, Russell Roegels, who started learning his craft at the tender age of 15 at Bodacious Barbecue, ended his commitment to operate a Baker’s Ribs franchise after he was inspired by Camp Brisket, which is hosted by Foodways Texas and Texas A&M. With help from his wife, Misty, he decided to carve his own lane using time-honored smoked meat techniques and by offering innovative specials such as a Smoked Pastrami Reuben, Turkey Katsu and the Bar-B-Cuban sandwich. Roegels’ brisket rub spares no expense — it involves three different grinds of black peppercorns (which, like beef, have gotten rather pricey lately). The results? Some of the area’s best brisket. By the way, Misty’s Bourbon Banana Pudding will carve its own lane in your memories. (Watch for a second location opening soon in Katy.) Hours are Sunday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or until sell out.
Smokin’ Z’s BBQ, 6 Herring Drive, Bayou Vista: Texas Monthly reported on a string of difficulties that owners Zaid and Mallory Al-Jazrawi dealt with through 2019 and 2020, including having to deal with cranky neighbors and numerous changes needed for the smokers to comply health departments requirements. So, it’s impressive indeed that the newlyweds surmounted all these challenges and made a big comeback in time for a spot in Texas Monthly’s top 100. The local favorite is the Cheese Champion, a brisket grilled cheese sandwich, but Vaughn also found favor with the PBLT (pork belly, lettuce and tomato). Among the smoked meats, he cited the tender and smoky glazed pork ribs, The Loco Link sausage, made in-house with pepper jack and cheddar cheese and brisket boudin.
What do you think about the new Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joints list? Did they include your favorites? Leave a comment below. (Please note that to avoid spammers and trolls, all comments are moderated.)
Update note: I initially missed Smokin’ Z’s as a top 100 barbecue joint in a town near Houston and apologize for the oversight.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.