The proposition is simple. Eat at every one of Texas Monthly's top five Texas barbecue joints -- all in one day. Easier said than done, right? A typical visit to one barbecue joint usually results in a stuffed belly and a food coma. Is it possible -- even practical -- to visit the five holy shrines of Texas barbecue in one 12-hour period?
Yes, it is. I know because I recently completed a "Texas Barbecue Day Trip" with a group of friends. We set out from Houston one Saturday morning and returned that same evening, visiting all five joints and a couple in between. Yes, we were stuffed. Yes, it was an epic journey and unforgettable experience. And along the way we learned a few tips and tricks that may help pave the way for future barbecue adventurers. Below you will find a "how-to guide" for Texas Barbecue Day Tripping.
Before we get started, there is one question that you may be asking: Why do it all in one day when you could spend a leisurely weekend making the barbecue rounds? There are, of course, the usual budget and schedule constraints. Doing it this way is faster and cheaper. But for a true barbecue lover, the real reason is the experience of sampling Texas's best barbecue all in one day, one right after another, comparing and contrasting the whole way. Well, that and just being able to say you did it.
Itinerary. This part of the trip is basically predetermined because Snow's BBQ -- considered the best barbecue in Texas -- is only open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until around noon (or when they run out of barbecue). For that reason, the trip must take place on a Saturday, and you must leave early. We left Houston at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at Snow's in Lexington, Texas, at 9:30 a.m. From there you head north to Taylor and Louie Mueller BBQ. Then back south to Lockhart, home of Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market. The final stop is Luling, home of City Market. Driving the speed limit and allowing for about an hour at each location, you can easily make it to Luling by 4 p.m. After an hour there, it's another two-and-a-half hour drive back to Houston.
Pace yourself. The most important thing to remember when on a BBQ Day Trip is to control your barbecue intake. It's natural to sit down at the first joint and load up on lots of barbecue goodies. But you must resist. You've got a full day of barbecue tasting ahead. Get a good sample at each location, savor it, taste it, but don't fill up on it.
Based on our experience, for a four person team, one pound of brisket, two sausages, and two to four ribs (depending on size) should provide a good sample at each location. Skip the sides. They're usually not special enough to sample. The only possible exception may be the beans -- order a small cup and sample between the four of you.
Express yourself. You can be sure that you will not be the only group on a barbecue tour that day. You will see other groups making the rounds. However, most of these other tours will be occurring over several days. You might run into the same group at a couple of locations on your day trip.
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Feel free to start a conversation with members of the other tours -- they are almost always as passionate about Texas barbecue as you are. And they will be impressed that you are doing it in one day. Bask in the adulation.
Also, as unusual as it may sound, consider acquiring commemorative articles of clothing for your tour -- T-shirts, baseball caps, and even baby bibs. Some groups spare no expense on their BBQ tour memorabilia.
Engage the pit masters. The holy-of-holies of any Texas barbecue joint is the walled-off, blistering hot, smoky pit room. You will want to get a picture of each joint's barbecue pits. Some, like Smitty's and City Market, have their pits right next to the ordering area. Others, like Louie Mueller, have their pits tucked away in the back. In any case, feel free to ask the pit master if you can take a picture. In all five barbecue joints we visited, all of the pit masters actively encouraged us to take pictures, and in a couple of cases invited us to take a tour of the facilities. Kerry Bexley and Tootsie Tomanetz at Snow's and Wayne Mueller at Louie Mueller were notable for their enthusiasm and friendliness.
Snow's BBQ. 516 Main Street, Lexington, 979-773-4640 Louie Mueller BBQ. 206 W. 2nd Street, Taylor, 512-352-6206 Kreuz Market. 619 N. Colorado St, Lockhart, 512-398-2361 Smitty's Market. 208 S. Commerce, Lockhart, 512-398-9344 City Market. 633 E. Davis St., Luling, 830-875-9019