Texas Monthly’s newest list of the Top 50 BBQ joints features some old favorites, but an-up-and-coming generation of pitmasters with new ideas dominate the top.
Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, spoke to Texas Standard about how they make the rankings.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about the choicest bites at the top five joints in Texas.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Can you tell us about how you come up with this list of top 50 barbecue joints? What’s the process?
Daniel Vaughn: We only do this every four years and my full time job is going around the state and eating barbecue. So my full time job is essentially a scouting mission for this. We put together a big team of people from Texas Monthly and a few freelancers, and they canvass the state based on a list that I put together of spots that they need to hit. And they have a score sheet. I coach them through that score sheet. I go through them and then I go make second or third visits to any of the barbecue joints that we really need a closer look at or that I need to go to [again]. There aren’t any places in the Texas monthly top 50 that I haven’t personally been to. There’s none of them in the top 10 that we haven’t made multiple visits to.
This article’s a ranking, but it’s also sort of a check in, an assessment of what’s happening out there on the barbecue landscape in Texas. What trends are you seeing now that perhaps we didn’t four years ago?
The trends across the board are the fact that we’ve still got our brisket, sausage and pork ribs, but everybody’s really just trying to get that edge – get that specialty item outside of that classic Texas trinity. It’s still built on the solid foundation of traditional Texas barbecue items, but there’s just so much more innovation these days.
Let’s run through the top five on the list, and you can tell us why they ranked so highly. Let’s start with #5, from South Austin. We have LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue. What is special about that place?
Of the innovative places, this is probably the most innovative. They’ve got everything from beef cheeks that they do every day – they’re like miniature fatty brisket – to even-smoked beets and smoked cauliflower. They were one of the first to do whole hog in Texas, which is really not something that you’d normally find in Texas. Evan LeRoy, the pitmaster there, was the pitmaster at Freedman’s when it was in the top 50. It’s just a little food truck in a gravel lot in South Austin, and they just serve an incredible variety of really well-made barbecue.
#4 is the Burnt Bean Co. from Seguin. What stands out there?
Really the new kids on the block here. They are just a year old now, and they’re in Seguin. Most of our other top joints here, other than, of course, Snow’s in Lexington, are in the big cities. Burnt Bean really stands out for being in that small town. And it’s really one of the places that, when I first wrote about them, the first time I went, I was just stunned at how well they were doing everything for a brand new barbecue joint. And every time I’ve gone back, it’s just gotten better, which is really crazy.
At #3, it’s TRUTH BBQ from Houston. Tell us about that place.
TRUTH, the original one in Brenham, made our top 10 list before. They’ve moved up quite a bit in their new Houston location, which is really just one of the most beautiful places to go eat barbecue. It really does everything well across the board. Also, [there’s] another [place that’s] started to do a whole hog barbecue. So it seems to be one of those things that’s really making its way into Texas barbecue.
So #2 is also in Austin, it’s Interstellar BBQ.
Yeah, that would really be our underdog of the list. But the scores kept rolling in, visit after visit of just incredible barbecue, incredible sides – really inventive sides as well – and inventive specials. I just had a stuffed chile relleno there the last time I was in. [They’re] really pushing the horizons for Texas barbecue.
And drum roll. At the top of Texas Monthly’s 2021 list of the top 50 barbecue joints is Goldee’s from Fort Worth. Why were they number one?
These guys are a young bunch. But if you take together all of their experience, it adds up to a whole lot. They’re all friends from high school and they got together after working at some of the best barbecue joints in Texas. They brought all their knowledge together into this one barbecue joint, which opened last year at the worst timing – right before the pandemic. And every time I’ve gone in, every item on that tray is just pure perfection. A lot of separating one through five is trying to find mistakes and weak spots. And some of them are just minute, and we just couldn’t find any at Goldee’s.