Road trips are an intrinsic part of the American experience. Ever since the creation of the Model T, people have packed up their vehicles, filled up the gas tanks and rolled down the windows to experience the wonders and delights of the open road ahead. In the past five years, Texans have become serious about integrating barbecue stops along the way to their respective destinations. In some cases, barbecue is reason enough to hit the road.
With Austin as a home base, any of these Central Texas trips can be completed over the course of a morning and afternoon. If you're driving straight from Dallas, your adventure might take a little longer, but it's worth the extra miles (and calories).
For this meat-centric odyssey, we enlisted the expertise of Daniel Vaughn, the BBQ Snob, to help us compile six barbecue-themed road trips featuring our great state's must-eat temples of smoked meats.
Vaughn says: Louie Mueller in Taylor is one of the older big barbecue joints. The restaurant is in its original building and remains run by the family. Louie Mueller is all about great brisket, and I love the beef ribs.
Taylor Cafe owner Vencil Mare is like the godfather of Central Texas barbecue.
When you're done with Louie Mueller, you have to go to Taylor Cafe right down the street. Owner Vencil Mare is like the godfather of Central Texas barbecue. The homemade sausages are great. [Mare] opened the place in 1948, and the restaurant isn't a whole lot different now than it was then, which is a good thing. It is like a little time capsule for barbecue.
The Coupland Inn just reopened recently. The town of Coupland itself, though, is very historic. Just 10 miles west of Coupland is equally historic Cele, Texas. The Cele Store building was built in the late 1800s. The operation or the barbecue joint itself has changed hands a number of times, but they're still putting out good barbecue from this really old pit. The building is in the middle of nowhere, which makes it unique, but it's always packed.
Vaughn says: You can only go to Snow's and Sons of Hermann Hall on Saturday morning. That's rather convenient, though, because Snow's opens at 8 am, and Sons of Hermann Hall in Deanville, which is about 30 minutes away, opens at 10 am. You can roll into Snow's around 8:30, spend an hour there and head over to Deanville.
Sons of Hermann Hall reminds me of Snow's before Texas Monthly ranked it the no. 1 barbecue in the state.
I included Sons of Hermann Hall because it's a special place to go. I happened upon it through a friend of mine and a good Central Texas guide. There is this old Czech guy who sits out in front of Sons of Hermann Hall every Saturday and cooks up pork steaks, pork ribs, sausage and chicken on an open pit. There is no brisket or beef at all, but it's incredible barbecue, and it was something I had never even heard about. It was a stunning find. It reminded me of Snow's before Texas Monthly ranked it the no. 1 barbecue in the state.
Southside Market, which opened in 1885, is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas. The restaurant opens its doors pretty early too. On your way back to Austin, it's the perfect place to stop in.
Vaughn says: I love these places because they epitomize the meat-market mentality of Central Texas barbecue, meaning they open up before the lunch crowd. City Meat Market opens at 7 am, Prause Meat Market in La Grange opens up at 8 or 9, and Zimmerhanzel's opens at 9 am.
These are really great places that have kept that old meat-market mentality going. Prause is probably the biggest of all the meat markets; it truly serves the community and isn't just kept up there as an homage to the past. The barbecue obviously is the side business.
City Meat Market has a pretty pitiful looking meat counter with the barbecue in the back, so it's easy to tell that the barbecue is really what is going on there. Zimmerhanzel's doesn't have a meat market, but right next door is a slaughter house that I happened to tour.
Vaughn says: This is the popular tour that most everybody has done. These are the places you're going to hit when you go west of Austin. If you've never gone on a Texas road trip for barbecue, this would be one of the coolest ones to do. You're getting away from the city and going into the Hill Country, which is always nice.
Cooper's and Opie's are the obvious joints to visit. The beef ribs and the big chop at Cooper's are two of my favorites dishes. These two restaurants serve really great barbecue, and if you are out that way, you might as well finish at the Salt Lick. That way you'll get your great barbecue early in the day, and you'll get your great atmosphere later at the Salt Lick.
I don't think the Salt Lick is the best in the state or anything, but it certainly is a great experience.
Without JMueller, Franklin and Stiles Switch, I don't think anyone could make a claim that Austin has great barbecue.
Vaughn says: These three are the reason why the Austin barbecue scene is on the national map. Without these places, I don't think anyone could make a claim that Austin has great barbecue.
Whenever people tell me they are going to be in Austin for a little bit and want to know where to drive to get great barbecue, I tell them to stay in the city. Between JMueller and Franklin, there isn't anything much better in the state.
The brisket that I've had at either of those is better than most brisket I've ever gotten in Lockhart of Luling.
Vaughn says: Most of the people have heard of Lockhart and Luling barbecue. When people ask me to pick one place to eat in Lockhart or Luling, my answer is always I would never pick just one. You're there already, so just go sample a couple of places to compare them.
I like to go to Kreuz Market and get the jalapeño cheese sausage and the pork chop. At Black's Barbecue, it's all about the beef ribs and the brisket. Smitty's Market is about the pork ribs and the sausage. Chilshom Trail Bar-B-Que has great sausage. And if you're going to be in Lockhart, you might as well go to Luling, because it's only 15 minutes away.
These six trips ought to be enough to keep your stomach and your summer schedule full for quite a while.