The Brisket House
With three locations in the Houston area, owner/pitmaster Wayne Kammerl has turned his mini-chain into one of the best and most dependable in the city. All outposts are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner (a rarity for top-quality barbecue!) and the Central Texas-style smoked meats here are consistently good. Go with the classic Texas trinity of salt-and-pepper brisket, St. Louis-cut pork ribs and locally made sausage. Make sure you add a square of house-made cornbread to your order. The banana pudding is one of the best versions in the city.
Blood Bros. BBQ
Alief proud partners Robin and Terry Wong and Quy Hoang have created a distinctly Houston barbecue that deftly marries Asian flavors with Central Texas-style 'cue. It’s a joyous union that has earned Blood Bros. national recognition and (saw the "bros." expand with an outpost in a snazzy Las Vegas resort casino). The classic Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs and sausage is always available, but the daily specials are where the fun happens: char-siu pork belly stuffed into a honey-glazed fried bao bun; gochujang or guava glazed pork ribs; pho-rubbed beef belly spring rolls; smoked pork belly vermicelli bowl; smoked chicken pad Thai; and smoked “Q-Bano” (Cuban) sandwich.
Brett’s BBQ Shop
The small but mighty barbecue joint is currently closed but operating in pop-up mode as it waits for its move to larger digs in Katy, scheduled to open soon. When it does, it will re-establish itself as a dining destination for superlative Central Texas-style barbecue thanks to the creative efforts of pitmaster Brett Jackson and business partner Jacqueline Herrera. Jackson excels at sausage making, particularly his all-beef links, but also inventive sausages such as chicken “cordon bleu” and pork tamale varieties. The new location will have a full bar and an all-day menu of Brett’s signatures that after 4 p.m. will segue to a bar-food menu including sandwiches, burgers, wings, empanadas, brisket enchiladas and plenty of smoked-meat-based appetizers.
Burns Original BBQ
Roy Burns Sr. started out selling barbecue by the side of the road in his Acres Home neighborhood in the 1970s, becoming a fixture in that area known for East Texas-style barbecue. His sons Gary and Steve would eventually take over, and after some ownership changes it is now helmed by grandson Cory Crawford, who continues to expand the Burns Original BBQ brand. The chopped beef sandwich is a classic Houston dish, and don’t miss the weekly rib sandwich special. The sausage here is a type of creole sausage known as chaurice, with a spicy, smoky, pork-laden flavor that is a meal unto itself.
Owners Will and Nichole Buckman are one of Houston’s bright barbecue success stories, having turned their initial food truck operation into a packed brick-and-mortar location that sells out almost daily. Their Old Town Spring restaurant excels at brisket, pork ribs and pulled pork. There’s plenty of praise, too, for the house turkey, sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes and house-made cobblers; tacos, salads, and crave-worthy sides are also on the menu. Arrive early to snatch a numbered ticket for your place in line.
One of Greater Houston’s legacy barbecue joints got an infusion of energy and creativity in 2020 when pitmaster Jim Buchanan took over culinary operations at Dozier’s. Buchanan, known locally for his work as Buck’s Barbecue at Lucky’s Lounge in EaDo (and before that at Pappa Charlie’s in EaDo), quickly got to transforming the old-school menu at Dozier’s to a contemporary craft barbecue menu. Today, Dozier’s is known for its solid lineup of brisket, pork ribs, turkey, sausage and boudin.
It's rare for a style of barbecue from outside of Texas to succeed here, but Jamie and Karen Fain have done just that at Fainmous BBQ located in a tucked-away strip center in the Sawyer Yards entertainment complex. The Fains hail from East Tennessee, which is close enough to North Carolina to bring a heavily influenced pulled-pork style of barbecue with a spicy vinegar-and-tomato sauce. Sides are also excellent, including creamy spinach, mac 'n' cheese and smoked cauliflower. Murals on the dining room walls hark back the Fains' time growing up in Tennessee.
While its initial shop in the Greenway Plaza food court still goes strong, Feges’ newer, larger outpost in Spring Branch is where owners Patrick Feges and Erin Smith have made maximum impact with a menu of traditional and creative dishes. Central Texas-style barbecue as well as whole hog and pulled pork star on the menu. But there’s so much more to enjoy, such as barbecue bowls, smoked wings, smoked meatballs, loaded baked potatoes, barbecue sandwiches, fried chicken and a double-patty house burger. Sides like Korean braised greens and Moroccan spiced carrots are money, as are desserts. Very kid-friendly.
One of Houston’s first craft barbecue joints had its beginnings as a small takeout counter spot. But the Gatlin family’s unique blend of East and Central Texas-style smoked meats gained such a devoted following that a big, modern restaurant was in order. Those nice digs, opened in 2015, is where pitmaster Greg Gatlin and his family are serving up their menu of barbecue (brisket, ribs, turkey, pulled pork, whole chicken, sausages) rounded out by sandwiches, baked potatoes, combo plates; and wonderful sides including dirty rice. Gatlin’s is of the few craft barbecue joints to serve breakfast; make sure to get the state-of-the-art biscuits baked by executive chef Michelle Wallace.
Goode Co. Barbecue
The thriving and still growing Goode Company empire began with a small, risky, all-or-nothing barbecue joint created by the late Jim Goode. Today his son, Levi Goode, presides over a collection of restaurants cherished by Houstonians. But it all began with simple ’cue: beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken, Czech sausage, turkey breast and ham. Barbecue finds its way into sandwiches, po’boys, and potatoes, tricked out with sides, classic jalapeño cheese bread, and that famous Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie.
Harlem Road Texas BBQ
Harlem is what happens when you take a classically trained chef who switches gears from white tablecloth dining to deep immersion in Central Texas-style barbecue. Owner/pitmaster Ara Malekian’s rustic Richmond smokehouse easily has earned its place in the hearts of Houston-area barbecue fans for its menu of standout brisket, beef ribs and house-made sausages. Save room for his beans cooked with meat drippings, potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese with brisket burnt ends, and expert desserts (butterscotch chocolate chip cookies and chocolate bread pudding, anyone?). Clap your hands for Fridays when he serves slow-smoked lamb chops.
JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ
Pitmaster/taquero Joseph Quellar has made a name for his Mexican-infused Texas barbecue, even without a brick-and-mortar location. JQ’s website offers limited pick-up ordering for his whole smoked brisket and tamales for pick up at designated location. Where Quellar truly excels is with his brisket birria tacos, a dish Houston has fallen hard for. Those griddled birria tacos, oozing Oaxaca cheese and served with the requisite consommé, have become a sensation; available at occasional pop-ups and at Rice Village Farmers Market and M-K-T Sunset Market (check Instagram account).
Don Nguyen started hosting barbecue pop-ups around Houston in 2018, incorporating many of his family's Vietnamese-American cooking techniques he learned growing up. He named the new venture Khoi, the Vietnamese word for "smoke." Nguyen's exacting standards and unparalleled creativity launched several instant Houston barbecue classics such as brisket bun bo hue, brisket pho, and smoked beef rib panang curry. Pop-ups continue on a regular basis (check Instagram) but get there early, because the growing number of fans start lining up as much as two hours before start time to ensure they get their fix.
There’s usually a line outside chef Ronnie Killen’s eponymous barbecue joint for good reason. Killen put Pearland on the state’s barbecue map when he opened in 2013 in a building that was his former elementary school cafeteria. Known for having one of the area’s best Texas trinities, there are prizes to be found beyond traditional dishes, too. Pork belly burnt ends are sweet, savory and rich. There’s even a Tex-Mex-inspired menu featuring brisket nachos, tacos and quesadillas. The Killen’s barbecue legend has expanded to locations in The Woodlands and Cypress, making Killen Houston’s most recognizable smoked meat king.
Lonestar Sausage & BBQ
There has been a sausage renaissance in Houston's barbecue scene in recent years, with many joints making their own instead of buying it from a distributor. Indeed, the tagline at Lonestar Sausage & BBQ is "Made not bought," reflecting owner Kevin Mason's obsession with making some the best sausage in the city, from kielbasa-style pork and beef versions to an all-beef-filling Southeast Texas-style offering. Check out the rest of the traditional barbecue menu too, and settle into the small but living room-like dining room where Mason is a constant presence. The space next door has been acquired and being renovated into a bigger dining room.
With no formal training, Grant Pinkerton opened his restaurant in 2016 with help from his parents and a determination to succeed. He landed on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list in 2017, a swift and well-earned triumph. Today, Pinkerton’s has flourished, opening a second outpost in barbecue-hungry San Antonio in 2021. His unapologetically Central Texas-style barbecue menu includes exemplary brisket, enormous and deliciously charred beef ribs, pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage, boudin and turkey breast. His Houston joint is the rare barbecue venue with a full bar (barbecue goes particularly well with bourbon, after all) and an engaging wine list. The menu includes side dishes such as jalapeño cheese rice and smoked duck and sausage jambalaya, plus joyous from-scratch desserts.
The Pit Room
The early success of this Montrose craft barbecue joint, opened in 2016, allowed owner Michael Sambrooks to create a Houston hospitality company that now includes 1751 Sea & Bar, Candente, and the upcoming Andiron steakhouse. But smoke still runs strong through Sambrooks’ veins; he’s opening a second Pit Room location in Memorial next year where his lineup of brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, pulled pork, turkey and chicken will have a new, bigger showcase. There’s much to like here, including sausages (Czech style, venison, and pork studded with jalapeño and cheddar), barbecue tacos and breakfast tacos built on brisket fat tortillas, Texas red chili and Frito pie, sandwiches and sides terrific mustardy potato salad.
One of the oldest continuously operating barbecue joints in Houston, Pizzitola's started out as Shepherd Drive Bar-B-Q Stand in 1934 on its namesake street where it crosses I-10 today. When the freeway was built in the 1950s, the owners took apart the old pits brick-by-brick and moved them to the current location where they are still used. Jerry Pizzitola bought the joint in the 1980s and retired recently. New ownership has expanded and improved the menu anchored by the excellent dry-rub pork ribs, with new dishes such as brisket enchiladas (a weekly special) drawing in new and bigger crowds.
Ray’s BBQ Shack
As a sheriff deputy, Ray Busch worked security for various bars and night clubs and noted the busy barbecue guys serving hungry guests in the parking lot. After retiring, he started his own food trailer and eventually opened a brick-and-mortar location of Ray's Real Pit BBQ Shack in Third Ward where he grew up. He brought in partners Maxine Davis and Herb Taylor to help run this busy barbecue spot on Old Spanish Trail. This is some of the best East Texas-style barbecue in Houston with terrific smoked meats combined with Creole classics like gumbo, fried fish, boudin and fried corn on the cob.
Reveille Barbecue Co.
Reveille has survived quite a few locations and lineup changes over the years and is currently helmed by original partner Michael Michna. Starting from a small roadside stand, the current brick-and-mortar location occupies a slot is a strip center on a busy stretch of Highway 249 just north of Tomball. Michna and team produce excellent Central Texas-style barbecue with house-made sausages leading the way. Brisket enchiladas, Texas red-style chili and accompanying Frito pies are all on the specials menu any given day.
The charms are plenty at the two family-run restaurants from Russell and Misty Roegels. The husband-and-wife team pour their passions into a menu known for both classic Texas barbecue traditions augmented by inventive weekly specials including Texified versions of Cuban, Reuben (constructed with house-made pastrami) and fried turkey katsu-style sandwiches. Their in-house sausage program, which includes brisket-filled boudin also distinguishes Roegels from the local barbecue pack. Misty’s sides and desserts are classics, including a bright Texas caviar salad and a boozy banana pudding. Two locations – the original on S. Voss and newer store in Katy with a full bar – make Roegels distinctive barbecue within easy reach.
Southern Q BBQ
Steve Garner worked as a truck driver and wife Sherice a schoolteacher when he started cooking barbecue for friends and members of their church. In 2014 they opened a food trailer serving classic East Texas-style barbecue including boudin, turkey legs and smothered oxtails, along with the Texas trinity. Their current location on Richey Road is in a renovated house with a wood-paneled dining room that makes you feel like right at home. If you're really hungry, try the "Big Poppa" stuffed baker with a full pound of meat stacked on top of an enormous baked potato.
Tejas Chocolate & BBQ
Brothers Greg and Scott Moore and partner Michelle Holland originally launched Tejas as a bean-to-bar chocolate enterprise, selling barbecue on the side. Their post-oak smoked meats eventually became the calling card, drawing smoked-meat aficionados to Old Town Tomball. The handcrafted chocolates made from cacao beans roasted “low and slow” remains very much a part of the Tejas business, providing a sweet ending to meals built around brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs, turkey, chicken, and sausage. Also on the menu: barbecue nachos, salads, sandwiches, tacos and stuffed Texas-size potatoes. The house carrot souffle has become a signature side.
The city's buzziest barbecue shop, which took the highest Houston honors in last year’s Texas Monthly list of the state’s Top 50 barbecue joints, is justly admired for pitmaster Leonard Botello IV’s Central Texas-style smoked meats. The Washington Avenue outpost’s trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage is one of the best in town. When Carolina-style whole hog is offered (usually weekends), it’s not to be missed. Side dishes (coleslaw, pinto beans, potato salad), brisket boudin, tater tot casserole, and colossal house-made layer cakes impress. With its full bar and welcoming patio, Truth is also just plain fun.
Willow’s Texas BBQ
Partners in life and barbecue Willow Villarreal and Jasmine Barela have journeyed far and wide in the Texas barbecue universe, but arguably their best venue is the occasional pop-ups they host at bars around town where they can serve their most popular Central Texas-style dishes. Posting up as Willow's Texas BBQ tags. ie (check their Facebook page for dates) , pitmaster Willow's tippy-top-notch salt-and-pepper brisket and Barela's sides — think marinated cherry tomatoes and cauliflower au gratin — set the standard in Houston.