Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pit Quest Saturday - An 8-Stop Central Texas BBQ Road Trip

By now, it should be no secret that I love hitting the road in search of great Texas BBQ. This past Saturday with my regular Quest partners Andrew and Bryan, we set out to tackle some of the treasured BBQ joints on the back roads to Austin, and also re-visit some of our favorites in the Austin area.

We had a guest with us on this trip--we were joined by Misty Roegels, of Roegels Barbecue Co. in Houston. Misty is always up for exploring Texas BBQ joints, and, being a BBQ proprietor with her husband Russell, she could justify the time away from the restaurant for a day as a little "research and development." Also joining us was Bryan's son Wyatt, making us a team of 5 this time.

We had planned to visit 6 or 7 BBQ joints, with contingencies for unanticipated closures or early sell-outs--an agenda that was certainly feasible, given our 10-stop trip earlier this year. Even though our first destination was planned to be Snow's in Lexington, right out of the gate we added City Meat Market in Giddings since we would be going right by there soon after their early morning opening. We thought the least we could do was give them a chance.

1. City Meat Market - Giddings, TX

City Meat Market, Giddings, TX, early morning

City Meat Market is one of those places we've driven by countless times. I think only one of us had even been there previously. We had seen reports over the years that they can be hit or miss, so our expectations weren't very high. It turns out that might be a good frame of mind in which to start the day. We chose brisket, pork sparerib, and a sausage link. The owner, Gerald Birkelbach, added a few pieces of smoked pork butt to our order, asking us to give him our thoughts.

Quiet time in the morning at City Meat Market

The sparerib was peppery and salty, but in a pleasant way due to its difference from most spareribs we encounter. We decided it was likely due to being seasoned with table salt, given its more concentrated flavor than the kosher salt used by many BBQ joints. The sausage, predominantly beef blended with a little pork, was juicy and delicious. Brisket was smoky, but not in a particularly good way, and could have used some more time on the pit and a rest. The highlight here had to be the pork butt. Great pork flavor throughout and nicely seasoned. Gerald says he cuts his pork butts about an inch-and-a-half thick, adds his seasonings, and they get a smoke bath on his direct heat pits. This turned out to be a memorable experience, and I will definitely make the stop again if its early in the day, rather than just pass by on the way to Austin, wondering if I should.

Smoked pork butt, brisketsausage, and pork sparerib

Not a bad line at all for a Saturday at Snow's

A trip to Snow's BBQ is always preceded with giddy anticipation. Not only are all their products very good, but the setting is like stepping back into BBQ history. Plus it's always a pleasure to get to visit with owner Kerry Bexley, and pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz, working the pits. Interestingly on this day, we arrived to see an extensive setup by a film crew working on a shoot for the day. Turns out it was actress Debi Mazar and her husband Gabriele Corcos, working on an episode of their Cooking Channel show, "ExtraVirgin".  Their crew was filming set up shots with customers while we were ordering and eating, and were just getting started with a scene as we finished up.

Juicy Snow's brisket

We opted for brisket, pork steak, pork ribs, and chicken this time. Everything was extremely good, and it's very difficult to single out any one item as being outstanding above the others. I was glad we were able to get the pork ribs this time; if you don't get there by 9:00 or 9:30, these beauties are usually long gone. I love the smoked chicken at Snow's. Basted in Tootsie's mop sauce while on the pits, the skin comes out crispy, salty, and peppery, and the smoke flavor penetrates throughout without being overpowering.

From the area of Hwy 290 and the Beltway in Houston, it's about 115 miles to Snow's. You can make it in just under 2 hours, so put in on your list for an early Saturday run and you can be back home before noon, having had some of the best BBQ in the state.

As long as you're here, might as well get a little of everything!

3. Taylor Cafe - Taylor, TX

Taylor Cafe, home of Vencil Mares

This was my first trip to Taylor Cafe, and it's much like stepping back into a past era in Texas history. It's not likely the place has changed very much since pitmaster Vencil Mares acquired it in 1948. Vencil, now 91 and still working, considered by many to be the dean of Texas pitmasters, was not there on this day, but you can read more about him in this interview with Texas Monthly from 2014.

Morning customers at Taylor Cafe

With recommendations from others, we had planned to just stop by for some of the turkey sausage, which is as unique as any BBQ bite you'll find in Texas. Peppery and densely-packed, but not particularly juicy, it's still very enjoyable. We lingered a while, and when our server checked back with us, she suggested we try some of their beef links, which turned out to be a hit. Rich and beefy, juicy in the right way, this was a great all-around Czech-style beef sausage.

Taylor Cafe turkey sausage

4. Louie Mueller Barbecue - Taylor, TX

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

Though not on our original agenda, but since we were close by right after their opening, we had to make a visit to Louie Mueller's. "Maybe we'll have just a bite," we said to each other. While we were ordering, pit manager Jason Tedford graciously offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour before we left. 

Beautiful briskets on the board at Louie Mueller Barbecue

That bite turned out to be a pretty decent slice of fatty brisket, but then someone whipped out a Q Card, and the Louie Mueller Q Card benefit of homemade peach cobbler with ice cream landed on our tray. With spoons for everyone, the cobbler and ice cream proved to be a welcome break from our BBQ-only consumption so far.

The Q Card will get you a peach cobbler with ice cream with your order here

Jason showed us around in back and we eyed the briskets just loaded for the next day in the brick, direct-heat pits. These were built in 2014 to replace the original brick pits. We appreciated the opportunity to be able to see a little of the operation of the BBQ establishment considered by many to be the "grandfather of them all" in Texas BBQ.

5. Secret Stop - Undisclosed Location

I can't tell you anything about this place, since it's a home operation of a friend, and "things are in development." Suffice it to say, the brisket and homemade sausage here is extremely well-executed. If we're all lucky, we'll see the return of this guy to the Texas BBQ scene in the not-to-distant future.

Brisket game is strong here. So is the homemade sausage.

6. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew - Austin, TX

Checking in again on Stiles Switch

We paid our second visit to Stiles Switch this year, choosing pork spareribs, jalapeno cheddar sausage and moist brisket this time. The seasoning on the ribs was different, with a spice undertone I wasn't quite able to identify. The brisket on this day proved to be the star. Delectable would be an understatement. The flavor balance was present all the way through each slice. Given the size of the fat cap, we wondered if the brisket might not have been trimmed prior to its time in the smoke, but it was a non-issue. The ratio of cap to muscle turned out to be on target, with the rendering just right, for tender, juicy flavor in every bite. We will be back for this brisket.

Fantastic brisket this day at Stiles Switch

Yes, it's as bad as this, everywhere we stop. We know it looks ridiculous.

7. Freedmen's Bar - Austin, TX

The smokehouse and back entrance at Freedmen's 

Freedmen's, with pitmaster Evan LeRoy at the helm, is probably the most underrated BBQ in Texas, but is quickly gaining statewide notoriety, with some national recognition beginning to creep in. This means the jig is up, and you better get to Freedmen's while you still can. Based on the quality of the product they consistently turn out, and word being spread on social media, I would expect their traffic levels to begin to steadily build.

We split the Holy Trinity Plate again--pork ribs, house-made sausage, and fatty brisket, with some bark/end pieces thrown in. Everything was exceptional. Even the pickles, pickled jalapenos and onions, and focaccia are made in-house. All for just $19, and it's plenty to share. I ordered one additional item this time, and unfortunately it did not make the pictures (yes, we ate it all!). The smoked jalapeno pimento cheese spread  for $7 was absolutely fantastic. Served as a scoop on a small wooden cutting board with several slices of their homemade focaccia, it was truly excellent, and will be a must-order on all future trips to Freedmen's. 

Holy Trinity Plate

8. John Mueller Meat Co. - Austin, TX

John Mueller Meat Co.

Finding good BBQ in the late afternoon can sometimes be a challenge, but at John Mueller Meat Co. we didn't have that problem. Admittedly, we were tired and full at this point, but if John is still open and has food to sell, who are we to deny him the opportunity to sell it to us? We arrived about 4:00 pm, just as their day was ending, and met our friend and fellow blogger Jimmy Ho there. 

This brisket was very good and still moist and tender late in the day. The bark had a nice crunch and the flavor penetration was perceptible throughout. This ranked right up there with the best brisket of the trip. No doubt about it--when John Mueller is on his game, his product is hard to beat. We look forward to a return visit soon, and will make sure it's earlier in our trip so we have time (and room!) to sample the complete menu.

Late day brisket from John Mueller was still moist and very good

Because Texas, y'all

Including our "secret stop," we visited 8 places on this trip, well within our range and capabilities for a full day. We splurged a little at a couple of places (it's hard to limit yourself at Snow's!), but we still had room to finish. The last click of the odometer at the point we started told us this Quest registered in at 372 miles round trip, and in just under 15 hours total. Best of the day:

  Best brisket: Stiles Switch BBQ & John Mueller Meat Co.
  Best pork sparerib: Snow's BBQ
  Best sausage: City Meat Market & Taylor Cafe beef sausage

Don't be intimidated about making a Quest of your own. Pick a couple of friends you wouldn't mind road tripping with, map a route of places you would like to eat, set aside a Saturday and hit the road! There's lots of beautiful Texas to see, and who knows--maybe you'll find a hidden BBQ gem on the back roads somewhere along the way. Any if you have any questions or would like some recommendations, please let me know.

Eat good BBQ, my friends.

 - Scott

City Meat Market, 101 W. Austin St., Giddings, TX 78942, (979) 542-2740.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. Saturday 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. Closed Sunday.

Snow's BBQ, 516 Main St., Lexington, TX 78947, (979) 542-8189 weekdays, (979) 773-4640 Saturdays.
Hours: Saturday only, 8:00 am until sold out.

Taylor Cafe, 101 N. Main St., Taylor, TX 76574, (512) 352-8475.
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Friday 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. Saturday 9:00 am to 11:00 pm. Closed Sunday.

Louie Mueller Barbecue, 206 W 2nd St., Taylor, TX 76574, (512) 352-6206.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Sunday.

Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew, 6610 N. Lamar, Austin, TX 78757, (512) 380-9199.
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. Friday and Saturday, 11:00 am to
10:00 pm. Sunday 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. Closed Mondays.


Freedmen's, 2402 San Gabriel St., Austin, TX 78705, (512) 220-0953.
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 11:00 am to 10:00 pm. Thursday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 12:00 am. Sunday, 11:00 am to 10:00 pm. Closed Mondays.

John Mueller Meat Co., 2500 E. 6th St., Austin, TX 78704, (512) 796-1322.
Hours: Thursday through Tuesday, 10:30 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Wednesday.



  1. I've been saving all of these Austin 'cue places for last so I'm not ruined for hitting all the others on the 2013 Texas Monthly top 50. I've been thinking about combining them with my pie blog stops (http://pie-biting-frog.blogspot.com/2015/07/best-places-in-texas-for-pie.html). I would like to do two regional BBQ trips outside Austin and Dallas - one to the Hill Country for Buzzie's (Kerrville), Cooper's (Llano), and Cranky Frank's (Fredericksburg) since I've already been to Opie's (Spicewood) and fell in love with their butterbeans. The other would be a NE Texas BBQ trip to hit Stanley's (Tyler), Bob's (Henderson), Joseph's Riverport BBQ (Jefferson), and Hitch-N-Post BBQ (Livingson). I've done Billy's (Jasper) and was not a fan, so I remain fairly skeptical about east Texas BBQ. Interested in doing either of those road trips?

    1. We have an extensive East Texas trip mapped out, just haven't picked a date for it yet. We are cautiously optimistic, at best. Will be happy to have you along when we do decide to go.

    2. Keep me posted. If I'm free it sounds like fun.

  2. Love the idea of barbecue road trips....I'm not an expert, just love brisket. You ever have anyone tag along with you guys?

    1. Yes, we have. When the level of participation gets too big for one car, we take multiple vehicles and caravan.