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 quite serious about integrating delicious barbecue stops along the way to their respective destinations.
Barbecue road trips are a popular way for people to escape the chaos of city life for a day without having to pack a bag; most Central Texas trips can be completed over the course of a morning and afternoon. With so many restaurants and meat markets to choose from for a meat-centric odyssey, we enlisted the expertise of Daniel Vaughn, the BBQ Snob, to help us compile six themed barbecue road trips for Austinites to set out on this summer.
Vaughn says: Louie Mueller in Taylor is one of the older big barbecue joints that's still around. The restaurant is in its original building and remains run by the family. Louie Mueller is all about great brisket, and I love their beef ribs.
When you're done with Louie Mueller, you have to go to Taylor Cafe right down the street. Vencil Mare, the owner, is like the Godfather of Central Texas barbecue. Their homemade sausages are great. [Vencil] 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 actually just reopened recently. The town of Coupland itself, though, is very historic. Just ten miles west of Coupland is equally historic Cele, TX. 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 a.m., and Sons of Hermann Hall in Deanville, which is about 30 minutes away, opens at 10 a.m. You can roll into Snow's around 8:30 a.m., spend an hour there and then head your way over to Deanville.
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 what Snow's was before Texas Monthly gave them the number one ranking of barbecue in the state.
Southside Market is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas. They opened in 1885, and they also open their 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 a.m., Prause Meat Market in La Grange opens up at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and Zimmerhanzel's opens at 9 a.m.
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 is obviously 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 one that most everybody has probably 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 to get. These two restaurants serve really great barbecue, and if you are out that way, you might as well finish things off 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'm not one that thinks that The Salt Lick is the best in the state or anything, but they certainly create a great experience.
Vaughn says: These three are the reason why the Austin barbecue scene is on the national map. Without these three 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 in order to get great barbecue, I tell them to stay in Austin. Between JMueller BBQ and Franklin barbecue, 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 are going to have heard of Lockhart and Luling barbecue. When people ask me if I had to pick one place to eat in Lockhart or Luling which would it be, 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 fifteen minutes away.
These six trips ought to be enough to keep your stomach and your summer schedule full for quite a while.