When it comes to barbecue, the Lone Star State is made up of a broad patchwork of regions, each with its own distinctive style that bleeds over into bordering territories like tangy mop sauce dripping onto hot coals. In Central Texas, you’ll typically find barbecue made with a simple dry rub, smoked at low temperatures over wood, with nary an accouterment insight. In the western part of the state, however, meats are often cooked over a lively open mesquite flame. East Texas pitmasters favor hickory wood for their low-and-slow methods, serving meats slathered with a tomato-based glaze, while down south, the sauce is often molasses-based and basted onto the meat to lock in moisture while it roasts. Here in San Antonio, you’ll find a barbecue style that borrows techniques and ingredients from all these regions while simultaneously infusing it with Mexican traditions that fuses—often even blurs the line between—Texas’ two most celebrated cuisines.
“San Antonio has a little bit of everything,” says Jason Dady, the restaurateur behind Range, Tre Trattoria at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Jardín, and Two Bros. BBQ Market. “Heavily inspired by Luling, Lockhart, and our Mexican influences, you can find all types of barbecue.”
Elsewhere, pitmaster Esaul Ramos, Jr. of 2M Smokehouse fame sees big things on the smoke-filled horizon for his city.
“Barbecue in San Antonio is definitely on the rise—I’ve always felt that it’s one of the last untapped markets in Texas,” he says. “Being from South Texas, there are flavors you can’t get anywhere else. The incorporation of that Tex-Mex touch is something that you grow up with. I think that South Texas has had a huge influence on a lot of the menu offerings you see today, and I love how it shines a light on Mexican culture—the seasonings, spices, and love just feels like home, regardless where you’re from.”
As such, tacos are a staple at several local barbecue joints, stuffed with fillings that elevate the form thanks to the style’s inherently meaty focus. And unlike most anywhere else in Texas, pairing your smoked brisket with a side of beans and rice is as commonplace as potato salad and coleslaw. The cuts of meat skew different, too, with tongue (aka lengua) leading the pack, followed by cow's head transformed into tender, juicy Barbacoa.
Ready to dig in? We’ve rounded up 16 area barbecue joints and food trucks worth a gut-busting visit, complete with endorsements from local experts.