These are some of the things Texas barbecue is not:
It is not three-day-old shards of overcooked roast beef drenched in catsup, sitting disconsolately in the steam trays of a deli.
It is not a steak grilling over charcoal on a suburban patio.
It is not a side of beef turning on a spit—and most especially not with Texans lurching around drinking bourbon and branch water in the noonday sun, a la Giant.
It is not shredded pork with peppers of the kind Craig Claiborne, bless him, discovered North Carolinians selling by the quart in goldfish cartons; Texas barbecue is never pork.
That is not to say pork cannot be had in Texas; little restaurants in the eastern counties sell it often, usually on a bun with spicy hot sauce, and occasionally topped with cole slaw, a desecration in the eyes of the true barbecue devotee. But barbecued pork is more southern than Texan, and the tradition of spicy sandwiches has been left in the custody of inspired black barbecuers whose forebears relied on slow cooking and hot sauce to tenderize and mask the flavor of meat deemed unworthy at the Big House.
Authentic Texas barbecue grew up in the resolutely German farming communities of Central Texas. Smalltown meat markets satisfied the hunger of Saturday shoppers who converged from the surrounding countryside. The owners built long, low pits, lit a fire of white oak or mesquite at one end, laid choice cuts of meat inside on a rack at the opposite end, and let the prevailing breezes draw smoky heat—not flame—over the gently simmering beef for up to twenty-four hours.
The result was so good that some places never even bothered with sauce. A typical lunch was built around three-quarter-inch-thick slabs of meat carved from a brisket, sirloin, or rib eye, forked straight from the pit and served on red butcher paper with onions, pickles, and a cold beer. It still is. And to this day the best barbecue in Texas can be found at noontime on Saturdays In small-town meat markets.
Anyone who wants to sample the real thing can do so at a couple of places near Austin. Kreuz Market in Lockhart has occupied the same location since 1900, and looks it. The beef is cooked in the back of the store, as it should be, and your carving knife is likely to be chained to the roughhewn table. Master chef Fred Fountaine, at Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, is a virtuoso at barbecuing briskets; his oniony sauce is a masterwork twenty years in the making.
Two of the best citified barbecues are at Sonny Bryan’s (above) ramshackle drive-in not far from downtown Dallas, and Angelo’s sawdust-floored beer parlor in Fort Worth.
—Griffin Smith, Jr.