Texas barbecue is unlike any other food culture. Find out what makes it special with our Texas BBQ style guide, and get some ideas for your next backyard smoked brisket, ribs or pulled pork.
Texas is known for everything being big. And I’m not just talking about barbecue. Whether it’s buildings, cars, or food, Texans do things on the large side. Heck, even the state is big. And we salute them for it.
But barbecue is where they really come into their own. Few would argue that the Lone Star State is among a handful of states that really know how to do BBQ right.
While Tennessee, the Carolinas, Missouri and Georgia all have offer unique methods that we love, Texas has its own special style that is unmatched.
In this guide we’ll take a look at what exactly goes into Texas BBQ, the different styles in the state, and how best to enjoy it. Let’s get into it!
What is Texas Barbecue?
Texas BBQ is unique because it covers different styles of barbecue that differ region-to-region within the state. Central, South, West and East Texas all have different approaches to meat prep and cooking. However, when a food is listed as ‘Texas Style’ it usually means that it has been prepared in line with Central Style BBQ.
Central Texas Style is large cuts of meat, like brisket, seasoned with just salt and black pepper, and then cooked low and slow over indirect heat. Hickory and post oak are popular smoking woods.
Brisket is the star of the show. While the cooking style does enjoy pork ribs, beef ribs, and pulled pork, these are often served as a platter around the beef centerpiece.
No Texas combo plate is complete without brisket, and so it follows that any pitmaster worth their salt needs to be able to serve up a solid plate of the meat.
Different Texas BBQ Styles
Texas style BBQ differs region-to-region, and there are in fact four distinct types between East, Central, South and West Texas. When we talk about ‘Texas barbecue’ in general, we are usually referring to central varieties, however the other styles have plenty to love about them too.
Low and slow cooked meat that often hits ‘fall off the bone’ types of consistency. Often characterised by sweet tomato-based sauces, and hickory wood.
Things are often kept simple by only using salt and black pepper for seasoning, and sauce is sometimes ignored altogether. Meat is smoked over mesquite, pecan or oak.
Unlike other approaches, West style is cooked over direct heat that’s similar to grilling. Often referred to as ‘cowboy style‘, it uses mesquite wood to give it a very pronounced and unique flavor.
Characterised by thick sauces layered on the meat to keep it moist long after cooking. Southern style is similar to barbacoa, a Mexican style used for beef, lamb and goat.
Texas Beef Brisket
Beef brisket is the star of the show when it comes to Texas barbecue. It could be argued that this dates back to the state’s heritage in cattle farming, but it could just be because beef brisket is big. Brisket is an iconic cut of meat, and there aren’t many states that do it better.
Brisket can be broken down into two main sections. One is the ‘flat’, and the other is the ‘point’. The point is much fattier than the flat, so usually makes for a better cut of brisket. However, many restaurant or BBQ joints offer both, and some people even cook them together.
Beef ribs are different to pork thanks to their intense flavor and large size. It’s no surprise then that they’re a Texas staple. Each rib is big enough to turn the head of a Flinstone, so if a big showstopper is what you’re after then beef ribs should do the job.
Plate ribs are the ideal cut you want to get, but the bad news is that very few butchers or restaurants stock them. Thankfully, chuck ribs are a good fallback option. They’re not quite as big, but are great served individually and still carry a great amount of meat.
True to tradition, these beef ribs are also only seasoned with black pepper and kosher salt.
BBQ Pork Ribs
Forget the BBQ sauce, Texas ribs are done with just salt and pepper. When choosing your meat, you’ll want a rack with a good amount of marbling for maximum flavor.
Just like with any other rib recipe you’ll need to remove the membrane and trim any excess fat hanging off the ends.
Cooked at around 250°F over indirect heat, they should be done after no more than 2 hours. To find out more check out our Texas baby back ribs recipe.
Other Texas BBQ Traditions
Texas barbecue is about much more than just light seasoning and big cuts of meat. Here are some other key characteristics of the state’s beloved BBQ culture.
Sauce is for the side
Texas is all about the meat, so you’re not going to find layers of BBQ sauce cooked onto your ribs or brisket. They believe that the meat should do all the talking, and who are we to disagree? Sauce is best served on the side instead.
Pitmasters are keen on doing things the old-fashioned way, and no tradition is more sacred than cooking over a hardwood fire. The most common varieties of wood you’ll see are oak, hickory and mesquite.
Low and slow
Barbecue smoking is best done low and slow, and there aren’t many other BBQ styles that do this like Texan. Pitmasters will often cook their brisket overnight over low heat, sometimes for as long as 20 hours.
Salt and pepper
We all love a good BBQ rub, but Texas style keeps things simple. Instead of loading their rubs with herbs and spices, it’s commonplace for their seasoning just to contain an even mix of black pepper and coarse kosher salt. This is the best way to let the natural juices in beef and pork come to the fore, giving you delicious and tender meat.
Is Texas BBQ wet or dry?
Texas BBQ only uses dry seasoning, especially salt and black pepper. It avoids the use of wet ingredients, such as vinegar, oil or BBQ sauce.