Texas is best known for smoked brisket. Unlike Kansas City-style brisket, Texans don’t drench it in sauce. In fact, at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, perhaps the best-known barbecue joint in the country, they only started offering sauce two years ago. This place is about as old-school as you can get. The meat is served on butcher block paper and with a knife. The forks are plastic, for eating their German potato salad.
Where’s the best barbecue in Texas? Kreuz Market has the history, having been in business since 1900, but I found their brisket too dry, even with the sauce. Franklin in Austin has the current big reputation but they had a fire and were closed when we visited. My favorite was Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q in Llano. Just the right ratio of crispy crust on the outside and tender melting beef on the inside and with an outstanding pepper based sauce to rival the best in Kansas City. When you arrive you line up at the pit and pick the piece of meat you want.
Texas Chili is another beef obsession. Texans insist that beans in chili are an abomination. And you know what? They’re right. Beans are a distraction when you’re looking for pure beefy essence. Tolbert’s in Grapevine, north of Dallas, has a good Texas chili.
For pure Texas excess, its hard to beat John Tresor’s monster 240-day aged Ribeye at Knife in Dallas (pictured above). It tasted like it was basted in gorgonzola, a little funky, but there’s nothing wrong with funk.
Even Texas peasant food is beefy. Chicken-fried steak is an art form at Hill Country Cupboard in Johnson City, where self-deprecation is taken to a new level. Their sign says “Best Chicken Fried Steak in the World (over 3 dozen sold)”. It’s tender with a crunchy crust, and a creamy gravy packed with cracked pepper.
And at Chris Madrid’s in San Antonio their specialty is the macho tostada burger. The burger rests on refried beans, onions and tortilla chips topped off with a mountain of melted cheddar. But in the burger sweepstakes I think my favorite was the chili burger at Alamo Springs Café near Luckenbach, just because the beef was of high quality.
And of course Tex-Mex cooking is all about the beef. Beef enchiladas, beef-stuffed chile rellenos, beef guisado. It’s hard to find a dish without beef. They probably put beef in their fish tacos.
So what do you do if you don’t like beef? Well, they will condescend to serve you pork if you insist. For porky goodness skip the Tex Mex and look for south-of-the-border Mexican food. Mi Tierra in San Antonio is known for their Carnitas Michoacan. And at upscale Barley Swine in Austin, a sophisticated Carnitas is usually on their small plates menu. But for pure porky goodness, it’s Cooper’s again. They serve a mammoth pepper-crusted chop that just might make you forget about beef, even in Texas.