July 15th, 2011
09:15 AM ET
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This summer, CNN's Defining America project is traveling the country with the CNN Express bus and iReport to explore the stories behind the data and demographics that show how places are changing. This week, CNN brings you coverage from Texas.

Barbecue.

In Texas, that's a word worth fighting for.

Just ask the owner of City Meat Market in Lee County, Texas, where folks have been wolfing down beef, chicken and pork served on traditional pink butcher paper for nearly 70 years. Texas Monthly Magazine ranked it among the Top 50 BBQ joints in the state.

Obviously unbiased, owner Gerald Birkelbach will tell you Texas makes the best barbecue in the world, bar none. (That includes the Carolinas, folks. Ouch.)

In fact, Texas musician Lyle Lovett is a fan of the Meat Market and stops by the restaurant regularly. Willie Nelson has taken a seat here more than once.

Turns out Lee County is almost a mirror of the entire United States, ethnically and racially. You can see that diversity in the faces of patrons at this classic meat-lover's paradise.

So when CNN’s Defining America project went to Lee County to investigate the stats, we had to test out a meal of chopped brisket, sausage and ribs – with the accompanying white sliced bread, of course. Looking for sides? Try the potato salad. Dessert? Either the banana pudding or peach cobbler will make you sing.

With so many different cultural influences, maybe Birkelbach is right about his being America’s best barbecue.

But, of course, some folks in the Carolinas might have a bone to pick about that.

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Filed under: Barbecue • Bite • Defining America • Feature • Think • Video


soundoff (196 Responses)
  1. Carolina Boy

    I think someone is trying to start another civil war. ;-)

    Each region has its variation on BBQ. Each region claims to be the best. They are all good. His point about meat standing on its own I agree with. Pulled pork being mush? He hasn't had good pulled pork. Sauce is a side that only enhances the experience and should not distract from the true star of the meat.

    As to what some claim as the "Mustard heresy of SC" they have not had a true mustard sauce. You never use straight mustard on BBQ but a sauce that uses it as a base and it it is good it makes the eating experience more enjoyable.

    August 12, 2011 at 11:37 am | Reply
  2. Ken

    I've had the barbecue from Giddings' City Meat Market since the late 60's and it really is the best! ...

    July 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  3. saudiwoof

    As usual the remarks reflect what Texans do best, bragging about anything to do with Texas. At least one guy was good enough to say that he hadn't had a chance to try many out of state places. Anybody had pride about their state but sometimes it just goes to far.

    July 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • Chuck Norris

      No brag,just Fact. Jealous much?

      July 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • ANNUNAKI MUSHROOMS

      you jelly?

      July 22, 2011 at 12:51 am | Reply
  4. Kat

    Texas BBQ is the best. Along with our women and cold beer!!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  5. keith

    Yeah, Joe Cottens was good! Often a helicopter would be parked on the hwy meridian in front of the place
    I liked The Smokehouse in Van Horn Texas It's way out in west Texas 1/2 way 'tween Laredo and Pecos Texas
    Middle of nowhere?
    They had old cars there
    Both have burned down..... dammit!
    I liked the analogy "bbq xxx is the best and the song xxx is the best
    I cook brisket put it on mesquite then finish in slow oven or wrap in foil and it stays in pit etc
    Like lamb pork chicken sausage fish and veg on 'skeet too
    Haven't had the opportunity to try out very many out of state places

    July 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  6. ANUNNAKI mushrooms

    Whats the best BBQ sauce you can buy at a mainstream grocery store? Like Walmart, Kroger etc? Just curious. I know true BBQ aficionados would not even go buy BBQ sauce at these stores... they make it themselves or they go to a local BBQ/Meat market store and buy their sauce.... and yes I know if the meat needs sauce its not cooked right. I just want to hear what you all would say is good mainstream BBQ sauce if their is such a thing.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  7. jmcdo

    The best Texas BBQ is made in my parents' backyard by my Dad in San Antonio. He uses mesquite wood and one of those great big iron smokers. The men in the family help him out by grabbing a beer and offering advice. My Mom makes a bunch of sides and the extended family brings the salad. My cousin makes an emergency run for ice because it is still hot as blazes even though the sun is on its way out and should know better. We all eat outside at the picnic tables while the kids run around and play. It is always somebody's birthday or anniversary or graduation so the evening ends with a pinata and the most delicious cake ever. There is hardly enough meat left to call them leftovers. You can't get that any place else except home. I miss Texas.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • Joseph

      Yeah I remember these days. My grandma lived in San Antonio and we would go down from DFW on holidays and a few times every summer. Swimming in the above ground pool watching out for giant Mesquite thorns and munching all kinds of meat. As the sun set the next door neighbor would sing and play Tejano. Half those people are gone now and it just seems families arent this close anymore. I think the innocence ended with the internet.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  8. Wendy (The Weekend Gourmet)

    I live in San Antonio, so I'm a quick drive to the holy grail of BBQ in Central Texas: Black's, City Market, and Salt Lick. Snows is also pretty damn fine BBQ. I grew up on Texas BBQ...family legend has it that I cut my first tooth as a baby on a Luling City Market rib bone. I don't doubt it...

    July 17, 2011 at 11:36 am | Reply
  9. LEB

    I had Ohio BBQ once... they smothered it in *sweet* BBQ sauce so much that you couldn't handle it with your hands, and could barely find the meat under there. That's not how you do BBQ! They do it right in Texas.

    Too bad they didn't include Rudy's BBQ. Sure, it's a chain, but they cook their meat there and serve it to you the way BBQ should be eaten... with your hands. BBQ should be moist and cooked with rub so that you lick it off your fingers, but definitely NOT drowned in sauce. Especially sweet sauce. Blech.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:59 am | Reply
    • ANUNNAKI mushrooms

      I hear what you are saying and I know that thats true BBQ way and any BBQ snob would scoff at the sweet sauce like you just did but what's wrong with sweet sauce? You like sweet stuff don't you? You like meat-quality protein. Put the two together.... whats the problem? I'm not from Ohio im from Texas but just curious to know what the deal is. Thnx.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  10. babs

    best in the world, THE SMOKEHOUSE in Lindsey Texas IT'S ALL GOOD. PLuse the French Fries are to die for.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:37 am | Reply
  11. Joe

    Sandwich= Z-man at Oklahoma Joe's in KC, MO
    Sauce/Ribs=Arthur Bryant's in KC, MO
    Brisket/Sausage=City Market in Luling, TX

    July 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  12. Berk Demirbulakli

    I love BBQ bull testicles!

    July 16, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Reply
  13. BBQ Tim

    Best smoked meats in the country? Broomfield Colorado at KT's. Now I Am Hungary!

    July 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  14. kasey

    I'll go with Texas for beef bbq, but it's Tennessee all the way for pork. Texans just can't figure out what to do with it.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  15. reallynow

    Franklin BBQ is the best place for BBQ in Texas.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • ANUNNAKI mushrooms

      just get there early and be prepared to wait right?

      July 16, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  16. Clark Nova

    There's a place in Ft Davis, TX in a converted house where the kitchen was turned into a pit and the rest of the walls knocked out for a dining room. The space heater is fed gas through an old water hose that runs across the floor. There's a laundry sink up against one wall and Heimlich maneuver posters over each table. It lacks sawdust but the brisket is good.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  17. Clark Nova

    Their beef's fairly good but for the best pork barbecue, you either have to go to eastern N. Carolina or my house.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  18. pat

    just remember, if it werent for a couple ole' boys from TENNESSEE, texans would still be saluting Santa Ana!

    July 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • William Travis

      I used that dumbazzes peg leg to draw a line in the sand 'cuz the Boys from Tennessee couldn't figure out how to take it off.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • Clark Nova

      Those Tennessee boys were there to defend slavery, which had been outlawed in Mexico and Texas was definitely a part of Mexico. Crockett died on his knees, begging for his life.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
      • True Texan

        All Texans know that Davey went down swinging Ole Betsy against the heads of these taco benders. This was a tale from some scared azz Mexican who turned tail and ran instead of fight like the Brave men at the Alamo. Davey Crocket was trying to bide time while awaiting Janet Napolitano and Hillary Clinton(who were holed up at the Chicken Ranch in LaGrange,Texas) only to be killed because these two porkers were attending a Luv Inn.

        July 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Reply
      • ANUNNAKI mushrooms

        to true Texan.....RACISM IS ALIVE AND WELL FOLKS. Where do yo get your truth from the back of a cereal box?

        July 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  19. The Doubter

    Texas BBQ is delicious.

    One problem though. Too many restaurants serve it with GARLIC mashed potatoes. We are in the good ole US of A not in Eastern Europe for heaven's sakes.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Reply
    • RichardHead

      True Texas BBQ consists of Meat,Sausage and white bread-This ain't Olive Garden. Your going to the wrong restaurants.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Reply
      • JulioF

        I tend to agree with Dick on this.

        July 17, 2011 at 8:21 am | Reply
  20. gaptherockstar

    You'll seem to missing the mark. Louie Muller's in Taylor, TX is rather hard to beat but it beats anything in Lockhart hands down. There was a place out by Lake Travis that had in my opinion the best venison and pork hot link known to man, Jim Bobs BBQ, and most definitely in these parts and outside of Texas as well, but the owner had health issues and they closed. Now if you have to have pulled pork in these parts the Whole Foods smokehouse of 6th street is fantastic. LOL guys!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm heading to Taylor today just to prove why I live in this great state! Yummmmy

    July 16, 2011 at 11:04 am | Reply
  21. Josh

    City Market in Luling, TX is one of my favorites!!

    July 16, 2011 at 10:39 am | Reply
  22. George

    I grew up in KC, I live in Austin, so I think I can speak with some authority on this.

    First, I prefer the best KC BBQ over the best Texas BBQ because I like pork ribs and burnt ends best–and those are, unquestioningly, better in KC. Best place in KC is the old Smokestack, now Jack Stack, down in Martin City.

    That said, Texas has amazing brisket and beef ribs. Best place IMO here is Black's, in Lockhart, but there are two or three others at that level (e.g., Kreutz'). Salt Lick is fun but definitely a step down.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
    • JulioF

      Salt Lick is much less expensive than the others you've mentioned. Taking your family of 5 out for BBQ? Of these, Salt Lick will allow you to keep some of your hard earned cash.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:19 am | Reply
  23. Corey

    Truth is, it's the pit master that makes the BBQ great, not the state. Sure, you have concentrations of fantastic BBQ masters in Texas, Carolina's, Memphis, St. Louis, etc... but you can find awesome BBQ all over. I prefer dry rub ribs from Memphis and whole hog pulled pork with some Carolina mustard sauce.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
  24. Kro

    Harolds BBQ in Abilene TX. Rundown shack of a place but the line makes an IN-N-OUT Burger grand opening seem like a blink of an eye. Amazing BBQ and amazing sauce.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:37 am | Reply
  25. Jason

    BBQ isn't BBQ without the right wood. Mesquite is KING. Hickory is for amateurs.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:32 am | Reply
    • Clark Nova

      Mesquite's only good for grilling, not barbecuing. For brisket, you want oak, hickory or pecan, although apple, plum or cherry work really well, too. I've seen too many pits permanently fouled by green mesquite.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
      • Clark Nova

        Also, an awful lot of the mesquite in Texas is spayed with toxins very similar if not identical to Agent Orange. Mexican mesquite, too.

        July 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Reply
      • JulioF

        C'mon! That spray gives the meat its unique flavor and bouquet. In small amounts, it's not all that harmful.

        July 17, 2011 at 8:17 am | Reply
      • Jason

        I have an 18 year old pit that I made myself. It has never had a stick of anything in it besides mesquite. No fouling here. Any green wood will foul a pit. Any pit master worth their salt knows this. But I do have to admit, I would like to see more pork on the San Antonio menu than we currently have. And Sauce is a condiment!

        July 18, 2011 at 7:24 am | Reply
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