Everywhere you turn, chefs, restaurateurs, cook-off champions, critics and self-proclaimed experts are chiming in on the argument over who makes the best barbecue.
Johnny Fugitt claims to be none of these, but that didn't stop the hardcore barbecue fan from getting in his car and taking a yearlong road trip across the United States to see for himself which restaurant is No. 1. Fugitt visited 48 states and 365 restaurants in 365 days, then whittled his options down to create his book: The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America.
Among the countless servings of brisket, ribs and sausage, Fugitt found one barbecue restaurant that rose above the rest — Austin's Kerlin BBQ. Twenty of the 100 restaurants on Fugitt's list are from Texas, with only one from Houston: The Brisket House.
On his blog, Fugitt wrote that he visited six Houston spots in February 2014, Corkscrew BBQ, Ray's BBQ Shack, Pizzitola's, Hickory Hollow, Bone Daddy's House of Smoke and Brisket Houston. He had nice things to say about everywhere he ate, but only singled out the Brisket House for the book, which was recently published.
Top barbecue joint
Fugitt points to Owner Bill Kerlin's unique cooking method and high-quality meats as the reason why this local food truck is the top barbecue joint in the nation. According to Fugitt, the pitmaster smokes his brisket for about 12 hours at 400 degrees, rather than the typical 200-degree range for 6 to 18 hours. In addition, Kerlin uses pecan wood in lieu of the more popular mesquite, hickory or oak.
"The brisket was absolutely fantastic. The high heat gives the bark a crunchier texture that barbecuephiles are sure to love. I had a fatty cut and it just melted in my mouth," raved Fugitt in a blog post detailing his trip to Kerlin. "The ribs were also sublime, with a perfect texture and balanced rub."
The little trailer nestled on East Cesar Chavez Street beat out big-name restaurants and award-winning businesses on the list. On top of that, Kerlin BBQ had only been open for six months when Fugitt stopped by in January of 2014. Now, after two years in business, Kerlin BBQ is almost as famous for its meaty kolaches as it is for its brisket.
"With yard games, live music (which is pretty darn good in Austin), free beer (always the best kind of beer) and top-of-the-line food, it doesn't get much better than Kerlin BBQ," said Fugitt.
Other top places
Perhaps to some barbecue commentators' surprise, beloved Franklin Barbecue trailed at No. 7. Although the brisket from James Beard Award-winning Chef Aaron Franklin often tops listicles and barbecue roundups, Fugitt joked, "When Franklin Barbecue is brought up in Austin conversations, the only thing discussed more than the brisket is the wait."
Other Texas representation among the top 25 includes The Granary 'Cue & Brew in San Antonio at No. 4, the Lockhart locale of Black's Barbecue at No. 11, and Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano at No. 16.
Austin restaurants with nods in The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America are The Blue Ox, Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ and Freedmen's Bar. While in town, Fugitt also tried Bert's Bar-B-Q, The County Line, and Branch BBQ & Catering.
CultureMap editor-in-chief Clifford Pugh contributed to this article.