Barbecue — slow cooked meat — is the one American food that still has great regional variation. In San Antonio, you’ll find Central Texas Barbecue, which is dry-rubbed and cooked by indirect heat over hardwood. Sauces are served on the side and are frowned upon in some traditional joints. Because of the smoke and smell generated by the pits, barbecue is more of a country thing than a city thing, but you can still find some great ‘cue in San Antonio.
The iconic Texas meat is beef brisket, which comes from the breast section of the cow. At some places you can specify fatty or lean: the fatty is more flavorful. The “burnt ends” are considered a treat. At most places you can also get ribs, sausage (typically kielbasa unless otherwise specified), pulled pork, chopped beef, chicken and smoked turkey. It’s all good. If this is your first foray into Texas barbecue, you might want to get a three meat plate — it will be enough for two people, unless you are very, very hungry.
Barbecue comes with “sides,” which are side dishes. Sides might include coleslaw, potato salad, creamed corn, pinto beans . . . A barbecue plate will typically come with two sides and a slice or two of white bread. There’s also probably a “fixin’s bar” where you can grab some sauce, pickles and onions.
Let’s get it out front: our favorite barbecue joint in San Antonio is not close to downtown. RUDY’s COUNTRY STORE has three locations in San Antonio. We go to the one in Leon Springs (24152 W. IH 10, almost 40 miles NE of the event hotel) but the one in Selma, 5560 I-35, is about 20 miles north and not all that far from AVA HQ in Universal City. This is a traditional joint, where you take a tray through the line, watch your meat being sliced, and have it served by the pound on sheets of butcher paper. It’s a hot mess, and the best food in the world. If you have a car, go to Rudy’s.
If you are hoofing it, here are a few suggestions of places closer to the event hotel:
AUGIE’S ALAMO CITY BBQ STEAKHOUSE
The original Augie’s Barbed Wire Grill is next to the Sunken Gardens at Brackenridge Park, but it’s closed on Sundays, when the 23k walk wanders right by it. They now have a downtown location, open seven days a week, at 909 Broadway, which is just under a 2 mile walk from the event hotel, near Maverick Park. A three meat plate with two sides will cost you $13.99, but what everyone’s drooling over is their grilled cheese sandwich with brisket. Yum!
BILL MILLER’S BAR-B-Q
It’s a chain — but it’s OUR chain. A three meat plate — Beef Brisket, Pork Spareribs, Sausage, Ham, Chicken & Turkey — is $16.50 and is darn good. You’ll find Bill Miller’s all over town.
GRANARY ‘CUE & BREW
The restaurant is run by the Rattray brothers, chef Tim and Brewmeister Alex. Lunch is traditional barbecue (a 3-meat plate with with coleslaw, potato salad, house pickles, and bread will run you $15.99) and dinner boasts a more trendy seasonal menu. It’s recently been rated one of the 15 best barbecue restaurants in America, so well worth a stop. It’s at 602 Avenue A, which is in The Pearl. The Pearl is included on the Sunday walks, but the restaurant is closed on Sundays. It’s a little over 2 miles from the event hotel (a nice 45 minutes on the Riverwalk) and, if you’re driving, there’s plenty of free parking near The Pearl.
The meat is smoked over oak with a touch of pecan wood and everything is made from scratch. They got their start as a food truck, and won the first San Antonio BBQ throwdon their first year operating as a restaurant. A three meat platter with two sides and a roll will run you $15. If you’re going on the 23K long march on Sunday, you pass nearby (it’s across the street from Brackenridge Park) but, alas, it’s not open on Sundays. It’s at 3714 Broadway, and there is free parking. .
Smoke is trendy. The appetizer at a typical Texas barbecue joint (if they remember to have one) is a pickle. At Smoke, their appetizers include “guava glazed crispy pig tails” and “Acadian dusted fried chicken livers with jalapeno marmalade.” As at most ‘cue places, the meat is available by the pound ($6 for 1/4 lb. of brisket here) or you can order a “feast” that will feed 4-6 people for about $150. Feasts included 4 side dishes (with unlimited refills) two pickle jars and white bread; the brisket feast (for example) adds brisket, beef sausage, bratwurst and house cured maple bacon. If you are looking for a typical down-home Texas barbecue experience, this isn’t it. But the food is good and the crowd is hip, so enjoy! Their downtown restaurant is at 1170 E Commerce (they also have a restaurant in the suburbs, and a food truck.) It’s about a mile and a half from the event hotel, not far from the Alamodome and sort of across the street from Sunset Station. If you are driving, they have their own free parking lot.