I've only recently discovered this site, so I'm a little behind the chronology of this topic, but I'd like to clear up some of ya'lls misunderstandings about Texas barbecue.
Other than a few years I spent in that vast barbecue wasteland of NYC, I've lived in central Texas all my life. Out of love and curiosity, I've made a casual but thorough study of the king of Texas foods, barbecue. In order to understand how to differentiate good barbecue from bad, it is important to understand the orogins of the food.
Barbecue started out as a means of preserving fresh meats in our often sweltering climate. In the age before refridgeration when you killed a beef (that's cattleman for a bovine you're about to eat), you had to eat it, sell it, smoke it, or smell it. Don't worry about what was done to chickens, pigs and turkeys; they were not common to the Texas diet at the time.
Now, we know that there are two critical elements in real Texas Barbecue: Beef and Smoke. Central Texas became especially important to Texas barbecue for an interesting reason: The large number of German settlers who came to the region. Their influence on the style of sausage common to our 'cue, which is a sort beef bratwurst, is unmistakeable, and the smoking of meats in general, which is common in Deutschland, has had an obviuosly critical influence.
When seeking out the finest in Texas barbecue, it is important to remember that to the purist, sides and sauce are irrelevant. I have a friend here in Austin who hails from Seattle and has a very unique conversation stopping skill. When surrounded by 'cue loving Texans amicably arguing about their favorite subject, he'll announce that he likes a particular barbecue place because they have good peach cobbler. Where ever he is, silence falls and jaws drop. I guess that what I'm saying is that if you've had good barbecue and you understand what makes it good, talking about the sauce and sides is a little like going to the Louvre and saying "great frames!"
All that said, the best all around Texas barbecue is Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. Kreuz (pronounced krites) is an old meat market who started smoking what they didn't sell as a method of preservation. They've been around since the turn of the century, so they've kind of got down now. Their brisket is incredible but for a change, try the clod (shoulder) or the prime rib. Now, I'll muddy the waters here and say my personal favorits here is the pork chop, which isn't particularly Texan but is very German. No sauce here, you won't need it or want it.
Moving on around central Texas, try Louie Mueller's in Taylor for brisket, Southside Meat Market in Elgin for sausage, Bert's on MLK in Austin for all around, House Park BBQ in Austin for all around, Black's in Lockhart for all around, and Cooper's in Llano for all around.
Now, let's talk about places often mentioned by those not properly initiated in the art of central Texas barbecue.
I hear Salt Lick a lot from those folks. Used to be pretty good, now the best parts are the cole slaw and the BYOB rule. 'Nuff said.
Iron Works gets lots of mention, but they cheat. Thier dry rub has MSG and the primary heat source in the pit is natural gas. No fair, instant disqualification.
Stubbs was OK in much earlier incarnations run by Mr. Stubblefield himself. My personal favorite of his was the booth he had in the back of Antone's when it was on Guadalupe in Austin, but there were several others, all shut down for various health violations, which was probably a good sign. Now Stubbs (the Man) is dead and the company that makes the 'cue turns out a poor pit product, but fair Chicken Fried Steak and a decent burger.
The Green Mesquite in Austin is OK in a pinch; I've been reasonably happy there but they lack concentration. You can't make catfish and Jambalaya and still pay attention to your pit.
Rudy's is a total rip off. This central Texas corporate owned chain can easily run $20. per person and the last stuff I had there tasted baked, not smoked. Ought to be run out of town.
The County Line started out years ago in Austin serving terrific Flintstone - sized beef ribs in an upscale roadhouse setting that was very family friendly. The best thing there now is the potato salad. 'Nuff said.
Now, if you've read all of this, you've shown true interest. If you'd like to argue a point, drop me an email and I'll get back as soon as I can.