By Nathan Smith

Last Saturday, I found myself in Llano, Texas. When driving through Llano, it’s almost a sin for a devout Texas barbecue disciple to drive past Cooper’s Old Time Pit barbecue without paying homage to the great, above-ground smoking pits.

I stopped and was not disappointed.

While enjoying the delicious brisket, red beans and spicy sauce, I started wondering how Texans’ love affair with barbecue began. So I did a little digging.

The origins of Texas barbecue, like many things about the state, were influenced by European immigrants.

Dutch, Mexican, Italian, English and especially German barbecuing techniques have shaped what we know and love as Texas barbecue.  

In the mid 1800s, African-Americans brought pork barbecue with heavy sauce and trimmings into East Texas from the deep south. After the Civil War, beef became plentiful and cheap in the Lone Star State so brisket, as we know it today, found its way to plates across the state. It was easy to eat, didn’t require a fork and knife and would keep until you got to the farm or ranch.   

What we call barbecue restaurants came to life as more of an accident than a carefully planned business endeavor.

In Texas, they began as a way for meat markets to salvage leftover or undesirable cuts. Before refrigeration, they had no choice but to cook the meat and sell it. Back then, it was all about the meat. Forget the beans and potato salad. Slap a piece of brisket on some bread and get back to work.

Travel to Lockhart or Luling and you can still dine in the remnants of those early meat market buildings.

The markets weren’t the family-friendly eateries we know today. They often attracted rowdy cowboys and drifting laborers to their tables. These tables had knives staked down by chains to prevent theft and stabbing. The next time you travel the Texas barbecue trail, look for the holes in some of the older joints.

Barbecue experts like Robb Walsh have great videos on YouTube that give information about the best locations in the Lone Star State.

For the barbecue purist, it’s still all about the meat. But if you’re craving coleslaw and cobbler, you can find it from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

Reason number 189 for loving life in Texas: Barbecue with a tasty history.

At Texas Table Top, we love hearing about great Texas barbecue. Where do you find it?