Any relevant conversation about the hallowed methods of pit-smoked meat in Texas will (or should) involve Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly’s first-ever Barbecue Editor and author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas BBQ. The former blogger has eaten at more than 600 barbecue joints in his lifetime, and he’s even explored the science behind “meat drunkess.” The guy puts in work.

Above all the regional variants in the state, Central Texas barbecue—a style borne out of German butcher shops that focuses on the purity of meat (brisket, sausage, and ribs served on butcher paper, without sauce)—receives the widest acclaim. Up until recently, the finest examples could be found in outlying areas such as Hill County. But in the span of a few years, beginning in 2009, the tradition outgrew its rural upbringing and became popular in more metropolitan cities like Houston, Dallas, and especially Austin, thanks to a clan of dedicated young pitmasters.

In the Texas Monthly’s list of 50 Best BBQ Joints, Austin received the most nods (five in total), even securing the number one ranked spot, courtesy of Franklin BBQ. Other places—like La Barbecue, John Mueller Meat Co., and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew—have further boosted the town’s reputation. But as you’ve already heard, ordering from those esteemed establishments can be just as dreadful as a trip to the local DMV, an interminable affair filled with bachelor bros and other meat pilgrims waiting in line for hours to get a glimpse of that mythical “smoke ring.” So we turned to Vaughn and asked him to set us on a path of barbecue glory that would normally elude out-of-towners. For a real taste of Austin—minus the headache—here are Vaughn’s underrated barbecue picks, broken down by category.

I. Meat

The dream is possible: smoky brisket and succulent pork ribs without the hour-long lines!

Beef Ribs from Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ


Address and Phone: 600 W 6th St (512-221-4248)

Vaughn says: “With just the right amount of bite from the mesquite smoke, these behemoths are tender and juicy—but they’re only available once a week.” (Photo: Valentinas)

Pork Ribs from Brown’s Bar-B-Que


Address and Phone: 1901 S Lamar Blvd (512-517-8520)

Vaughn says: “They’re a little sweet and plenty smoky, and you’ll struggle to find pork ribs with a more perfect texture.” (Photo: BrownsBarBQue)

Brisket from Freedmen’s Bar


Address and Phone: 2402 San Gabriel St (512-220-0953)

Vaughn says: “Brisket is about flavor and texture. The bark on the outside of these slices is a crunchy counterpoint to the buttery tender meat, while the salt, black pepper, and smoke will have you coming back for more.” (Photo: Daniel Vaughn)

Pork from Blue Ox Barbecue


Address and Phone: 1505 Town Creek Dr (512-537-2047)

Vaughn says: “It’s easy to dry out this lean cut of pork, but at this food truck in South Austin, the tenderloin is juicy beyond compare. A little coffee in the black pepper–heavy rub adds a boost of flavor.” (Photo: Daniel Vaughn)

Poultry from Terry Black’s Barbecue


Address and Phone: 1003 Barton Springs Rd (512-394-9899)

Vaughn says: “Slices of the smoked turkey breast here will put your Thanksgiving dinner to shame. The moist and smoky white meat is the cure for anyone suffering from brisket fatigue.” (Photo: foodspotting)

Sausage from Micklethwait Craft Meats


Address and Phone: 1309 Rosewood Ave (512-791-5961)

Vaughn says: “Micklethwait’s sausage repertoire is vast, and it’s hard to find any duds at this inventive food trailer. Classics like kielbasa are fantastic, but I always hope to see the coarse ground lamb sausage on the menu when I visit.” (Photo: Daniel Vaughn)

II. Sides

Even the best proteins need a good side-kick.

Cabbage from Brown’s Bar-B-Que


Address and Phone: 1901 S Lamar Blvd (512-517-8520)

Vaughn says: “Braised cabbage fortified with bacon at Brown’s Bar-B-Que is tender, but a little crunch still remains. It’s almost like you’re eating healthy.” (Photo: Yelp)

Corn from Valentina’s


Address and Phone: 600 W 6th St (512-221-4248)

Vaughn says: “Make sure to get your own smoked corn from Valentina’s because you won’t want to share this amped-up version of elote.(Photo: Valentinas)

Brunswick stew from Mann’s Smokehouse


Address and Phone: 8624 Research Blvd (512-459-5077)

Vaughn says: “Brunswick stew may be considered a foreign dish in Texas, but at Mann’s Smokehouse, it goes great with some cornbread and pulled pork.” (Photo: Mann’s)

Grits at Micklethwait Craft Meats


Address and Phone: 1309 Rosewood Ave (512-791-5961)

Vaughn says: “The jalapeño cheese grits at Micklethwait Craft Meats will leave you wondering if you’ll ever need mac and cheese again.” (Photo: Yelp)