The Best BBQ in Waco | 6 Uncontested BBQ Restaurants
Whether it’s Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Franklin BBQ in Austin, or Goldees BBQ in Fort Worth… Texas doesn’t mess around with it’s BBQ. Even in a small city like Waco, there are well over a dozen BBQ restaurants, and even more in the surrounding area.
It’s important to note that there is a significant difference between the BBQ in each state. The BBQ in Waco, TX (and barbecue in Texas in general) is far different from barbecue in states like Tennessee and Missouri.
Each pitmaster brings their own influences into the mix resulting in unique flavors and textures that you generally cannot replicate.
It’s equally as important to note that there is a difference between exclusively BBQ restaurants, and restaurants that just serve BBQ as part of their menu. This article is going to primarily focus on actual BBQ restaurants that primarily focus on BBQ, and nothing but (with one well-deserved exception).
The Best of The Best BBQ in Waco
I’m here to help you narrow it down to the 6 uncontested BBQ champions in the city of Waco. Places you can’t afford to not go while you’re here.
Rest assured – whether you’re here for pulled pork, chopped brisket or smoked chicken – you’re in good hands no matter where you choose to go for your BBQ needs.
In fact, nearly all of these Waco BBQ places have been rated as the Top 50 Best BBQ Joints in Texas by Texas Monthly at some point in recent history (two of them as recently as the latest list in 2021).
If you leave Waco without going to one of these 6 Waco BBQ joints, then you’ve left Waco with an empty-stomach, and an experience void of any meaning:
Helberg BBQ is my favorite BBQ in Waco. That’s not just my personal opinion. It’s frequently the top recommended BBQ joint recommended by most Wacoans and it was selected by Texas Monthly as one of the Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas.
Keep in mind that this BBQ spot is not actually “in” Waco. It’s about a 10 minute drive from Lake Waco on Highway 6 headed West towards Valley Mills, TX in a suburb of Waco called “Woodway”.
And if you’re going to go try some award-winning BBQ, you’ll also be within driving distance of the Valley Mills Vineyards; an award-winning wine vineyard just a few more miles down highway 6.
Pro Tip:If you want to make it a day of award-winning barbeque, wine and sight-seeing, you can also go and check out the filming location of Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines at the old gristmill in downtown Valley Mills, TX.
Their Story | Their Methods
Helberg’s BBQ features four pitmasters, and they use an offset smoker with post oak which creates some of the best smoked meat in Central Texas.
Some of the favorite menu items at Helberg’s are Bacon Wings and a whole rack of ribs. I’m personally a fan of both their chicken and brisket. There’s nothing else like it in the Waco area. If you’re looking for the best BBQ in Waco, Helberg’s BBQ is where you’ll find it.
Started in Waco, this BBQ spot is a joint husband-wife operation. Originally started out of a food truck in the parking lot of Pinewood Coffee in 2018, they quickly earned a place on the Texas BBQ scene. They now have a permanent location with indoor and outdoor seating and ample parking for customers.
Helberg BBQ’s slogan is, “salt, pepper, and a whole lotta prayer!”. One (or more) of those things are working because their BBQ is LIT!
Side Note: They only make a set amount of food each day and while they usually still have BBQ options until at least 5 PM, I have seen them sell out of menu items as early as 5:30 or 6 PM recently. So the earlier you get there, the better. If you follow them on Instagram, they usually post on there once they’ve sold out of something for the day.
Papa Jacks BBQ
Papa Jacks BBQ defines themselves as an, “Unpretentious outpost furnishing grilled meats by the pound along with BBQ plates & sides”. I can absolutely support the accuracy of that description.
The ribs are moist and the meat falls off the bone, the brisket easily pulls apart without even needing a knife, and the smokey barbecue flavors are deeply embedded in every piece of chicken. The complimentary bbq sauces are the perfect combination, but certainly not needed; the food can stand on its own with, or without any sauce.
The beans are soft, but not super mushy, and the macaroni packs a delightful punch with just the right amount of spice.
Papa Jacks BBQ has not won any awards from Texas Monthly (at least not that I’m aware of), but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make some of the best BBQ in Waco.
And that’s not just coming from people who live in Waco.
In fact, one of the ways that people learn about Papa Jacks BBQ is from travelers who come into town and randomly stop in to try their BBQ and end up writing home (literally) to tell all their friends, family, acquaintances (and any strangers who will listen) how good Papa Jacks BBQ is.
That story is quickly and easily backed up by pointing you to their business listing on Google which consistently earns 4.5-Stars (or higher) with what is now well over 500+ reviews from locals and travelers alike.
That’s somewhat shocking since different states have wide-ranging methods of making BBQ. For people across state lines to give the same (or better) ratings as locals is an achievement for any pitmaster.
So rather than take my word for it – take the words of thousands of others, and be sure to stop in at the hole-in-the-wall joint at Papa Jacks BBQ, and try some of their incredibly delicious BBQ. Because, once they do get awarded (it’s likely just a matter of time), then they’ll start having long lines, higher prices, and plenty of sold out days. So go now, before that happens ;).
Pro Tip: Papa Jacks BBQ opens up the first Sunday of every month to host a special lunch menu filled with all kinds of Louisiana-based dishes like crawfish, etouffee, and other mouth-watering dishes. It opens at 12PM and they usually sell out by 2PM, so if you want some… get there early.
Tony DeMaria’s BBQ
On the completely opposite side of town from Helberg BBQ (and just down the road from Papa Jacks BBQ) is Tony DeMaria’s BBQ in East Waco. It only takes a quick glance at their reviews on Google to see that it’s nearly a 5-Star Rated BBQ joint.
And that’s for a good reason. It’s right up there with Helberg’s BBQ as one of the most recommended BBQ spots in Waco by local Wacoans.
Just keep in mind that they’re only open from 9 AM – 2 PM, and it’s not unusual for them to sell out before closing time. So if you’re making plans to go to Tony DeMaria’s BBQ and you’re only in town for a short while, plan to go there no later than 12 PM.
Their Story | Their Methods
Boiled and smoked in a brick pit, this Waco BBQ spot is unlike any other BBQ you’ll taste in Central Texas. From Italy to New Orleans to Waco, the family that moved here in the 1800s is still the same family running this BBQ joint to this day. And they use the same BBQ methods that their grandparents and great-grandparents used before them – a BBQ method with an Italian and New Orleans flare.
Originally founded in Waco in 1946 by Tony DeMaria (son of Joe DiMaria), this is one of the oldest and longest-running BBQ joints in Waco. The workers who built I-35 through Waco frequently enjoyed Tony DeMaria’s BBQ, and now, so can you.
But there’s an even older BBQ restaurant in Waco. That’s Jasper’s. Joe DiMaria and Jasper DiMaria were brothers.
Jasper opened up a BBQ restaurant in 1919 named after himself – Jasper’s BBQ.
Joe’s son, Tony, opened a meat market in 1936, ultimately also turning into a BBQ restaurant in 1946 – Tony DeMaria’s BBQ.
Jasper’s BBQ only moved one time in 1926 and it’s still in that same building to this very day.
If you’ve ever visited Philadelphia and gone to Pat’s & Geno’s cheesesteak restaurants right across from each other – this is a similar setup. They’re located just 0.3 miles from each other. Both Jasper’s and Tony DeMaria’s BBQ are located very close to each other in East Waco, so you can check them both out and compare notes.
Needless to say, there’s a reason that this Waco BBQ joint has been around for 100+ years.
Their Story | Their Methods
Both Jasper’s BBQ and Tony DeMaria’s BBQ use the same exact BBQ methods of boiling the meats in a vat of broth before smoking in the brick pit, so, technically, you would expect both to have nearly identical results.
However, that’s up to you to decide. Go check them both out and see who does it better.
Tony’s and Jasper’s have some of the best BBQ in Waco, and there’s a reason they’ve been around the longest.
High-quality home cooking is a family affair. And nobody does it better than 310’s Kitchen in East Waco – one of the newest BBQ joints in Waco. This outdoor, open-air bistro owned and operated by the Berotte family is a BBQ restaurant not to be contended with.
However, they don’t just serve up BBQ. While they absolutely serve up some of the best BBQ in Waco, they also serve up some palate-watering gumbo, po boys, and other creole fare. They even serve up crab cakes!
I have only eaten at 310’s Kitchen a couple of times, but each time I have, it’s been nothing but exemplary.
My wife is a born-and-raised New Orleanian, and she even gave their gumbo a good rating. That’s saying something!
Their Story | Their Methods
In 2019, shortly before the world was turned upside down by covid, a small outdoor bistro started up in East Waco. Thankfully, it survived the madness that was in 2020 and remains an open and thriving restaurant to this day.
It’s operated by the father and two sons of the Berotte family, and each one has their own food that they specialize in.
I haven’t had a chance to touch base with this BBQ family to learn what methods they use to smoke up their incredible brisket and ribs, but once I do, you’ll be the first to learn about it right here.
Regardless of the methods they use, 310’s Kitchen has some of the best BBQ in Waco.
Guess Family BBQ – Top 50 Best BBQ Joints (Texas Monthly)
I’ll be completely honest. We went to this BBQ spot for breakfast a few months back, and I was NOT impressed with the smoked sausage that was served with the breakfast meal.
However, I have not yet tried their lunch or dinner options, and by all accounts, Guess Family BBQ is one of the top-rated BBQ restaurants in Waco.
It’s apparently so good that out of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of BBQ joints in the state of Texas, it made it to the Top 50 Best BBQ Joints in the Texas Monthly magazine. That’s not an easy accomplishment, so my hat is off to them regardless of my own personal experience.
I’ll give them another try here in the near future.
Their Story | Their Methods
Guess Family BBQ features three pitmasters. They use post oak in an offset smoker to make their BBQ. One thing that sets this BBQ joint apart from the rest of Waco BBQ spots is that they serve up desserts that are all made in-house.
If it’s your first time going and you’re not sure what to get, you can always opt for their Meat Sweats – it’s 2+ lbs of all of the various types of BBQ they offer so you can sample everything for $60.
Bonus: Fire Department BBQ Fundraisers
Not only do local Waco fire departments save lives, and prevent loss of property – firefighters also smoke up some incredible BBQ. Ask anybody who has gone to a Fire Department Fundraiser event in Waco if they ever left hungry.
When you come to a Texas fire department fundraiser, you leave full with BBQ. Some of the best BBQ in Waco will be at a Fire Department Fundraiser.