Texas barbecue traditions can be divided into four general styles: East Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and West Texas. The Central and East Texas varieties are generally the most well-known. In a 1973 Texas Monthly article, Author Griffin Smith, Jr., described the dividing line between the two styles as "a line running from Columbus and Hearne northward between Dallas and Fort Worth".
Additionally, in deep South Texas and along the Rio Grande valley, a Mexican style of meat preparation known as barbacoa can be found. In Spanish, the word barbacoa means "barbecue", though in English it is often used specifically to refer to Mexican varieties of preparation.
- East Texas style: The beef is slowly cooked to the point that it is "falling off the bone." It is typically cooked over hickory wood and marinated in a sweet, tomato-based sauce.
- Central Texas style: The meat is rubbed with spices and cooked over indirect heat from pecan or oak wood.
- West Texas style: The meat is cooked over direct heat from mesquite wood.
- South Texas style: Features thick, molasses-like sauces that keep the meat very moist.
The barbacoa tradition is somewhat different from all of these. Though beef may be used, goat or sheep meat are common as well (sometimes the entire animal may be used). In its most traditional form, barbacoa is prepared in a hole dug in the ground and covered with maguey leaves.