LOCKHART & LULING TX: ON THE BBQ TRAIL IN CENTRAL TEXAS
I may get hunted down by people in pick up trucks for this next sentence, but, much as I love BBQ all over the USA, there is only one home of great ‘Q and that is Texas. As they say “ when it comes to BBQ, don’t mess with Texas”
Why? A lot of reasons, including the availability of beef ribs and brisket but mainly because, unlike so many other areas the good people of Texas don’t like to hide their BBQ under a slurry of sauce to cover up a thousand mistakes. They argue that, if you need to put sauce on your BBQ, then there is something wrong with it.
Which brings me back to my main reason to head to Austin TX. Its proximity to Lockhart TX, considered by many to be the spiritual home of Texas BBQ. Not least because, within its small town boundaries, can be found four of the best BBQ pits in the state.
My new chum, John King offered to be my guide for the day and we set off in on the BBQ trail about 11am this morning heading the 20 odd miles South of Austin to Lockhart arriving at our first port of call about half an hour later.
Kreuz is the most famous name in Texas BBQ and Kreuz Market proudly claims to have been around since 1900, which is not strictly true as this is a new outpost set up about fifteen years ago after a fall out between squabbling heirs to the original Kreuz owner's fortune.
We decided to take it easy as we had four places to visit. A slice of brisket and a couple of beef ribs came in at a massive $7 along with some unnecessary slices of wonderbread. Neither were bad and certainly better than anything you could get in London or New York, but john assured me we had far better to come.
Next stop, a few minutes drive into town, Blacks. The oldest BBQ joint in Texas still owned by the same family. Originally the feeding station for black workers (the name is a coincidence) it now feeds a mixed clientele with some of the best BBQ in town and the brisket was certainly a notch up from Kreuz. Better still were the links of a dense meaty sausage which, not being a purist and much to John’s disgust, I dipped into a fiery sauce. Lunch, a massive $5.52.
A short amble away stands Smitty’s owned by the daughter of the Kreuz family and situated in the original building she inherited on her father’s death. The smoke of over 100 years is ingrained in the walls and the pit area takes you back to what it must have been like nearly 100 years ago when it opened next to the original German butchers, to sell cooked food to local farm workers and cattlemen.
It was the best of the bunch so far with a slab of moist, fatty brisket going well with a sizeable pork chop served on butcher’s paper. It almost beat us. Another massive bill of $7 saw us stagger out of there in need of a little stroll around the town square before we headed off to the last stop on today’s BBQ trail.
Now, when I mentioned my love of BBQ, Texan style at a supper the night of my first arrival in Texas, everybody, but everybody said “have you been to City Market?”
Now, not only had I not been to City Market, I had never even heard of City Market, nor indeed of its home town of Luling. When I said this, John’s face took on a very serious expression and he said “ well, we’ll just have to put that right now, won’t we?”
So it was that our last stop was said BBQ pit in the town of Lulling a further 15 miles South of Lockhart. It is not a lot to look at, but as we arrived so did the lunchtime crowd. So, we stood in line and collected another butcher’s paper full of brisket and ribs to which John added some wonder bread, sour pickles and a slice of raw sweet onion so he could form a sandwich.
Easily the best of the lot. The brisket had a great bark (the crusty bits formed when the rub cooks) and the ribs fell off the bone in pleasing chunks. I understood then why every one asked me if I had been or was going there.
Texas BBQ is a great leveller. Outside City Market were parked cars of all descriptions and costs. From vintage racers to decrepit pick ups. Inside, sharing tables were local, wealthy oilmen in fine Stetsons to Latino workers in baseball caps. Talking of which, John kindly treated me to a City Market cap. I may look ridiculous in it, but I am extraordinarily proud to have it because, well, I have been there and you haven’t so nah!
By now, we were both experiencing meat sweats so headed back to Austin where we happened upon a sign for a restaurant with a familiar name. I wanted to go inside and try it, but it looked unloved, unwanted and way past its best. Ironic, eh?