my report from the official Barbecue Capital of Texas

I’m currently spending two weeks in Austin, Texas for my job.  I decided to stay in town for the weekend, mainly to avoid the hours of travel back home just to turn around and spend hours to travel back to Austin.  But I decided I might as well take advantage of the weekend.  Here’s the story of my Saturday.


Friday night I turned in early so I could rest up for Saturday, the day of my hajj to the Mecca of Texas barbecue, a town by the name of Lockhart.  Lockhart is about an hour’s drive south of Austin, and has the reputation of being the center of the universe of BBQ in Texas.  Though there’s only a population of about 11,000, there are at least 6 barbecue joints, and 3 of them are world famous.

The drive south, once I left the Austin burbs, was fairly scenic.  It goes through a few small towns and skirts farm and ranch land, with low forests.  Then the roadsigns started to appear – Lockhart 20, Lockhart 10, Lockhart 4, and then I was suddenly there!  The town has a really cute little old downtown area, exactly the sort of thing that Broomfield lacks.  In the center of the town square is the courthouse, and on all four sides are a variety of struggling shops – a barber, a defunct coffee shop, a realtor, a cleaners, etc.  I later learned that to the south of the downtown area is where all the more modern development and shopping is.  As you see so often in American small towns, it’s a steady stream of “same shit everywhere” businesses.  Beth calls that sort of development SSE, and all the usual suspects are here: McDonald’s, Sonic, gas stations, motels, and so on.  I’m sure if I kept driving I’d eventually hit a Wal-Mart.  But I didn’t, because I wanted to savor the old town of Lockhart.

My first food stop was Kreuz Market, considered by many to be the best barbecue in Texas (Tripadvisor users have voted it #1 restaurant in town).  They outgrew their old digs downtown and built a huge building closer to the edge of town in 1999.  It seats hundreds.  Here, you get your meat in one room, and then, optionally, get your sides and drinks in another.  It’s a little weird, but makes it simpler for people who just want to pick up some smoked meat to take home.  At Kreuz, everything other than the meat really is considered optional.  They’ve got a variety of side dishes like sauerkraut, beans, cheese, onions, and so on.  But they don’t have barbecue sauce.  That’s on purpose.  When you eat barbecue this good, why mask the flavor with a sauce?  You know how you can tell the quality of a steak restaurant by whether they put steak sauce on the tables?  A good steak doesn’t need any, a bad one does.  Well, same idea here with the smoked meats.

I decided to order one original link sausage and a half pound of beef shoulder.  They cut this up to order and put it all, along with a few slices of white bread, on a double layer of thick butcher paper.  I paid in the meat room for the meat (about $7, I think), and then made my way into the side dish room, which is where the tables are.  There I bought a (glass) bottle of RC Cola (about $1.80) to wash it all down with.  And then I sat, savored, and reflected.  The meat was excellent.  The sausage is unusually peppery, but the beef shoulder was awesome.  In keeping with the “less is more” theme, Kreuz supposedly only uses salt and pepper as their rub for the beef.  I ate without a fork, ripping off chunks of meat and either stuffing them directly in my mouth or putting them on pieces of bread to roll into a little sandwitch.  I didn’t finish it all, since I wanted to save some room for later.  But on the way out, I had to stop by the souvenir and dessert register to get a Kreuz Market t-shirt, a pecan praline, and an apple snack pie for later.

Outside, I sized up the wood pile.  As you can imagine, it’s huge.  They’ve got an entire part of the yard fenced off just for their wood, with barbed wire at the top of the fence to keep out would-be wood thieves.  A car club of Buick owners happened to be there, and I checked out all the classic cars before leaving.

One important thing I noticed from my visit was the crowd timing.  I got there about 11:35 and there were only about 5 people in front of me.  But by 12:05, the line was all the way out the door.  Even with 4 registers going, I bet it took 20 or maybe 30 minutes to get through the meat line.

My second lunch was a trip to Black’s.  It’s about a block and a half from the town square, and sits in a much older building.  Compared to Kreuz Market, it’s a newcomer to town, being established in 1932.  Black’s Barbecue seems to be more oriented as a restaurant.  It’s definitely smaller, but they’ve got the flow of things set up on the assumption you’re there for a meal.  After standing in line, I got to the side dish bar, which is self serve.  I grabbed a plastic plate and decided my only side dish was going to be a half a dill pickle.  The line then wound to the meat area and the cash registers.  Here, I ordered one slice of beef brisket, one slice of turkey, and a jalpeno cheddar hot link.  I should have tried a pork rib or two, but figured that would just be too much.  They sliced the meat, weighed it, put it on my plastic plate, and then took my money.  I decided to just drink ice water this time.

The dining room is made up of a bunch of long tables.  The day I was there a TV or film crew was also there interviewing customers, which was a little interesting to watch.  But then I brought my focus back to the task at hand, enjoying my barbecue.  And now, I thought, comes the time I have to do the inevitable comparisons between Black’s and Kreuz.  The brisket I had at Black’s was even better than the beef shoulder I had at Kreuz.  Maybe it was because of how the extra fat absorbs the smoke flavor, but I could eat that brisket all day long.  The smoked turkey was just so-so, but I’ve got to admit I’m not a huge fan of smoked turkey anyhow, except when it’s in sandwiches or some other dish.  I could definitely tell the turkey was brined before it was smoked.  I may be the only one in the world who feels this way, but I don’t really like brining; I’d rather taste more of the natural flavor of the bird.  Finally, the jalapeno cheddar sausage wasn’t as good as the sausage at Kreuz.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Kreuz’ sausage, either, so I guess either I’m not a sausage fan or I just haven’t found the right one.

On my way out of Black’s I stopped to pick up a souvenir t-shirt, as I did earlier at Kreuz.  Near the souvenir display case was a framed copy of a Texas state assembly proclamation from 1999.  It declared Lockhart as the official Barbecue Capital of Texas.  And with that in mind, stomach distended from eating two lunches of mainly meat in one day, I drove back to Austin.

Kreuz Market

Black’s Barbecue


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