I recently visited San Antonio for business, and while there I took the opportunity to visit several iconic BBQ establishments in Lockhart and Luling. After visiting some pretty incredible smoked meat shrines in North Carolina (Backyard BBQ, Allen & Son Barbeque, Lexington Barbecue) and Kansas City (Oklahoma Joe’s) over the past few years, I have decided the best places have much more in common than difference. The best practitioners of BBQ know their pits, and they know how to use the type(s) of wood available to them. Finally, they understand that sauce may complement a perfectly cooked piece of meat, but there is no sauce in the world that will save bad BBQ.
The BBQ culture of Central Texas is pure and straightforward. Rubs are simple, and sauce is not typically a part of the equation. Although beef in the form of brisket, ribs and sausage dominate, pork and poultry are making inroads. There’s a lot more to know about Central Texas BBQ, and if you’re interested shoot me a message and I will point you in the direction of resources. For now I just want to share a few pictures and observations from my own trip. Full disclosure, I am a native Texan, but I grew up in East Texas. East Texas BBQ culture has a lot more in common with the Deep South, with pork and chicken being more common offerings. Hickory and pecan are often used in East Texas BBQ joints along with the predominant post oak of Central Texas. Not that one is better or worse than the other, just different. But back to Central Texas….
My first stop was Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. I’m not going to get into the Kreuz/Smitty’s story here, so if you want to read about it you can look it up. The current incarnation of Smitty’s was established in 1999 by Mrs. Nina Schmidt Sells, who named it after her father. I had a great time chatting with Nina’s husband Jim Sells. Real gentleman and he shared a lot of interesting info about the pits, cooking processes and his own competition BBQ team. The sausage was unreal, and Jim also shared some delicious smoked pork loin. I topped off my meal here with a double scoop of Blue Bell Peach and Vanilla ice cream. Yeah, I know you love your Ben & Jerry’s, but get on down to Texas, try some Blue Bell and then let’s talk. I think I know how that conversation will go.
Next stop was just down the road to Kreuz Market. Kreuz is the other half of the family business that was located where Smitty’s is now. Again, I’m not going to get into that story so look it up if you want to know the details. This place is a shrine not only in name and reputation but also in size with seating in the 500-600 person range. The pits at Kreuz are virtually identical to those at Smitty’s, with the exception being the Kreuz pits have metal baffles over the fires and there are more of them. Jalapeño and cheese sausage was the highlight here. One of the employees gave me the Kreuz patch off their work shirt, which I thought was a pretty cool souvenir.
And, of course, I had to have some more Blue Bell ice cream. It set me back all of 99 cents for a strawberry cone.
The third stop in Lockhart was Black’s Barbecue. Black’s is unique in the fact that they have an actual serving line with plates and a large variety of sides.
I’ve actually heard someone claim Black’s isn’t “authentic” because they don’t serve on butcher paper and they offer sides and sauce. That’s a ridiculous statement. Black’s brisket was the best I tasted on this trip, no matter what it was served on. This was also the only place I tried beef ribs, and they did not disappoint. Sides were excellent as well. Why this place is not on the Texas Monthly 50 Best BBQ Joints is a mystery to me.
While I am on the subject of Texas Monthly, a little aside if you will. I have nothing against transplanted/naturalized Texans, just as long as they embody the spirit of my state. My buddy Gary Wolfe is the perfect example of a great naturalized Texan. Heck, Gary put down roots in San Antonio rather when he hails from a pretty great state himself (when you can claim the man who played David Crockett AND Daniel Boone that is something. However, let the record reflect Fess Parker was a native Texan). I’ve recently been bothered by a certain self-styled BBQ expert holding forth on his vast knowledge of BBQ cooking techniques, gained solely (by his own admission) from eating BBQ. That’s like me claiming credibility to critique Dr. Benjamin Carson’s surgical techniques because I watched 15 seasons of ER. Uh, not quite. This same self-styled expert has also offered uninformed, unsolicited and ridiculous opinions on competition BBQ as well. Worse, he couldn’t even keep it in his (adopted) state. Then this same great BBQ mind goes on a road trip to yet another state and while there engages in an ongoing Twitter rant about gas-fired pits and their inability to produce a quality product. Here’s a news flash for you: many jurisdictions are less enlightened than my fellow Texans in Caldwell County, and they will not allow commercial live-fire cooking under any circumstances. So it’s not a matter of wanting to cook on a gas-fired pit but rather one of necessity. And your “bad gasser ‘cue” comments notwithstanding, there are more than a few very good BBQ practitioners out there. Ever heard that phrase “it’s the cook, not the cooker”? Probably not, because you are not a cook yourself.
OK where was I? Oh yes, my final stop at the Luling City Market.
More great sausage here. The staff was very friendly and let me take several pictures of the pit. The brisket I got here was unfortunately a little bit chewy, but I’ll mark that up to just getting a less than perfect slice of lean.
It is too easy to get wrapped up in the flavor profiles of competition BBQ and forget that simple is often better. For me, that’s the big takeaway from this trip. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.