Developing an Even Greater Appreciation for Central Texas Barbecue

Last Labor Day I made a barbecue pilgrimage to Lockhart, Texas. It changed my life, or at least how I think about meat and barbecue.

While my very favorite foods are generally Southeast Asian, whether Singapore Hawker Centers or really good Thai, after being exposed to Central Texas barbecue it’s certainly up their on my list of favorites now. It was worth going to Austin just for the barbecue, and it’s worth going back.

Central Texas barbecue is all about the meat.

At a central Texas barbecue restaurant, the customer takes a tray. One staff member serves the customer the meat and often also carves it, while another server provides side dishes. Slices of packaged white bread are often included with the barbecue. Barbecue, sold by the pound, often includes beef ribs, brisket, chicken, pork ribs, and sausage. Some establishments serve clod (beef shoulder).[7] The emphasis of the barbecue style is on the meat. If sauce is available, it usually is a side dip.[3] Calvin Trillin, writing in The New Yorker, said that people who discuss central Texas barbecue do not talk about the piquancy of the sauces or the tastes of side dishes such as beans; the discussions tend to center around the quality of the meat.[8] In many restaurants barbecue sandwiches are not served. The customer may take a piece of bread and roll it around the meat or the customer may not use bread and instead use his or her fingers to eat the meat.

This sign at Kreuz market in Lockhart sums it up:

Kreuz Disappoints Again While Black’s Amazes

When I went back to Kreuz in April the brisket was dry and overcooked, while Black’s was again fantastic.

That was again my experience on my most recent visit to both.

Kreuz is the first barbecue restaurant you hit when driving into Lockhart from Austin (though Black’s and Smitty’s are practically around the corner).

You stand in line for meat, and then move into the cafeteria-style dining for sides and drinks.

Kreuz sausage is good — but while on my first visit there the brisket was amazing, this time like last the brisket was dry. Very dry. So dry that most of the meat was inedible.

Disappointing to say the least. Especially as a follow-on to having visited Black’s first on the trip.

Black’s is unquestionably the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten.

The line seems long, but took only about 10 or 12 minutes to get through and there was plenty of seating available once I had ordered and gotten my food.

I admit, I skipped the sides. I really just wanted to try several of their meats.

The brisket is fantastic. It’s amazing. THeir beef ribs are a unique contribution, Kreuz offers them on weekends but they’re nothing like these giant offerings and the meat is perfectly cooked and delicious. The Hatch Chile sausage is new, and I was blown away, perfectly cooked and just alive with flavor.

I’ve Still Never Been to Franklin — But I Will Get There!

I’ve still never been to Franklin. Supposedly their brisket is the best. On my first trip I confronted a line of over two hours, saw the party atmosphere in the line and thought the folks waiting couldn’t be serious about their barbecue. So I assumed, presumably incorrectly, that the place was overrated. Plus it was in Austin and I was skeptical that they could do great barbecue within the constraints of the sort of fire regulations that would exist in the city.

And I still haven’t been. But fortunately I will have the chance in the coming months. There’s a frequent flyer gathering in Austin this coming February, and the Milepoint frequent flyer community is sponsoring a private dinner at Frankklin Barbecue.

I don’t know if dinner will be able to live up to the hype, if they’ll really have the same quality that they do in the late morning (barbecue is funny that way). But it’s an amazing opportunity to finally be able to sample Franklin Barbecue without the lines, and in a friendly environment with fellow frequent flyers no loss! So I’m really looking forward to that.

Oh, and the events open at Stiles Switch barbecue, another one of the famous (Texas Monthly top 50) places I’ve yet to try. Exciting stuff!

Reservations and Sit Down Service Can Co-Exist with Good Barbecue in Austin Proper

My new discovery on this trip was Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue. It’s in Austin. It’s a sit down restaurant, not a bus your own tray kind of place. And you can make reservations.

And their brisket is better, in my opinion, than Kreuz or Smitty’s in Lockhart (though it doesn’t come close to Black’s).

So it certainly has a place in the repertoire. It isn’t ‘the very best brisket in the world’ though its barbecue does make the Texas Monthly top 50 list. But it’s a great place to go where you can even do dinner. There’s live music upstairs frequently (a feature to some, a bug to others).

Lambert’s is going to be more expensive than the self service places, and the portions aren’t huge. But everything I tried was high quality.

It’s also the only barbecue place where I would bother with dessert. I had never had fried pie before.

Longing to Go Back

If I need a taste of barbecue in DC, I will go to Hill Country Barbecue but I will never do so in the time leading up to an Austin visit, or in the immediate aftermath, because the contrast is just too great to handle.

But this just has me pining for the Austin frequent flyer event in February and to finally try Franklin!

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hill Country was wack as all get out, Gary, at least here in NYC. Their best offering was the Kreuz sausage!

  2. When you are back in Central Texas – you have to hit up Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, TX. One of the best BBQ places I’ve eaten in Texas.

  3. Gary. Just tried some great Texas BBQ ribs @ Blue Smoke outside the Conrad New York. Ur right it is about the meat. Great! While poor hubby was still trying to find good Carolina pulled pork & was disappointed

  4. Gary, first thank you for the post. It is so long and elaborate that I can tell that you are into Paleostyle of eating. Me 2!

    Here is the suggestion try lechon asado when in PR. Bayamon is best if you staying in SJU area

  5. As one who a) liked Black’s a lot, b) attended the last MegaDo sit-down evening dinner at Franklin, and c) is not generally prone to hype, I feel confident that you will be impressed. The stuff is other-worldly.

  6. I live in Austin. However, I am a vegetarian so I can’t really comment too much on BBQ, but generally, Lambert’s is considered the “upscale BBQ” place. My husband works in the area and eats there from time to time. Franklin’s has become more or less a tourist mecca. This summer I noticed a place on South 1st that always seemed to have a line. It’s called La Barbecue. The reviews on yelp are very good and it seems to be the alternative to Franklin’s. You might want to check that out at some point. Hope you had a nice visit to Austin!

  7. I too am a BBQ lover, but living in Southern California doesn’t leave me with many options aside of smoking my own brisket, pork and ribs.

    I frequently travel to Austin for business and go out of my way to visit the local BBQ establishments. You are spot on regarding Lamberts but unfortunately iy sounds like you missed Rudy’s which is a similar model and layout to Kreuz.

    Please keep us posted on other BBQ finds and if you’re ever in KC, be sure to visit Oklahoma Joe’s,

  8. I’m an Austinte, and you hit it spot on. Black’s is the best all-around BBQ you can get. Franklin has (slightly) better brisket, but Black’s has the best of everything else. Plus, they have by far the best sides IMHO, and you don’t have to wait outside for two hours in the Texas heat just to eat.

    Kreuz’s is for tour buses so Black’s won’t get too crowded.

  9. Another Austinite here; my favorite is Cooper’s in Llano, a scenic 1 hour 20 minute Hill Country drive away. Smitty’s and Black’s are great, too. Franklin is very good but I don’t want spend all morning waiting for lunch.

  10. What is this talk of sides? Sides get in the way of meat!

    And for KG, Rudy’s doesn’t qualify, sorry. ;P It is the most pedestrian of the mass-produced barbecue joints, though it is a fair sight better than Bill Miller to be sure.

    I do invite all of you to the 2014 Austin Mega Do ( where we will be visiting Franklin Barbecue for a private dinner so you can see what the hype has been about. And no worries about the quality: the meat we get is cooked specifically for our event instead of leftovers from lunch (they’ve never had leftovers from lunch…ever).

    Lockhart has some great offerings, but the truly dedicated will make the pilgrimage to Snow’s in Lexington, Texas. Only open Saturday mornings and puts everything in Lockhart to shame (which is difficult to do).

  11. I lived in South Thailand for over 2 years, so I understand your fondness for SE Asian Cuisine (It’s amazing), but I also love me some GOOD long smoked BBQ. I (admittedly) have never been to TX, but I am a student of real BBQ and I make some pretty amazing fare at home after 6+ hours of smoking. It is something legitimate that the USA adds to international cuisine, because as far as I have studied, no one makes Q like We Do!

  12. What’s the consensus about the Salt Lick in Driftwood these days? Next month, I’m headed in that direction from Austin, so I was thinking of stopping in. I’d certainly be willing to try Franklin, but what kind of line would I run into at 11 am on a Friday?

  13. At Franklin’s by 11am the line will have formed 2 hours earlier. I live around the corner from La Barbecue on South First and it has quickly gone to the top of my list. The line is much less insane than Franklin’s. They open at 11 and there will probably be a 30 minute line by that time. Once they start serving it moves quickly.Multiple meats including the brisket are among the best I’ve had in 20 years of living in Austin and traveling the state. Cooper’s, specifically the one in Llano is my longtime favorite. The good news is you can find darn good meat all over Central Texas even if its not always the best of the best.You can argue for hours with a Texan about the best barbecue.

  14. I used to live in Austin, and if you want beef ribs, you have to go to the County Line or the Salt Lick. Both rock.

    The last one is ironic because it’s not nearly as salty as Kreuz’s. When I tried Kreuz’s, I literally said, “if I wanted my food to be that salty, I’d just put a salt shaker in my mouth.” I was not a fan.

  15. You have to order “moist brisket” or “moist cut” otherwise they’ll give you lean cut (unless you get lucky and they served a bunch of lean just before). I once asked why that is and they said that the locals are an older community and prefer lean cut (but I secretly think they just keep the good stuff (the fatty part of the brisket) for those in the know). Franklin and La Barbecue is better than the Lockhart and Luling BBQs ( which are worth visiting once or twice for the small town experience) but the small town guys have been relying too heavily on their past history and too little on making consistently good BBQ.

  16. There are two keys to the Salt Lick:

    They have an all you can eat option, and they are BYOB.

    You are no doing Salt Lick right if you are not there with a dozen friends and an ice chest for four hours.

    Just going there for a bite to eat misses the point entirely. Great German potato salad there, too.

  17. As a lover of BBQ as well, I just wanted to throw out the Pecan Lodge at the Farmers Market in Downtown Dallas. If you ever have meetings downtown, go there.
    Only open
    Thursday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
    Friday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
    Saturday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
    Sunday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm

    Their brisket is the best I’ve had (I haven’t been to Lockhart yet though). It is very peppery, but great moisture.

  18. The Salt Lick is excellent.

    For my money, the best BBQ in DC was Capital Q. Just noticed they closed back in 2012. Pity.

  19. #26 Matt is spot on about the Salt Lick.

    Gary, try Chisholm Trail (on the south side of Lockhart) the next time in town as the #2 to your Black’s visit (which is also my favorite in Lockhart). The bigger question, when are you coming down to make a pilgrimage to Big Lou’s in San Antonio?

  20. Thanks for the advice, guys. I think we’ll do the Salt Lick; somehow it “feels” better eating BBQ outside the city, and we’re heading in that direction anyway. And there’s no way I’m waiting on a 2-hour line for BBQ, even if it’s a little better (since it will be a LOT worse waiting that long when there’s a good alternative).

  21. Not Texas but good BBQ… If you are ever in Atlanta, you’ve got to try Fat Matts Rib Shack ( I travel for work and have eaten BBQ in Texas, Memphis, St. Louis, and Kansas City, but Fat Matts was hands down the best ever. To top it off, they have live music 7 nights a week… some of the best jazz and blues you will hear… for free!

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