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). The emphasis of the barbecue style is on the meat. If sauce is available, it usually is a side dip. 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. 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!