What started out as an impromptu overnight trip to Austin turned into a barbecue crawl through Lockhart, Texas – the heart of Texas barbecue. (A barbecue crawl is just like a pub crawl and I can testify that you pretty much feel the same way when you’re done eating all that Q as when you’ve finished that last beer.) While Austin has its share of barbecue joints, almost every city in Texas has at least one barbecue place, but drive 30 minutes south of Austin, to Lockhart, to taste what many believe to be the belly of the beast. THE place for barbecue.
While we were in Austin, we stopped at one of Craig’s favorite places, The Green Mesquite. The two meat platter (we got pork ribs and beef brisket) came with three sides, which is pretty standard. I wasn’t all that impressed and Craig realized that the first time he had it, and loved it, he really hadn’t had any barbecue before. (and he definitely had never had MY barbecue) He was sad that his memories of grand barbecue had let him down. The brisket was fairly dry (even though we ordered the fatty cut) and the ribs didn’t have much flavor. Thankfully, we ate that early enough that we were able to enjoy some fantastic food truck grub later that night.
The next day was our road trip south to Lockhart, TX.
On our way to only place we were planning on going to we missed the exit. What’s an intrepid traveler to do but make the best of a bad situation. So we looked up other barbecue places and decided to do a Lockhart barbecue crawl. Low and behold we were two minutes away from Black’s Barbecue. (One of the bbq triumvirate.) Black’s has been in business for 82 years…so they probably have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing, or so we thought. We decided that we would hit the three biggest Q places in the city and order fatty beef brisket, pork ribs and plain sausage at each of them and see which we liked best. (There’s fatty brisket, that which has a small cap of fat on top to keep the moisture in the meat or lean brisket which is lean and usually drier.)
Texas barbecue is also served with sliced white bread and/or saltine crackers. No, I do not know the origins of this tradition but some places give you a few slices while some just hand you a bagged loaf of the stuff. We always pass on these because they just take up valuable barbecue space. The line at Black’s was pretty short, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes in the narrow hallway before walking up to the counter to order our food. Of course the hallway is lined with “funny” ephemera on one side and a glass window into the dining room on the other. If you’re really hungry when you go, that hallway can be pure torture (forget about the temperature in the passage way…which can also be a bit uncomfortably warm.) The woman that served us was particularly upbeat and helpful with the suggested sides we should get. A major plus for Black’s is their homemade cornbread (So.good.).
We sat in the wood lined dining hall and grabbed a couple of chairs next to a group that made our plate look like we were on a diet or something. THEY were into some serious barbecue. The brisket was nice and juicy and had a well flavored bark. It wasn’t really crisp, but it wasn’t soggy either…somewhere in between. But the flavor on the meat was really good. You could taste the meat and just a hint of smoke. The pork ribs were fall off the bone tender and the sausage had a great consistency and nice snap. Craig liked it so much he had to buy a t-shirt. (That big yellow looking thing in the picture is an amazingly delicious dill pickle – palate cleanser.)
The next stop was Chisolm Trail. To say this is a no-frills restaurant would be an understatement. It feels like an old cafeteria your grandparents would take you to, but on Friday you can get catfish (not something you usually find at a barbecue joint). Their selection of sides, while tasting pretty institutional, were unrivaled. Feeling pretty full from the first place, we powered through and got a couple of sides along with our meat. A little mac and cheese and some fried okra (next time I’d just pass on the sides). The word on the street is that this is the hidden secret barbecue place in Lockhart (not much of a secret with the lines that form out front). But the prices here are much lower than the other places. They were the only place that automatically gave us a container of barbecue sauce with our order, which is a bit strange and would leave a barbecue die hard wondering about the quality of their meat. But the brisket had a good texture and mild smokey flavor and we didn’t need the sauce. The sausage had a good snap, but the texture wasn’t as good as the one from Black’s. The ribs were okay, nothing to write home about.
Our last stop was to be our original stop that we went sailing past, Kreuz Market BBQ. Kreuz is THE barbecue place that everyone talks about it. It’s been around at least as long as Black’s and it’s pretty hard to miss their building (even if you miss the exit) because it’s the size of a Texas church – Huge! The place looks empty even when it’s full. Kreuz works off the motto “no barbecue sauce, no forks, no kidding.” Their thinking is you only need barbecue sauce to cover up the meat if the meat doesn’t taste good. If you order any sides, you can get a spoon. Which is a good thing because eating mac and cheese with the fingers can be a pretty messy and painful experience. Otherwise, you’re eating this one with your hands. They also only serve their food on butcher paper (that’s a traditional thing that a lot of barbecue places do in Texas).
We had heard so many good things about Kreuz, because we eat at a barbecue place here in Dallas that carries Kreuz sausage and smokes using the same white oak. We ordered our food from the biggest pit we had seen all day and got ready to settle in. At this point, our stomachs were beyond full. We had already packed up more than half of our food from Chisolm Trail to eat the next day, but in the name of research we forged on.
Kreuz ribs were the biggest pork ribs we had gotten all day (they’re buried under the beef), but they were really lacking in meat. Sorry for the crummy pictures, but all my blood was in my stomach area and had left the brain, so thinking clearly about good shots was pretty much non existent at this point. There was a lot of bone and gristle on ribs, not my brain. The brisket was actually pretty dry, but the meat had good flavor to it. The sausage Craig normally gets at our Dallas place is the jalapeno, and he loves it. But since we were getting just the plain sausages, that’s what he got. It was dry, the texture was mealy and there wasn’t much flavor to it. On the plus side, you can order an avocado as a side at Kreuz. I’m guessing you’ll look something like Edward Scissorhands getting into that avocado.
While Craig and I normally have debates over which food we like and don’t like, we were both so full of meat after this day I think we just agreed with each other so that we didn’t upset our stomachs. Most of the Kreuz food (sans sausage) was wrapped up for later eating.
What we did agree on after our day of barbecue crawling was this:
Fatty Beef Brisket: Black’s Barbecue
Pork Ribs: Chisolm Trail
Plain Sausage: Black’s Barbecue
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