My plane landed in Austin 45 minutes ago, it is 99 degrees, and I have my Polestar electric rental car* cruising south on Texas state road 130. Destination – Lockhart, TX. The self proclaimed capital of central Texas BBQ.
I have two wingmen with me. One is an Austin resident of 27 years and is serving as our BBQ operations navigator. The other is a buddy from Glascow, Kentucky (pop. 15,000) who has a masters degree in whiskey consumption and southern colloquialisms. If there is a better scenario for a Seinfeld episode, I don’t know what that is.
Being in the BBQ game for a while, you hear things about Texas BBQ. Whispers of a life altering taste of a beef rib. A religious experience based only on a bite of brisket. These are things I need to explore, but also selfishly, I want to know how I stack up against these legendary mecca’s of Texas BBQ.
*side note on the EV rental car. It was my first time driving an EV and I was pretty impressed. Even if I did have to Google ‘how to turn off Polestar EV car’.
Our BBQ operations officer gave us a blanket warning. The sides at all of these BBQ palaces are average at best. Which is fine. I am here to experience the meats. If a stray amount of beans or mac n cheese enter my consumption area, so be it, but that will be the exception, not the rule.
First stop, Kreuz Market. What you notice first is the shear size of the building. It is not a church, but a cathedral to the old school ways of Texas BBQ. Wood paneling and a smokey haze are presented to you on entering the building. The pits are all brick lined leading to a central chimney. If I had to guess, nothing has changed inside since 1962.
Order: Beef Rib, Brisket, Pork Ribs, Regular Sausage
Simplicity is the game at Kreuz. Salt, pepper, and smoke. The star of this order was the beef rib. Perfect bark, great tenderness, and silky beef flavor. Our local BBQ intel indicated Kreuz had the best beef rib in the area and it certainly did not disappoint. The fatty brisket slices were respectable and the lean slices a little on the dry side. Pork ribs were a little too dry for my taste and could have used a little more pop of flavor. The sausage had great flavor but the texture was throwing me off. A bit more of a mealy texture than I am used to, but the overall experience was great.
Second stop was Smitty’s Market. Smitty’s is the polar opposite of Kreuz in terms of size. Located in a strip of shops, Smitty’s has a small pit area churning with the smell of post oak wood doing its job. The seating area is small but full of small town charm.
Order: Brisket, Smoked Turkey, Pork Ribs, Regular Sausage
The star of this order surprised me. The smoked turkey was off the charts good. Juicy and tender and full of flavor, really impressive. The pork ribs and sausages were respectable. I have to be honest though, the brisket was disappointing. I ordered only fatty slices so I can compare those across the board. Fatty slices of brisket by default contain more fat and should be tender and juicier by nature. The slices at Smitty’s were pretty tough. Maybe that was a result of having to try and hold the brisket at temp for an extended period of time.
Terry Black’s in Lockhart is the new kid on the block. The original Terry Black’s in Austin is a BBQ institution know for being crazy crowded on the weekends. We cruised into the Lockhart location on our way out of town.
The pitmaster observed me ogling their six 1,000 gallon smokers and invited me into the pit room. To which I am sure he regretted as he spent the next 15 minutes talking about their pits, answering my multitude of questions, and showing me their briskets at work….truly my heaven.
Order: Brisket, Pork Ribs, Smoked Turkey, and Regular Sausage (They threw in some burnt ends and chopped beef)
Solid, solid BBQ. The brisket was on point and what I would expect from a fatty slice. Perfect bark, tender, and great flavor. The pork ribs were excellent. Tender juicy with that Texas salt and pepper flavor, but they hold the ribs in foil with a little simple syrup that gives them just a little sweetness. The sausage and turkey were very respectable. Pro tip: get the chopped beef and mix that with their mac n cheese.
It is important to note that we did the three Lockhart BBQ places above in the span of 2.5 hours. The 30 minute drive back to Austin, consisted of me trying to determine if the EV car had some sort of self driving capability so I could properly enter a food coma.
Stiles Switch BBQ
Admittedly, we did not go to Stiles Switch, but had it delivered to a 50 person work event in downtown Austin.
Order: Brisket, Smoked Turkey, Pulled Pork
The star of the order to me was the pulled pork. It had great pieces of bark mixed in and a great smoked flavor. You could tell the pork was mixed with a little bit of vinegar sauce. The turkey was respectable (Smitty’s still wins). The brisket was really good but I can’t give it a fair review until I go to the actual storefront. Getting brisket ordered, there will be hold time and temperature fluctuations that you would not get ordering right from the counter. Solid BBQ.
Located in East Austin, La Barbecue has seen many impressive pitmasters hone their skills here, such as John Lewis. John Lewis went on to open Lewis BBQ in Charleston, SC. La Barbecue is also the only female owned BBQ joint visited on this adventure.
Order: Brisket, Pork Ribs, Regular Sausage
Truly exceptional BBQ. The brisket was outstanding. The bark, tenderness and flavor were just spot on. The pork ribs are very close to how I make them with a little glaze of sauce and were perfectly tender. The sausage was the best I had and was also the spiciest of all the sausage candidates. This is a must visit place if you are working on your own Austin BBQ itinerary.
It’s Austin and Lockhart.
It’s a pilgrimage.
It’s something you just have to do if in town and you are a fan of BBQ.
There are sooo many more places that I still need to explore: Franklin’s, Leroy and Lewis, Micklethwait, Black’s, Valentina’s, Iron Works, etc…
Austin/Lockhart, Thank You for your BBQ awesomeness. I will be back to continue my research.
So, based on my recon, do I think I can hang with the Texas big boys? I am always my own worst critic, but I will say that I think my customers and community are in good hands.