Wednesday 23 July 2014

More of the best - Black's BBQ and Smitty's Market, Lockhart

[Black's BBQ, Lockhart, Texas]
Okay, it's time for some excuses. After all the bravado about eating at all the Lockhart barbecue establishments, I only managed two.

Perhaps it was the vast cinnamon roll I had with breakfast. Maybe it's the heat, which does sap my appetite. Maybe I needed some company to egg me on. Maybe I'm just an English lightweight who can't take his barbecue.

That said, the barbecue I did have was fantastic. First stop was Black's BBQ. They've been owned by the same family since 1932, and are definitely a 'must eat' stop on any Texas BBQ tour.

[Brisket at Black's]
I'm sure all these places put a lot of effort into looking like they make no effort at all - part of the experience is how rough and ready these places are. They give you the feeling you've stumbled into a forgotten, locals only haunt. Yet chatting in the queue (which was all men of my age and above), no one was from Lockhart. Everyone was here on pilgrimage, mostly from the big cities of Dallas or Houston. I'd come the furthest, unsurprisingly.

So what was it like? Well, now I'm regretting the hyperbole of yesterday's post. It was every bit as good as Louie Mueller's. Just the right amounts of fat, crust and meat. If my first trip had been here, I would have been loudly proclaiming that this was the best barbecue in the world. I would hate to choose between the two, but luckily I don't have to, and nor should you. Try both. Now.

[The pit at Smitty's]
Next, off to Smitty's Market, a short walk across Lockhart's rather charming square. My first impression was that it was closed, but no, I pushed against a darkened door to find myself in a corridor leading up to the pits. How anyone can work in those conditions amazes me - the sacrifices they make for us barbecue lovers!

Smitty's had the ambience and authenticity spot on - I took my little parcel of brisket, wrapped in butcher's paper, through to the dining room. There I picked up a soda and some potato salad, and took a seat. I took a bite, and I hate to say this, I was disappointed.

Compared to Black's earlier, this was drier, chewier, less succulent. There was a good smoke flavour, but the texture wasn't working for me. Now, Smitty's didn't get to be an institution by serving bad brisket, so maybe the mistake was mine. Maybe I should have ordered a fattier slice (as that's definitely to my taste). Maybe they just had a bad day. But after two sublime barbecue moments, this was a disappointment. It was just, well, okay.

[Dining room at Smitty's]
Now I had a dilema. I was full. Kreuz Market, my third stop, is a huge barn of a place just out of town. I'd enjoyed the three places I'd visited so far for their charm and history, and I didn't imagine I'd get that from Kreuz's. I was also too full to want to go for the meat alone.

So I decided to quit while I was ahead and drive back to Austin. Kreuz's, I apologise, I might have missed the best barbecue of the day, but I don't think I would have appreciated it. I'll come back another year. I promise.

Ps. You can see more photos from here, and my travels in general, at my Flickr account.


  1. After eating more than once at all three places in Lockhart, I can say several things:

    * Yes, each place can have a bad day, or somehow end-up with some slightly lower quality meat before they start smoking it.

    * Even on their less than stellar days, all three still manage to produce some of the best BBQ in Texas,

    * I found that I preferred the brisket Kreuz Market, but that when it came to sausage, Smitty's Market and Black's BBQ had slightly tastier and better cooked sausage.

    The latter use of “slightly“ has been key for me. While there may be minor variations between the quality at these three places, that’s OK. Since they all “play” in the same league, even on their worst days, they are still better than most of the rest.

    Thanks for the postings. I’m going to one of the best local BBQ places here in San Antonio this weekend, and your stories are heightening my anticipation of that. :-)

  2. I agree, all places can have an off day - Smitty's has a great reputation, and I guess I was just unlucky. I've fallen in love with brisket, so it was a shame to get a piece that was less than perfect - but I could have had a sausage and loved it. I'm not going to 'do a tripadvisor' and post a really negative review. More I see this as an excuse to go there (and Kreuz's) again!

    Ps. I just ate some divine brisket at Cooper's in Llano, and I'll tell more about that later!

  3. that's the beauty of bbq, isn't it? It's like football... on any given Sunday, as they say in America. The thing that's always interested me about Lockhart is the concentration of bbq culture. So glad you enjoyed your "'cue crawl," as they call it down there. :)

  4. We did visit Black's and Kreuz Market in 2016. And I have to say you missed out at Kreuz. Their brisket was nice and succulent. And the sausage not a meat grinder thing. Had the tour of the smakoers and will start shortly to experiment on my kamado to get a brisket that looks and tastes like this one.
    Black's had a slight dryer brisket, but the ribs where great.
    Did not visit Smitty's, but it's on the shortlist when I'm over, together with an other missed restaurant; Franklin's :-)