As a huge fan of barbecue, I've had all kinds across this entire country, and Texas BBQ is my favorite. Why? Easy. The care and process that goes into a great brisket or rack of ribs has been perfected in these parts for quite some time. German and Czech immigrants brought their traditions here, and now we get to enjoy the fruits (meats?) of their labor.
Some of the best barbecue joints in Central Texas are stops on the Texas BBQ Trail, a string of family-owned businesses that runs through the towns of Taylor, Elgin, Lockhart and Luling.
I recently hopped on a BBQ tour bus and took off down Highway 183 South to Lockhart and Luling to sample this region for the first time.
4. Kreuz - Lockhart, Texas
Pronounced "Kreitz", this is the granddaddy of them all. Literally. The 800-degree fires here have been burning since 1900, and they continue today. This is where barbecue began in the Central Texas region and thus spurred off into several different BBQ restaurants amidst family drama as legendary as the Hatfield's and McCoy's -- just more smoked meat and fewer funerals. Kreuz wasn't my overall favorite, but the history and the staff are worth stopping for. You can even have the barbecue shipped to you.
3. City Market - Luling, Texas
Home of the Watermelon Thump (band name...called it), City Market is a must stop on the Texas BBQ Trail. It's a no frills establishment. Walk in, order at the counter in the middle of the store, and find a spot along the booth lined walls. If you're looking for the "experience" of walking through the smoke to get your selections, then maybe some of the restaurants on this list will fit your flavor.
2. Smitty's - Lockhart, Texas
Ever heard the phrase "looks like a dungeon but smells like smoked meat heaven?" Not until now and you're welcome. Immediately opening the door to Smitty's you are greeted with a long dark hallway leading you to the pit where you place your order. In contrast, after you fill up your tray, leave the smoke-filled pit and walk into a big room to pick up sides and grab a table next to the locals enjoying their lunch break (If we all could be so lucky). Like most of these places, the Pitboss recommended getting there before noon to beat the two lines that form on weekends. It's BBQ, so come early or don't be in a rush -- the lines can be up to an hour wait.
1. Black's - Lockhart, Texas
This is the second stop on the tour, and I cannot forget it. All of the meats are packed with flavor throughout and the brisket is still bubbling when they cut it. We gave up on trying to eat off the rib bones because they fell out as soon as we picked them up. Even the bone from their very popular beef rib was extracted like Excalibur from the stone when we tried to transfer it to its plate. Why did we only get one?
That's why. After finally getting to experience Black's myself, there's no doubt why it consistently considered a BBQ fan's favorite establishment. While this was the most expensive stop on our tour, the overall product of their meat, the staff, and the atmosphere in the restaurant didn't deter me from spending extra to try it all.
Honorable Mention: Luling BBQ - Luling, Texas
This small, counter style, local BBQ establishment is across Hwy 183 from City Market. Luling BBQ was our 5th stop on the tour because we went right instead of left in downtown Luling. I was so "meat drunk" at that point I couldn't fit another piece of brisket in my belly. I couldn't say no to a piece of pie though it tipped the scales into my oncoming food coma.
My suggestion to the first timer is to come early, bring your appetite and try as much as you can. Bring plenty of cash. Most places have card service but some (like Smitty's) don't. Sides are great, but we're talking about meat! If you're going to try them all, save the sides for when you come back to visit your favorite. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Each one of our stops had knowledgeable and friendly crews manning the helm. Need a break between your pilgrimages to BBQ bliss? Both town squares are not to be missed; some of the buildings have been around before Texas was a nation.
Did I miss your favorite BBQ spot in Luling or Taylor? Think you can try all five places in one day? Add your seasoning and leave a note it in the comments section on Facebook.