If you're itching to take a little road trip,
get out of the city for a bit,
maybe the traffic is getting you down,
If you're hungry for tradition,
from the pit, just skip the kitchen,
and meet me On the Outskirts of Town.
Friends, this central Texas barbecue might just inspire the poet in you, too. 'Cause even the worst of the 'cue, the very worst in a bad spot on a bad day, well it is pretty darned good.
And the best, well, it'll just make you sing.
Jeans and boots dress most the natives, as well as those hoping to look like one, but no one will give it a second thought if you decide on stretch pants. You will certainly not be the first.
We were joined one fine Saturday, east of Austin, by intrepid blogging buddies, Epicuriosities, MadBetty, Mary Makes Dinner (whose blog went vegetarian after this meat orgy. Coincidence?), and South Austin Foodie, (who made it to every stop that day, too), along with a few willing spouses. Their personal names have been redacted to protect the opinionated. We set out to revisit favorites, and stop in on a few new spots on what would be, for us, a trek that covered close to 300 round miles, 14 hours, 7 pits, 14 Girl Scouts selling cookies (who knew the BBQ spots were unofficial GS soliciting gold?) and more than several dozen pounds of some of the best BBQ in this world. A brutal undertaking. (Barbecue Road Trip #2, recently completed, visited two new-to-me spots, and one new-to-Lockhart spots, and those reviews are included, below.)
All for the love of Barbecue. Central Texas Barbecue.
A few things to note:
- You may never see a plate. Many barbecue restaurants serve everything on paper-lined trays, and that's just fine by us. The styrofoam plates don't make for great pictures, nor pleasant meat-cutting.
- You'll be asked 'moist or lean'. Moist brisket, is the fattiest. Naturally, it's most flavorful, too. Lean brisket is the (slightly) healthier option.
- In addition to the sides on the menu, you'll almost always find complimentary pickles, onions, and sliced bread. That's just how it's done. You'll learn to look for them
- Sauce may be offered, but it's optional at some places, and blasphemy at others. Don't make a big show of saucing everything down if you want to look like 'an insider'.
- For heaven's sakes, don't wear a bib. Wear a dirty shirt, instead.
- And please, this is Texas. Don't skip the brisket.
We sampled the trinity: brisket, ribs, and sausage, and the usual suspects; potato salad, cole slaw, and beans. Along the way, we had other cuts and sides, too, either because one of the above was not offered, was sold out, or an enthusiastic BBQ agent suggested we just had to try a slice of _________.
WE LOVED THAT!
Naturally, there were mixed reviews and differing opinions at every stop. We'll be reviewing each establishment we visited individually, and in depth over the next few weekends, (and we'll be sure to drop back by and provide a link to each) but for this guide's purposes, we skim each location, and offer a few favorites.
Here's a little rundown of the great barbecue you'll find outside of Austin,
On the Outskirts of Town
Barbecue East of Austin...
Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
206 W 2nd, Taylor, TX ph. 512.352.6206
M-F 11-6 + Sat 10-6 + Closed Sunday
Louie Mueller, the only spot on this list that sports a James Beard award among the soot-enrobed paraphernalia, has been, and continues to be tops on my list, from the very first time I happened into the sleepy town of Taylor and found myself hankering for the best local fare I could find. Not a thing wrong with the sides, other than being completely out-shined by the meat, as is should be. Upon our most recent visit, Mueller's shared the 'best brisket of the day' distinction, and once they wrestled the bone from me, others agreed their beef rib to be the best we would have that day. Outside of our judging criteria, the baby back ribs deserve a great big honorable mention shout out of their own. Also a key component of our judging criteria-- friendly and enthusiastic service. (Note: Louie Mueller's suffered a pit fire, recently, but, happily, has reopened. See what Texas Monthly has to say about Louie Mueller's.)
Snow's Barbecue, Lexington
516 Main St, Lexington, TX ph. 979.773.4640 (Sat.only)
Open Saturday, only, 8am, until sold out
You'll have to get there early if you plan to have what many declare the best brisket in the state, because the line begins before opening, and the doors close when it's all gone. Half of our contingent agreed with the 'best of' raves and reviews, the other half conceding that it was splitting hairs to call a winner. We loved the jalapeno sausage. All agreed that it was definitely worth the drive to join the hungry line of folks licking their chops. Great service that makes you feel you're part of a big family gathering of giddy carnivores. (see what Texas Monthly, and Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, has to say about Snow's.)
City Meat Market, Giddings
101 W. Austin St. (Hwy 290), Giddings, TX ph. 979.542.2740
M-F 7:30-5:30 + Sat 7:30-4 + Closed Sunday
New to the 2014 Guide: It was off of our beaten path, but that didn't stop us from trying. A passenger jump-out from the lead car at the stoplight, found for her trouble that, close to noon that day, the only thing left was sausage, and some satisfied faces, blissful, beaming, even, still seated at the counter. Upon our second visit. We got lucky. In fact we found City Meat Market in Giddings to have our favorite sausage of the day. Man I loved that sausage. See what CNN's Eatocracy, and Texas Monthly have to say about City Meat Market.
Meyer's Barbecue, Elgin
188 Highway 290, Elgin, Texas ph. 512.281.5546
M-T 10-8 + F-Sat 10-9 + Sun 10-7
It's all about the sausage in Elgin, with two popular establishments duking it out for sausage supremacy. We tried it all at Meyer's, and concluded its coarse ground, black pepper-flecked version Meyers produces as their 'best of plate'. Don't miss the complimentary beans offered-- they go so well with that sausage on the ubiquitous white sliced bread, onion, and pickle sandwich you'll see diners wrapping up at their seats.
Southside Barbecue, Elgin
Intersection of Hwy. 290 /Hwy. 95 North, Elgin, TX ph. 512. 281-4650
M-Th 8-8 + F-Sat 8-9 + Sun 9-8
Just after noon, the parking lot was packed, and the line to order and pay for barbecue snaked around the traffic controlling stanchions, and overflowed. Southside Market boasted hundreds--the most diverse crowd we saw, all hunkered down and about the serious business of 'cue-guzzling. Though the remaining meats we tried were fairly average among the day's offerings (and may I add average in this crowd is still way-above most barbecue offered off of this list of all-stars), the sausage did stand out, and the new version of sweet and sour vinegar-dressed cole slaw was our favorite of the day. The sauce at Southside was also a stand-out-- a house version with unusual notes of cinnamon and clove was good, and their bold sauce, we found, outstanding.
Black's Barbecue, Lockhart
215 N. Main, Lockhart, TX ph 512.398.2712
M-Sun 10-8, until 8:30 Th-F
If you're in it for the sides, Black's offers the best selection on the trail. They keep it hot and fresh and ready to be dished by hungry 'cue-ists', and include all the regulars, as well as macaroni and cheese, macaroni salad, green beans, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, Mexican rice, sweet creamed corn, sweet potatoes, apple, pecan, and blueberry pie, peach, blackberry, and cherry cobbler, and even more. Inching further down the line, you'll place your order for meat, and see it portioned before you on a wooden butcher block, worn and warped by the thousands of pounds of meat Black's produces. Our rumbling tummies were quieted a bit after we learned our one (huge!) beef rib cost over $20, (and, per pound, in comparison, quite reasonably priced, but did I mention, HUGE?) and the moist brisket was the fattiest of the lot, but in all fairness, we did order moist. (see A Few Notes, above). That said, Black's has always taken the award for friendliest service of the three Lockhart locations reviewed, and this day was no exception.
Smitty's Barbecue, Lockhart
208 S. Commerce, Lockhart, TX ph. 512.398.9344
M-F 7-6 + Sat 7-6:30 + Sunday 9-6:30
It was the end of the restaurant day for Smitty's, located in the same charming building off the square for the last 50 years, when we arrived, and the staff appeared to be close to frazzled by the throngs of diners that still filled every seat. The line for meat was short, and orders were efficiently gathered and charged. But there's a line for sides, as well, and that sucked the feel-good barbecue buzz right out of me. Once I reached my mis amigos and the first-ordered meat, most were finished, and I was a little grumpy, just like the girl who served my sides. But hungry diners can be a demanding lot, and the end of the day for hard workers isn't any time to expect pleasantries, so get your grub and get on with it, please. In fact, skip the sides altogether if you're in a hurry, and just pull yourself up to that tray of perfectly smoked meat. Smitty's lives up to its hype.
Kreuz Barbecue, Lockhart
619 N. Colorado, Lockhart, TX ph. 512.398.2361
M-Sat 10:30-8 Closed Sunday
If the only bad barbecue is no barbecue, well that's what we got at the ever-popular Kreuz (pronounced Kr-long I-ts) A full two hours before closing, there was no brisket, no ribs, and no patience for whining about it. You'll have beef shoulder, and you'll like it. And we did. Except it tasted like Mom's pot roast (which is fabulous, Mom!) but though it's appearance gave us hope, nothing like the crackling, crusted, pink smoke-ringed brisket for which we'd hoped. Four of our procession made it to Kreuz earlier in the day, where the no's they encountered were only the usual for Kreuz; no forks and no sauce, either, because they truly stand by their pit. Our friends agreed that none were needed, and declared Kreuz the best barbecue in Lockhart. They also agreed that, brisket and ribs, or none, the service was, well, cranky. But cranky service didn't deter the no-brisket, no-rib eating diners which filled the stadium-sized dining room, still, upon closing. (See what Texas Monthly has to say about Kreuz.)
City Market Barbecue, Luling (no website)
633 E Davis St, Luling, TX ph. 830.875.9019
New to the 2014 Guide: People whose opinions I trust on matters such as these declare City Market in Luling to have the very best sausage of the bunch, but, sadly, we were not to make it in time to try it ourselves upon that first trip. (Another thing to note about Central Texas Barbecue: It's not for the night owls.) That HAS BEEN RECTIFIED, as our second road trip began early, and in Luling! I called in our order earlier in the morning, thus avoiding the line that was around the dining room, out the door, and down the sidewalk just before noon, but they ask that all take-out orders be eaten off premises, so a picnic it was, in one of a few suitable spots around town. See what Texas Monthly, who voted City Market, Luling among the Top 50 Barbecue establishments in a state full of thousands, and, if you're interested in that sort of thing (I AM, I AM!), a little background from Rob Walsh, to help remember that Luling City Market in Houston is NOT City Market, Luling.
Mad Jack's BBQ Shack, Lockhart
1130 S. Colorado, Lockhart, TX ph. 512.743.1237
Friday and Saturday, only, 11:00am-9:00pm
New to the 2014 Guide: We'd heard tale that there was a new barbecue sheriff in town, already making a name for himself among the Lockhart old barbecue guard, so we had to see this for ourselves. James did not disappoint! I cannot say enough good things about the friendly service, the just-like-my-mom's potato salad, the generous portions and the incredible value! (The plate above, with a soda, was less than ten bucks!) But what I will wax poetically about was that brisket! I'm going to go out on a precarious limb here, because these words are fightin' words in Lockhart, but that bark encrusted, smoke-pink ring adorned slice of heaven, pictured above, was, well it was PERFECT. It was the best brisket I had on a day with stops at all of the lauded, all of the hippest, all of the anointed in the lexicon of BBQ opining both in Austin, and out. There. I said it. Let the furious moshpit of Best Of declaration arguments begin. But don't miss Mad Jack's.
An entire barbecue world, just as delicious if a little less storied, lives separate and apart on the west side of Austin, too. We look forward to sharing individual reviews of the restaurants, above, as well as the rest of the outlying story on The Outskirts of Town: Barbecue West of Austin, coming soon.
One of those topics that stirs up strong passions as well as smoky fires, barbecue, that is, and aficionados will have their opinions--let me promise you that. We love hearing them! Even those that don't particularly agree with ours. Where's your favorite brisket to be found? Who makes your favorite side? Who offers the consistently best customer service? The consistently worst? What dirt do you have to dish with us??
Tell it, y'all!
Every smoky bit.
While not an exhaustive overview (but, yes, somewhat exhausting), we've covered all of our favorite Barbecue joints east of Austin. If you're looking for Barbecue inside the city limits, please do not miss the thorough work that Lisa of Full and Content has put into her review of surely every BBQ spot in town. She might agree that it was about the most gloriously exhausting barbecue pilgrimage we've undertaken.
But whether creole food in and around Austin, or BBQ all around, I take my mission seriously, (ten pounds gained of serious this year, in fact) as do the other bloggers who specialize in Austin-area food fare. Collected by my most cool friend, the endearing Ms. Madbetty, be sure to look for the upcoming curated list of my colleagues work, too. Their posts cover everything under the bright-shining sun beneath which Austin basks. We hope you find it useful in planning your way around town.