In Texas, where and how you eat barbecue matters as much as your football team and where you go to church.
Moreover, Texans will wait longer in line for good barbecue than they will just about anything else. In Austin, everybody demanded that I go to Franklin Barbecue but warned that I’d need to show up by nine in the morning if I hoped to get a bite of lunch.
Oh dear. Forgive my sacrilege dear Austinites, but greater empires than Texas have fallen after forcing hungry masses into long lines and making them wait for hours just to eat. And while I’m confident Franklin Barbecue is all that and more, my iPod battery doesn’t last that long. And so I left town in search of a good piece of meat.
Salt Lick also came highly-recommended, and I’ve tasted their goods, so I know how worthy it is of the drive to Driftwood, Texas, but the prairie winds blew me in the opposite direction and I ended up in Lockhart.
Lockhart, Texas is a small and unassuming place, so if you don’t slow down, you’ll pass right by the state’s unofficial barbecue capital without even catching a pleasant whiff of grilled meat. In town, it’s another story though, with three main competitors for “the best” and all so different.
And so I walked around the town, asking random folks which was best: Smitty’s, Black’s or Kreuz Market. Some of y’all chimed with your own Texas-sized opinions about where I should be eating and that is how I ended up in a long line at Kreuz Market: No Sauce, No Forks, No Kidding.
Yes, in the end, I ended up waiting in a long (yet reasonable) line of hungry barbecue-lovers who had driven far and wide for a bite of what they all said was the “Best Barbecue in Texas.” The woman behind me had four small children in tow, and all the kids talked about was the jalapeno cheese sausage. The guy in front of me quietly and humbly nodded and said, “Yeah, this place is the best you’re gonna get.”
In thirty minutes I reached the front of the line and stepped into the hallowed hall of barbecue pits, growing heady from the hickory smoke and sizzling scent of grilled beef. There was absolutely no mess and nothing extraneous–if anything, this was a minimalist barbecue joint, with three chefs grilling and cutting in white aprons, working quietly and quickly like surgeons in a hospital.
I placed my order and the cashier silently placed each cut of brisket, ribs, and sausage onto a faded red paper, then twisted up the edges and handed it to me like a newborn baby going home from the hospital. There was no drippy red barbecue sauce and I broke protocol by not grabbing any bread or crackers or cheese. Instead, I just added a few pickles to the side and with my bare Texan hands, I stuffed a twist of marbled, blushing brisket into my mouth.
Art . . . pure art. I chewed the tender, flawless barbecue in my mouth and tasted all of Texas in that first bite. This was a revelation, a whole new level of carnivorous joy that I had achieved. I ate without a break, purposefully and committed. I tasted each new bite, savored every chew and thought to myself, “I am so glad I came to Lockhart.”
And now, as I continue my journey across Texas, I’ll keep my church and football affiliations to myself, but when it comes to barbecue, I’ll happily share my opinion. Y’all can keep your ridiculous lines and foodie pretense. Me? I’ll be going back to Lockhart.