Barbecue is a big deal in Texas. Other parts of the country claim to have the best barbecue. North Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis are all proud of their BBQ skills. However, for many brisket, sausage, and pork rib connoisseurs, one state stands above all others: Texas.
Texas barbecue is a subset of Texan cuisine that specializes in grilled and smoked meats, as well as the numerous side dishes that typically accompany them. The Texas specialty is beef brisket and various smoked pork dishes.
Barbecue in Lockhart
Declared “The Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1996 by the Texas State Legislature, Lockhart sits about 25 miles southeast of Austin. Since we were driving through on the I-10, we exited the freeway at Luling and headed approximately 17 miles to Lockhart.
Lockhart has five barbecue joints: Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market, Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail BBQ, and newcomer Thumper’s BBQ. The first three put the city on barbecue lovers’ bucket lists; the other two don’t get quite as much publicity. Since you can only eat so much barbecue in one day, we chose to try Kreuz, Smitty’s, and Black’s.
Ironically, we had to drive past Chisholm Trail and Thumper’s to reach the other three. Opened in 1978 by a former Black’s Barbecue employee, Chisholm Trail is reportedly where the locals go for their smoked meat fix. I noticed several cars in the parking lot, but it didn’t seem overly crowded. Then again, since we visited on a Thursday, all of the barbecue joints were quiet.
I didn’t see Thumper’s. Actually, I didn’t know it existed until I started writing this article, which kind of makes me sad because legendary pitmaster Roy Perez of Kreuz gives Thumper’s a thumbs up. Plus, the prices seem very reasonable.
Located on the northwest corner of Colorado (Interstate 183) and Prairie Lea streets, Smitty’s shares an interesting history with Kreuz. Both date back to 1900 when Charles Kreuz Sr. opened a grocery store and smoked meats onsite. The family constructed a new building in 1924 to provide indoor seating and sold the business to an employee, Edgar Schmidt, in 1948.
“Smitty” continued to grow Kreuz Market until he retired in 1984. His sons, Rick and Don, purchased Kreuz and moved it to its current location in 1999; his daughter, Nina, opened Smitty’s in its place.
Because of its location, Smitty’s has the best atmosphere of the three Lockhart barbecue joints we visited. Decades of smoke coat the brick walls near the pit. As you wait to order, you stand feet from the burning logs fueling the pit, and when the lid is opened, you have a clear view of the hunks of meat smoking inside. Your selections are cut on a butcher’s block wet with juices, weighed by hand and served on butcher’s paper.
We ordered a jalapeno sausage, pork rib, and ¼ pound of brisket to share. The sausage was good. My favorite was the pork ribs. The brisket was good but not as good as I had hoped; it just lacked the smoky flavor (despite the beautiful smoke ring) that I expected.
Tip: Smitty’s is cash only, and they famously don’t have forks (although there are knives and spoons available for sides)
Our next stop was Black’s Barbecue. Opened in 1932, it is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas owned by the same family. The fourth generation of the Black family helms the original Lockhart restaurant, plus an Austin location.
The feel is very different from Smitty’s. Stepping inside, you’ll find yourself in a passage lined with photographs of celebrities who have eaten at Black’s, flyers for local happenings, and memorabilia. On the left, windows look out on the dining room floor.
Unlike Smitty’s (and Kreuz’s), you choose your sides before getting your meat. We got what I thought were barbecue beans but were actually just pintos. They were fine but nothing special. For our meats, we chose the beef rib, brisket, and sausage. The brisket was flavorless, and the sausage was okay, but the beef rib was amazing! If you go to Black’s, get the beef rib.
Even the beef rib couldn’t save Black’s, though, in my opinion. It felt like a cafeteria for out-of-state tourists. You don’t see the smokers, you scoop out your own sides from metal trays and everything is served on a Styrofoam plate. And, while the Styrofoam plate is placed on a tray lined with butcher paper, it’s just not the same.
But, I get it. Some people want plates and forks. They want to eat where the barbecue sauce flows freely, surrounded by honky-tonk décor, and if that’s you, Black’s is the place to go. It’s not for me, though.
Tip: Order the beef rib. It’s pricy ($16.50 per pound) and huge (one to two pounds each), but it is so worth the splurge.
We ended our tour at Kreuz. Pronounced “Krites,” it is located a ¼ mile north of Smitty’s and has a massive parking lot. Where Smitty’s felt nostalgic and somewhat intimate, Kreuz felt commercial. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a bus rolled in and tourists spilled out to sample “real Texas barbecue.”
But, Kreuz has a lot going for it. After walking down a long hallway—on weekends, I’m sure a line extends its entire length and out the door—we made it to the pit. I didn’t see Roy Perez, Kreuz’s famous pitmaster there, but everyone was super friendly. I was even invited back behind the counter to the actual pit when someone noticed me taking photographs.
We ordered sausage and brisket. The brisket was the best I had all day, well-seasoned and with the perfect balance of smoke. The sausage was good, but I don’t really get excited about sausage. My favorites? It was a toss-up between Kreuz and Smitty’s; Kreuz had great brisket and friendly service, but Smitty’s had a great pork rib and an amazing atmosphere.
Tip: Kreuz is built to handle crowds. If you go on a weekend and don’t want to spend too much time waiting in line, Kreuz might be your best bet.
Is it worth the detour to eat barbecue in Lockhart?
For most travelers, Lockhart is a detour. It’s not on the way to any major destination, and if you are on I-10, you have to go through Luling, another Texas barbecue hotspot, to get there.
We had a good barbecue, and I really liked Smitty’s tin ceiling and worn wood floors in the dining area, not to mention the pit there. But, Lockhart has a touristy vibe, and we had a much better barbecue in Austin.
The short answer: Go to Lockhart to say you’ve been if that’s important to you. Otherwise, you won’t be missing too much if you skip it.