Non-football: a barbecue travelogue

I have to admit I got a kick out of the reaction I saw from some of you guys in the comments to my post about my trip to Austin.  As I got a few requests for my foodie impressions from there, here’s a brief summary, in chronological order.

First stop was La Barbecue, in East Austin.  To give you some sense of my priorities, we stopped there on the way from the airport to the hotel where we were staying.  Like many of such places in Austin, it’s housed in an upscale food truck park.

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It was hot as hell, by the way.  I felt for the folks working inside there, but they were all friendly and helpful.  Not that it mattered, because they could have been the biggest assholes on the planet and I still would have loved them for serving me this:

The first bite of that was as close to an Oh. My. Gawd. moment as I’ve had eating… well, anything.  Brisket isn’t supposed to melt in your mouth, but that came damned close.  The texture was matched by a wonderful smokey goodness and a terrific bark that, somewhat surprisingly wasn’t that strongly seasoned.  The sausage, which they make as well, was great, but ultimately came off as a dining experience that would have been better spent on more brisket.  By the way, La Barbecue also makes its own dill pickles, which were excellent and nicely complimented the meat.

Final grade:  glorious.

The next day was my pilgrimage to Franklin’s, also in East Austin.  We didn’t discover until we got there that it was only three blocks from the hotel where we stayed.  (Marketing note to Sheraton:  you might want to make a bigger deal about that.)

Franklin’s is the hot thing right now.  How hot?  Well, it opens at 11AM and we got there at 9:15 to discover a few people had the same idea:

That’s on a Friday morning.  I thought we’d beat the working crowd, but it turned out that most of the line was like us, people visiting Austin who had to try the place.

For a joint with a long wait for its clientele, Franklin’s has management of the time down to a fine art.  There are umbrellas to borrow to keep the sun out.  There are chairs you can grab to settle down for the hours until you’re served.  They put out a water station.  A woman came around to sell cider, beer and coozies.  Plus, you get to talk to your neighbors.  All told, it’s almost like a tailgating experience.  No, really.

And in the end, if it were analogous to a tailgating experience, I felt like when I got my order, my team had kicked some righteous ass.

Brisket, pork ribs and turkey.  The brisket was easily the match of what I had the day before, although Franklin’s seasons the meat a bit more than La Barbecue.  The pork ribs were excellent, but, again, kind of a place holder that would have been better spent on more brisket.  The turkey was, surprisingly, a revelation:  juicy, flavorful and nicely smoky.  I would order that again.

Final grade:  worth the four-hour wait and then some.

We took a day off from barbecue before heading to the town of Lockhart on Sunday.  I was on an ambitious schedule, intending to sample the wares of three of the town’s best known places in a couple of hours.

The first of those was Kreuz Market.

Kreuz bills itself as the oldest continually operated barbecue joint in the state.  This is its second location, as it’s moved from its original spot on the square in the heart of Lockhart.

Given the schedule, I did pace myself a little, ordering a little brisket and sausage.

Florescent lighting isn’t kind to barbecue, I’m afraid.  The brisket, while not up to the standards of my first two stops, was still quite good.  The flavor and the bark excelled, while the meat was not quite as tender and juicy as what I’d eaten in Austin.  The sausage was terrific.  If I made a return trip, I’d have that again.

Final grade:  good, but you can do better.

From there it was a short drive to Black’s, which bills itself as the oldest, continually operated by the same family barbecue restaurant in Texas.  (It seems that family disputes are a large part of the Texas barbecue story.)

Black’s is a little different from the other places I tried, in that in addition to the barbecue, they have a quasi-buffet set up where you can order lots of sides.  I didn’t go down that path.  I was there for the meat.

Damned good.  The ribs were as tasty as the ones I had at Franklin’s, and while the brisket wasn’t quite as good as its counterparts in Austin, it was certainly nothing to sneer at.  The bark, in particular, was excellent.

Final grade:  if I had eaten here first, I would have been more impressed, but still, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed.

On to the final destination: Smitty’s Market.  This was the original location for Kreuz until there was a family falling out.  This is what you see when you walk in the front door.

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The gentleman running the pit was a great guy.  He let me walk around and check out what he was smoking at the time.

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Pretty.

Anyway, I ordered — guess what? — fatty brisket and sausage.

Again, apologies for the lighting, which doesn’t do the food any favors.  The brisket wasn’t up to the highest standards in that it wasn’t quite as tender and juicy as what I had at La Barbecue, Franklin’s or Black’s, but it was tasty.  The sausage was great, though.  Lockhart kicks some major ass in the sausage department.

Final grade:  fourth place, which is more impressive than it sounds.

So there you go, a thousand words on Austin barbecue.  Eating it was better than writing about it.

 

68 Comments

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68 responses to “Non-football: a barbecue travelogue

  1. Jared S.

    I’m looking at my PB&J in my lunch box. Sigh.

  2. sectionzalum

    that’s awesome. Franklin has a great cookbook out if you get a wild hair….

  3. Spike

    I just gained 5 lbs just looking at that.

  4. PTC DAWG

    Thanks for this write up…all of it looks good.

  5. Billy Mumphrey

    Making my first trip to Austin in two weeks and I really appreciate this post.

  6. Otto

    Good stuff, did you catch any night racing at COTA?

  7. Bob

    Good stuff. Been to Austin twice for the F1 USGP at COTA and had some good brisket, but don’t think we hit those places. Hope to check them out next time in town.

  8. 3rdandGrantham

    Glad you had a great time. Though I was born/raised in Georgia, in which I was taught at an early age to snicker at Texas BBQ, I must admit that, overall, the majority of my favorite bbq eating experiences have taken place in Texas. I have not tried La Barbecue, so that will be at the top of my list for my next visit. As for Franklin, I was lucky enough to visit during a nice rain, so my wait was only 20 minutes or so (that, and the fact that I last visited in 2012, when Franklin was popular but hadn’t quite reached cult status I guess.)

    I don’t post much these days, but boy your previous entry late last week certainly got me (and others) fired up. I cringed at some of the awful suggestions thrown your way like County Line and Salt Lick — good Lord, they might as well had suggested Sonny’s while they were at it as well.

  9. DawgFlan

    Agree completely on the shared experience aspect of waiting in line at Franklin’s. Beer + people all looking forward to the same thing + time away from all the other distractions in life. I didn’t think of the tailgating analogy myself, but it absolutely works. Glad you got to enjoy it and had a good time. Now I need to find an excuse to get back to Austin!

  10. Dawglicious

    I’ve never read an article about food that made my stomach growl. Until now. The pic of the pit did it.

  11. Hogbody Spradlin

    Glad to see you went for fatty brisket. A little fat adds to the flavor. Works for barbecue brisket the same as corned beef brisket.

  12. Nothing trashes a day like reading barbecue restaurant reviews first thing in the morning.
    Brisket is an all-or-nothing thing for me. It’s either out-of-this-world good, or “do you want the rest of mine” after the first bite.
    I know little of Texas bbq…what’s the sauce component, if any?

    • What’s this “sauce” you speak of? 🙂

      Nobody puts sauce on the meat, strictly a rub that blackens into a crusty bark.

      Some of the restaurants serve a sauce on the side. Texas sauce tends to be a thin, tomato-based affair which is spiced rather than sweetened. I was raised on it, so I like it a lot. But at most of the places I tried, it’s a distraction from how good the meat is.

      • 3rdandGrantham

        Reminds me of a recent experience at a high end steakhouse in D.C., in which I was entertaining an out of down guest. After he received his $50, beautifully cooked, prime medium rare strip, the waitress inexplicably asked, “would you like steak sauce?” He just starred at her in shock and said, “I certainly hope not.”

      • You and 3aG are exactly correct. If the meat (any type) needs a drop of sauce to taste great, go have lunch elsewhere I’ve used sweet mustard sauce to save bad brisket on occasion but will deny having ever done so if confronted..

        I was raised dangerously close to the state of South Carolina, where sometimes the pork is a garnish for the mustard sauce. Still love the stuff, though.

      • AusDawg85

        “…raised on it.”? Texas roots for you?

  13. Biggen

    Good lord this post is glorious. Probably your best work ever, Senator.😉

    Seriously, I was reading your tweets over the weekend thinking, “I need to break my smoker out after seeing all this wonderful smoked food”. I think I’m doing ribs this weekend after this post.

  14. Rpcpisme

    Any similar suggestions for Savannah-area, GA bbq or meals?

    • 3rdandGrantham

      Down the road from you in SSI is a great place…Southern Soul BBQ. Haven’t been there in a while so hopefully still around. The guys who run it are UGA fans too.

      • paul

        Still here. Better than ever.

        • 3rdandGrantham

          Cool. One of the best feelings is flying right into KSSI, hoping off the plane and literally walking on the other side of the fence and right into Southern Soul.

          In general aviation they call it $100 hamburgers…let’s just say I’ve made my share of $100 bbq flights to get my hands on Southern Soul.

    • paul

      You might want to try B’s Cracklin BBQ or Wall’s. But the best barbecue is Southern Soul, an hour south of Savannah here on St. Simons island. Avoid Paula Deen’s. If you want family style dining go to Mrs. Wilkes.

      • Rpcpisme

        Thank you. I knew there was an alternative to Paula Deens, just didn’t know the name. I may run down to check out Southern Soul…

    • Zeke the Plumber

      Wiley’s BBQ on Whitemarsh Island has a very very good burnt end sandwich. Sandfly BBQ has a location closer to downtown (corner of Henry & Barnard) that has some good BBQ as well.

  15. StoneDawg

    How does LaBarbecue & Austin’s compare to Fox Bros & Heirloom Mkt

    • I like Fox Bros and Heirloom a lot, but there’s no comparison. Austin’s best is simply lights out, game over.

      • 3rdandGrantham

        Agree. I’ve eaten at the so-called top spots in GA, NC, SC, etc, and none compare to the top joints in central Texas.

        BTW, NC bbq, as a whole, is a bit overrated IMO.

        • sniffer

          That “western” road kill is overrated. Lexington, to me, is much like what you get in GA or AL. It’s heresy to say, but brisket is king of bbq. Truthfully, I could live without pork, but, man would I miss brisket.

          • 3rdandGrantham

            I’ve been smoking meats on my BGE for many years, and to this day brisket remains by far the most difficult for me (pork butts and ribs, meanwhile, are as easy as making pb&j sammiches.) So for that reason alone I have to doff my cap to brisket. But yea, when don’t right, nothing beats it.

  16. DawgPhan

    Do you always order fatty brisket? and I assume that fatty means slices from the point or deckle?

    I believe the sliced flat is referred to as lean brisket, is that correct.

    Never been to texas and I supposed I would have to do that Franklins wait, but I dont think I would be super stoked about it.

    • On this trip, all I ordered was fatty, except at Franklin’s, where we got some of both.

      You are correct about the other being referred to as lean.

      • AusDawg85

        The lean is always pretty dry and more of an acquired taste, but some of the fatty is extremely heavy (glorious, but heavy). Good call is to go with “cutter’s choice” which is often a mix of the two.

  17. PatinDC

    Great post. and I am not even a fan of brisket.

  18. Uglydawg

    Wonderful pictures and reviews! I’ve had brisket at a very small town in south-central TX and it was great. They actually have it at Southern Soul in SSI, but there is no comparison (as Thinking Bulldog posted above it was one bite and “do you want the rest of mine?).Southern Soul’s pork, however is great. Gonna get to Texas in the Spring, hopefully.

  19. Daniel Simpson Day

    Just my .02 but you need to submit this post in its entirety to Garden & Gun. Making me want to fire up the egg…

  20. PTC DAWG

    Let me add that the picture of the Pitmaster at Smitty’s is MONEY. Great shot.

  21. Russ

    Was this post cardiologist and gastroenterologist approved?

    Some good looking meat, but I don’t think I’d wait 4 hours to eat dinner with Elvis and Herschel.

  22. Ugajeff

    Love this post, Senator! A man after my own heart (attack) 💔😊🐷

  23. Tommy

    Well done, Senator. It was a great pleasure to catch the game with you and finally put a face to a legend after all these years.

    Since I feel safe in assuming this won’t be your last visit, I’d like to put Louie Mueller’s on your radar. Louie is the grandfather of the proprietress of La Barbecue and of the notorious Johnny Mueller. The family has a, uh, lively history that would make for compelling reality TV.

    Anyway, Louie’s joint is in Taylor, inside of a building that was originally constructed as a high school basketball gym. I liken it a bit to the Sistine Chapel, in that the walls are coated with decades of smoke residue. There’s a cork board where people pin their business cards, and the oldest are nearly blackened.

    Anyway, that technique of getting brisket to melt in your mouth is the Mueller trademark. I would also add that, yes, generally, Central Texas takes the “our meat ain’t got nothing to hide” approach to sauce, Louie’s keeps a crockpot of sauce that is more like a soup, with whole chunks of onions in the mix.

    Also, looks like you’ll have to hit Freedman’s on your way back. One other fun factoid about Freedman’s is that the restaurant is in a historical building that used to be a gathering spot — church, school, and community building — for freed slaves way back when. Get the Holy Trinity.

    Great seeing you — and thanks for the great luck you brought us.

    • Thanks, man. Enjoyed my evening at The Tavern greatly.

      And I will have to make a return trip at some point in time. Appetite whetted, and all…

      • AusDawg85

        All of the local’s advice here has been spot on. For pork ribs, few know of Opie’s out Hwy 71 headed west to Horseshoe Bay. A 45 minute drive from downtown, but I’ve not found better even in the ATL. Used to be a place just south of downtown called Art’s with over the top ribs, but they closed a few years ago.

        But Texas just can’t do pig. Foreign concept for some reason. So here’s the deal…next time you come to Austin, bring your golf clubs and some pulled pork and I’ll treat you to golf and brisket!!!

  24. Athens Dog

    I looked at the line in awe at Franklin’s a few years ago when i was there with a flight attendant on a layover. Didn’t have time to stand in line so walked on into town and had a great afternoon and evening. A lot like Athens. But Athens is sadly lacking in great BBQ. Maybe somebody will come to the rescue!

  25. DavetheDawg

    Please tell me you were able to catch a few bands while in town as well. Austin rocks.

  26. Macallanlover

    Great review, sounds like you had an A+ experience, and I mostly enjoyed your enthusiasm. I am an enthusiastic BBQ “hunter” as well, but have found it is hopeless to argue BBQ due to the regional uniqueness which taints everyone’s opinion…including mine. I am on the Grizzard side of Texas BBQ vs pork and do not care for brisket at all, although ordering the fatty version may make it tolerable on my next visit.

    I lived in NC for a couple of decades and just gave up on the search for decent BBQ and consider it uneatable, and a waste of time. But the natives love it. In Texas, I avoided it and focused on the great steak steakhouses, and Mexican offerings, plus the Louisiana dishes creeping in. But the natives love the BBQ. While in TN I learned when they said BBQ they really meant just the ribs (like KC), which were quite good, but the rest of the BBQ experience was pretty sad. So there is a myriad of choices and everyone seems to love at least one of them. The one thing I have found in every area, even when the restaurants are bad (by my taste and expectations), the best BBQ is done at private outings and grilled on site. Even in NC, the had what they called “pick pickings” where the pork BBQ was damned good because it was hot and fresh, but mostly because you could get hunks of meat, or pulled pork, before they shredded perfectly good meat into such tiny pieces of meat that it looked like it was ground beef pieces going in a Sloppy Joe sandwich.

    To each his own. The one universal though, the more pristine and fancy the location, the worse the Q gets relative to the dives and shacks. Give me bottle caps in the driveway, slats falling off the wooden sides of the building, and a sign that needs painting.

  27. Sh3rl0ck

    I mentioned in the original thread that Aaron Franklin, of Franklin BBQ fame, did a 10 show series on PBS about Central Texas BBQ. Here is a link to the playlist for the episode on brisket.

    Kreutz, Smitty’s, and several other Central Texas BBQ joints are also featured in the series.

    For those wondering, the recipe for his super secret rub is: equal parts coarse kosher salt and 16 mesh ground black pepper.

    • Macallanlover

      That’s it? Just equal parts of those two spices? Wow, I am over complicating every thing I cook.

      • Sh3rl0ck

        Quality beef that is cooked properly needs nothing else. If you eat a steak in some of the finest restaurants in the world, and I mean places with multiple Michelin Stars, they will season it with nothing but salt and pepper, cook it in olive oil, and add a large pat of butter about half way through. They might rub the seared steak with a garlic close and add a small bundle of fresh herbs to the butter.

        For anyone that is trying to perfect grilling steaks / chops or smoking large chunks of beast, start with just salt and pepper. Learn to trim and cook the meat properly. When you have perfected that, start messing with other flavors. When you change multiple things at a time, it is hard to learn what contributed to the differences.

        • Macallanlover

          Have seen, and tried, that with steaks for a long while but never heard of a dry rub without other flavors for BBQ beef, or pork. Thanks.

      • DB

        John Lewis of La Barbecue tells the writer at the end of this interview http://www.tmbbq.com/interview-john-lewis-of-la-barbecue/ what his”seasoning” is and that he has never used just salt and pepper on a brisket even when he was at Franklin’s. Interesting.

  28. Cousin Eddie

    I have the world’s worst Texas BBQ story.

    In short, I went right outside of Austin for a four day work trip with old my boss who is a strict vegetarian. We ate at Taco Bell every night because he only felt safe eating vegetarian food at a place he knew in Texas. The only bbq I had was some chain crap at the airport.

    Glad you got to enjoy. I do plan to go back fairly soon with the Family to enjoy some of these places.

  29. Walt

    That’s the way to show you colon who’s the boss! I’m gonna have to fire up my big green egg this weekend.

  30. SlawDawg

    Now I’m even more ready for Rendezvous in Memphis this weekend. I haven’t been since that terrible bowl game in 2010, but I can still smell the smoke emerging from that alley. I’ve never been much of a ribs fan outside of Chester’s Ribs in Columbus, but Rendezvous’ dry rub got me!

    Anybody know of some BBQ in Oxford?

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