Barbecue is different things to people in different regions of the United States. In the Carolinas, it’s pork ribs and pulled pork; in the Midwest, it’s beef ribs because of the Jewish population that cannot eat pork. In Texas, it’s beef brisket.
You can find a barbecue joint in every city, town and greasy spot on some lonesome back road in this state. But there is a stretch in Central Texas where you find the very, VERY best examples of Texas barbecue cooking and it is easy to obtain and hard to forget.
One can easily, if the stomach allowed, follow a simple path from Elgin to Taylor to Lockhart to Luling, and gorge (or feast depending on your point of view) on THE very best barbecue offered in this state – bar none!
If you come south from Dallas, do NOT go through Austin on Interstate-35 (the traditional route). Employ your Texas Toll Tag and skirt the miserable traffic on the new toll road (135), north of Georgetown, which will take you to the outskirts of Round Rock, and the starting destination, Taylor, and Louis Mueller’s, where the ambience is pure old-time Texas barbecue.
Mueller’s is right in “downtown” Taylor, home of the Fightin’ Ducks, but aficionados know the location, at 206 W. Second Street, for its tender brisket and smoky atmosphere. The walls have NOT been touched, it seems, for decades and you can feel them teeming with old pit smoke ash from days gone by.
A few miles down Toll Road 135, exit at Manor and head east to Elgin (on U.S. Highway 290, east of Manor), home of the popular Southside Market.
At this spot, you will partake of the house specialty, “hot guts,” the term referring to the particular spicy hot sausage links made at this location. You can order at the counter and eat at a series of long tables or grab some pre-packaged (but just as good) for the road, and eventually your freezer to unwrap at a future barbecue.
From Elgin, you travel southward on Texas Highway 95 to Highway 21 and south down U.S. 183 to the city of Lockhart, home of two of Texas Monthly’s two five barbecue locations – Smitty’s and Kreuz Market. Smitty’s is located in the old Kreuz Market and began after what can best be described as a family feud when the Kreuz patriarch passed away several years ago.
As a result, you get the best of both worlds, the best open pit indirect heat barbecue cooking in America. In each spot, (Kreuz is on U.S. 183, north of downtown and right now it takes a little navigating around new overpass construction to find the parking lot), meat sold by the pound, along with sausage rings, is given to you on butcher paper with a slice of bread or saltines. That’s it! If you want “sides, it’s extra and not really recommended (although the beans at Smitty’s looked good).
And you eat with your God-given utensils – your hands. At Smitty’s, try the shoulder meat; it’s more tender than the regular brisket and will literally melt in your mouth.
Finally, 18 miles to the south of Lockhart is Luling, home of the annual Watermelon Thump and across from the Farmers Market is Luling City Market. Again, service comes on butcher paper and ribs are part of the menu – all sold by the pound.
Our sausage was SO fresh that it squirted when we bit into it. You know that’s freshly made.
At most of these places, a good glass of tea isn’t $2.50 or $3 a glass; usually a buck and two bits. And the aroma that lingers in the air from the pits is enough to have you return time and time again. It will stay on your clothes like a wonderful perfumed scent for hours.
As they say, only in Texas!