Central Texas BBQ
I originally intended this to be a brief post, but once I started writing, I couldn’t shut myself up. So, sorry for the length.
Over the summer I made a few trips out to some of the BBQ establishments of central Texas, which was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made. Since I first heard about these places on the chowhound forums, I figured I would throw in my two cents, and hopefully spread the good word of BBQ.
I began my journeys by going to City Market Luling. At the time I considered myself primarily a fan of brisket, and so ordered a large amount of brisket with smaller portions of ribs and sausage as well. Oh how quickly my eyes would be opened to the transcendent pleasures of pork ribs and sausage! I first sampled the brisket, taking what looked like the thickest, juiciest slice, and ripping into it with the primal fury of a starved cave-man ravaging a fresh-cooked beast. Unfortunately, I found it disappointing. It was by no means bad, being relatively tender, juicy, and having a nice beef flavor, but given my expectations, I couldn't help but feel unsatisfied. So, I continued on to the sausage. The casing was perfectly smoked, and perfectly filled, resulting in the intense pop that defines a good sausage. However, where the best sausage that I had previously eaten left off, the City Market sausage just began. The pop combined with the instant explosion of juice, spice, and ground meat into my mouth simulated what I imagine shock therapy must feel like. Each bite had the effect of completely wiping out all mental processes, and leaving me peacefully satiated. I intended to only sample a small portion of sausage, and then move onto the pork ribs, but found myself unable to pull away from the link until it had been properly devoured. Once I bit into the pork ribs, I contemplated suicide, instantly realizing that up until that point my life had been a complete waste, and that a life spent not constantly consuming such glorious meat was hardly a life worth living. However, the same pork rib that sent me spiraling into madness was also the same rib which inspired me to persevere with life. The outside of the rib had a deliciously sweet, sticky coating, almost reminiscent of some Asian style ribs that I’ve had, but inside the coating was the most tender meat imaginable, full of smokiness and pork essence. I suspect that the outside coat perhaps has the property of sealing in the porky goodness of the ribs, as they slowly soaks up the redolent smoke while cooking in the pit. Needless to say, I didn’t even bother with the brisket, but rather went back and ordered another half pound of ribs and two sausage links. After the meal I literally couldn’t move, and forced my companions, who were equally impressed by the sausage and ribs, to sit in the restaurant for another twenty minutes or so. Once I finally conceded to leaving, we stopped off at the fake grill store across the street (called Iced-Out Grillz), and had a jolly good laugh at their various wares. Overall, my first visit to City Market may be the greatest eating experience of my life.
Next, I convinced a friend to drive to Taylor. First we ate at Louie Mueller’s. The building had a splendid BBQ ambience, and seeing old-man Mueller still behind the counter gave me a thrill. After ordering our meat, he gave us each a small sampling of his tasty brisket. I also appreciated the mason jar full of Shiner Bock. We took a seat in the back room, next to a fan, and dug in. The brisket was superior to City Market, and, at that point in time, was the best brisket I had ever experienced (a little foreshadowing?). The slices were beautiful, thick, glistening chunks of meat. They tore apart easily, and tasted delicious. The sausage was good, but not spectacular. They were well cooked, had a nice pop to them, but I didn’t particularly love the flavor, and was simply not wowed by them. I’m nearly positive that we also ordered pork ribs, but frankly I have no recollection of eating them, so they must not have been very good. I loaded up pretty well on meat, but did not let that deter me from assaying the other BBQ joints in Taylor. I walked into Mikeska’s across the street, but didn’t even bother ordering any food from them. I had read fairly unenthusiastic reviews about the place, but figured I would check it out nonetheless. When I went in, the interior reminded me exactly of a Bill Miller’s, with its cafeteria-style setup. There was no great smoky atmosphere or anything, and the people behind the counter did not radiate a passion for the art of ‘que, so I simply turned around and walked out. I felt rather sorry for the people running the joint, but could hardly bring myself to eat out of pity. We traveled down a couple of blocks to Vencil’s Taylor Café, which has to be the coolest location and establishment in Central Texas. Surrounding Vencil’s are nothing but empty buildings that probably haven’t been inhabited since the 50’s or 60’s, a rail-track, and a highway. The restaurant’s patrons seemed to consist entirely of locals sitting around, listening to tejano, and getting drunk in the middle of the afternoon. The 80-something year old Vencil sat at the bar hunched over, with a glazed look on his face, staring at nothing, and giving off the impression that his delicious meat was the only thing keeping him going. I had a particular craving for pork ribs, having not been satisfied with Louie Mueller’s, and had read that Vencil’s best meat was pork rib. So, I ordered nothing but ribs, with every intention of returning another time for the brisket and sausage. The pork ribs were remarkable; different then City Market, not as a unique approach to ribs (with the coating, etc.), but remarkable nonetheless. They emanated pure porkiness, and were beautifully pink from smoke. The meat was very tender, but not quite as tender as City Market’s. If forced to do so, I suppose I would rank City Market’s slightly superior, but, for all intensive purposes, I would describe Vencil’s ribs as ‘separate but equal’ (with an ironic reference to their storied history of segregation). By the bye, nearly everyone in the place was a minority, as was the lady behind the counter, and there really didn’t seem to be any racial tension. On our way back to Austin, we stopped of at Round Rock donuts, but sadly found that it closes at 3. However, for anyone looking for a donut, they have the best around. Indeed, I did return about a month later to sample Vencil’s brisket and sausage. I attempted to order ribs, but it was fairly late in the day (Vencil’s is open 7 days a week from 9am –11pm), and they were out, so, I recommend getting there earlier than dinner time. The brisket had a nice flavor, and was fairly tender, but the cut of meat was blatantly inglorious. It looked no different than the brisket that one gets at most places, and I ended up resorting to making sandwiches out of it with pickles, onions, and sauce- I liked their hot sauce. I ordered pork sausage only, even though they offer turkey. It had a great flavor, the spice didn’t dominate the flavor of the meat, but it wasn’t particularly well made. The links were over-filled, and the casing was too thin, which made any possibility of a mind-blowing pop non-existent. Still though, I enjoyed the sausage, and to a lesser extent the brisket sandwiches. This time my partners and I ordered several rounds of beer, and watched a football game on their TV, which gave us a chance to enjoy the one-of-a-kind atmosphere, which, next to the pork ribs, is the best thing about Vencil’s.
Though Lockhart is generally considered the epicenter of Texas BBQ, I went there third. We ordered food to go from the Big Three- Kreuz, Smitty’s, and Black’s- and ate them all on a well-shaded bench near the picturesque courthouse. From Kreuz we ordered brisket, beef shoulder, and sausage; from Smitty’s we ordered the same; and from Black’s we ordered brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. We also picked up some beans at Kreuz, and some sauce from Smitty’s and Black’s, as Kreuz only had salsa. First we opened Black’s: Let me say that watching the brisket being cut at Black’s, assuming it’s a fairly freshly picked brisket, is an amazing experience in and of itself. The man manning the knife cuts through the thickly sliced meat with one swift slice, and as he does so, a beef-tinted water/juice literally pours from without the meat, exciting the viewer with the prospects of his soon to be meal. There being a just and graceful God, the brisket lived up to the promise. Describing the rich flavor and superlative texture would be rather difficult, so, I will suffice to say that since eating Black’s brisket, I haven’t so much as contemplated going back for Louis Mueller’s. Two people I know have complained that they found Black’s brisket too fatty, but there will always be some fat on a tender, juicy piece of brisket, and I certainly don’t believe there is too much on Black’s. The pork ribs sucked. As for the sausage, each time I have eaten there, I’ve had a different sausage experience. The first time, the sausage was a weird pink color, like a rib, and it had a strange aftertaste. Other times it’s been over-cooked, and tuff, and only once did I think that it was very well made. Generally it’s tasty, but inconsistent, and I didn’t care for the jalapeno sausage much at all. The brisket though is truly incredible. Second we opened up the Kreuz meats: They were all very sub-par. I liked the building, and the side-burned meat-cutter was entertaining, but the meat was worthless. The sausage was so chewy it was impossible to eat, not to mention it tasted old and flavorless, the shoulder was completely dry and incredibly salty, and the brisket was tuff and dry. However, the jalapeno soaked beans were delicious, and worth trying if you’re in the area. Lastly, we tried Smitty’s: The building had a great look and smell, and when they pulled out the shoulder, it truly looked delicious, with a glistening, glazed outside. The sausage was good-- tasty, well prepared, but not in the same league as City Market. I’ve had the sausage one other time, and it was still pretty good, so I would say that Smitty’s, in my experience, has better sausage than Black’s. The brisket was tasty and tender, but far too fatty, and not as flavorful and generally miraculous as Black’s. The shoulder did end up being very tasty, though slightly dry, which I suppose is to be expected when compared with brisket. If you like a leaner cut of meat than brisket, I would recommend Smitty’s shoulder. They were, relative to standard BBQ places, very good, but given that such great brisket is just a couple of blocks away, and that mind-blowing ribs and sausage are only 15 miles South, I don’t foresee myself frequenting Smitty’s all that often. I have yet to try Chisolm Trail because something about it just doesn’t attract me; it seems more like a restaurant than a pure BBQ house.
The only other remote location that I’ve been to is Gonzalez Food Market. I went to Ruby’s in Austin, which was supposed to be good, but didn’t care for it much at all. In the past I’ve also been to places like Rudy’s, Stubb’s, etc., but I’m not blown away by any of them. I never made it to Elgin, so I can’t comment, nor have I been to Cooper’s. Regarding Gonzalez Food Market, I would argue that it is by far the most underrated BBQ joint in Central Texas, and in some ways the best overall place for meats of all type. The brisket was very tender and juicy, not quite to Black’s level, nor quite as flavorful, but a good second. The pork ribs were very tender, though without the wow factor of City Market, nor the terrific pork flavor of Vencil’s. I believe the sausage was pork (I prefer at least partially beef ones), but extremely well flavoured, and well made—though slightly too stubby from an aesthetic perspective. I also had some lamb ribs which would have been truly remarkable if not for how fatty they were. They were far more tender than the pork ribs, and had a delicious gamy flavour, but the copious amount of fat was quite bothersome.
As far as getting all the meats in one place, I would rank Gonzalez highest, which might surprise some people. There is certainly a great benefit to being able to sit down at one time and completely stuff oneself on a smorgasbord of four different meats, but, as far as I’m concerned, nothing can compare to the ribs and sausage at Luling, and the brisket at Black’s. Vencil’s is also definitely a worthwhile and unique experience, and if you haven’t been, go soon while Vencil is still around.
A few miscellaneous points: I’m not a great lover of sauces, but I did sample the various ones. Kreuz doesn’t really have its own; Smitty’s is too sweet; Black’s is pretty good, but nothing out of the ordinary, likewise for Vencil’s (though I did like the hot sauce); Louie Mueller’s just has some sort of meat-juice it seemed, which added a little bit of extra flavour; City Market has a mustard based sauce which is very good, but fairly unnecessary given the great flavour of the meat (it might be good on the brisket if you care to try it); and, I didn’t sample Gonzalez’. Also, Luling, Louie Mueller’s, and Kreuz are not open on Sundays, but I think the rest are.
If you happen to have read this whole thing, I hope you found it useful.
This should be pinned to the top. Now if we could only get a review of the Llano/Mason area joints on here we would have it covered. Thanks for the write up. I'm definitely heading to Taylor to try Vencil's.
Thanks for your lengthy reply, the best I've read on C-Texas bbq in some time. My first experience at City Market in Luling parallels yours except that the brisket I had was spectacular, too, making that probably the best overall bbq meal I've ever had. I've experienced inconsistency at Kreutz, unfortunately, but still give it a shot every now and then. The best single sausage I've ever had was at Louie Mueller's but mostly I've been unimpressed; that's a relative assessment, of course, considering what I'm comparing it to. It's hard to choose between Black's and Luling's sausage for me. Never yet been to Smitty's, Vencil's or Gonzalez, but I'll be looking forward to them.
Thanks ever so much for the reviews.Due to the price of gas I don't go driving around to those places anymore.Since Luling isn't that far from Seguin,I'll have to take a drive there,maybe in the springtime when the wildflowers are blooming and check out City Market.Also you don't hear much about Gonzales Market.By the way,where in town is it located at? When we would go for drives,we would often stop at the Dairy Queen for something to eat,which isn't too far from H.E.B.Grocery Store.
IIRC, City Market is very easy to get to. From I-10, take the Luling exit into town, and pay attention as you reach the railroad tracks. City Market is 1/2 block form the highway in the business strip fronting the railroad tracks.
Also, there is a place in Lockhart called Chisholm Trail BBQ, on the south end of town as opposed to the 'big three'. Their brisket isn't bad, and I haven't tried their ribs, but their sausage is to me like the City Market sausage was to jogo5. The flavor is excellent, and it explodes in your mouth. They also have some excellent creamed corn.
Excelent review. I've never been to Vencil's, but, having made many drives from Austin to Gonzales, have hit every spot on the way. Other than not liking Black's as much as you (except for the fact that Black's is open later than the other joints), I agree with your insightful analysis. I'm glad you liked the Gonzales place. Next time you're in Big G, check out the Cow Palace -- the diner attached to the cattle auction barn just off 183 -- as they make a fine burger and top-notch onion rings.
Very well written my friend. I was a companion on several of these BBQ excursions, one might say the Dr. Gonzo to his Raoul Duke, and reading this summarization of our trips and others of his own was truly amazing. I felt at many points that I was reliving those perfect, serene moments of gustatory grandeur. I was reminded, at several points, of facts and details that I had misplaced since our BBQ binges, and reading it only makes me lust for the tender brisket, the juicy sausage, and the drugged-like feeling one drowns in after gorging themselves on pounds of delicious BBQ that we are blessed to have in abundance in central TX. So heed his words, and his advice. And Joaquin, as for the pork ribs at Louie Mueller's in Taylor, we did eat them, and indeed they did suck. Long Live Vencil Mares!
Well, welcome to Chowhound. What took you so long?
As a BBQ fiend, I thank you for your extensive writeup. Looking forward now to my next visit to Hill Country, whenever that might happen.
I am fairly new to this board as well. I've been reading for over a year but have only begun posting the last couple months. Mostly because (though I have always been a big fan of food) I have never, until reading this board, realized the extent of how much transcendental food exists that goes unknown to the general public. This board opened my eyes to the world of food that I had (perhaps unknowingly) been seeking. I accept the fact that my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. But I still check this board everyday looking for new finds and will continue to offer any worthy insight I can. I'm still learning.
Anyway, I couldn't concur more with Scott's response . . . it seems that quality reports have been on the decline and for one like this to drop was refreshing to say the least. I too look forward to more as well (and Scott's next CFS update).
The only comment I have about the food would be that I recently did the trinity in Lockhart myself about a month ago and while I won't get into every aspect the only real disagreements I had with your assesment of those three was that I found the brisket at Blacks to be quite dry and unremarkable and the ribs to be quite good . . . that day. Oh, the finnicky nature of BBQ.
I look forward to trying Gonzalez and Vencil's . . .
Let me add my kudos! Well done. A few thoughts...
First -- the 'fatty brisket' at Black's. Do your friends know that they can order 'fatty' or 'lean'? As I've said elsewhere, on any given day, I can find brisket elsewhere in the Central Texas BBQ Belt that is as good as Black's, but for me anyway, it's been the most consistantly wonderful. I'd sure rather have brisket that's a little too fatty, and therefore tender and flavorful, than dry, tough, chewy and salty, as I've recently been getting at Kreuz.
At Smitty's, I, too, find the shoulder clod a little too dry for my tastes. It's delicious, but when I go down there for BBQ, it's because I've decided to throw caution to the winds. So, although the clod is good, and isn't 'dry' by lean beef standards, when compared with the deckle of a perfectly smoked brisket, it's much further down on my list of orgasmic treats.
In addition to Smitty's 'wet' brisket, order the medium-rare sirloin. Oh man, is that good eating. Right up there with the brisket in my view.
Thanks again for your terrific post. I'll be watching for your name.
My first post to this site is a response to another's first post. This is a much appreciated and excellent writeup that has me chomping at the bit to get down to Luling from Austin. I would also highly recommend John Mueller's shop in Bastrop. He had a very loyal following (me included) and in my opinion his "moist" brisket with the peppery black crust has not been equaled in texture, flavor, smokiness, appearance (yes, less important, but remarkable) by any meat I've ever put into my mouth. Absolutely sublime. However, let it sit out for 15-20 min. after being cut, and it's not the same. Fresh cut, hot, and it's simply incredible. I too concur that Black's among Smitty's, Kruez, and Louie Mueller's is the best.
I also rank John's black peppery pork sausages #1 in a tie with Black's jalapeno. Indeed, many of these are matters of taste.
John Mueller lost his Austin shop for financial difficulties, etc. and last I was in Bastrop was a few months ago. Would love it if someone could confirm he's still firin' up the grill down there.
Thanks for the lovely review!
I had a great meal a Louie Mueller's not too long ago. I write, not simply to report this, but to note that like Black's, you can ask for your brisket there more on the lean or fatty side. They will accomodate you if they have a suitable brisket out. I like mine more of the fatty side. More tender. More flavor, etc.
Some random thoughts:
John Mueller is now in Bastrop. I think his place is called Old Town BBQ.
If you go to, or thru, San Marcos, stop at Southwest Market on Hunter Road. Some of the best BBQ in Central Texas including hands down the best sauce in the area (actually the only sauce I'll willingly eat with BBQ). The pork chops & sausage are the best around. Brisket and shoulder are also great.
Talking sauce, does anyone else taste the thousand island dressing in Salt Lick's sauce?
House Park BBQ in Austin is probably the best in the city limits but no one ever mentions them. They only serve lunch and they're located on 12th just east of Lamar.
i was in texas in the spring & had to hit all "the usual suspects". i have been eating BBQ in central texas for
over 20 yrs, & know the difficulty of maintaining quality
from visit to visit. i have to try brisket & sausage at
every stop, and upon those i base my opinions. over time
i believe louie mueller's is the best & most consistent
in both of these items. (and you get a nibble) altho, on my last trip, i was finally able to get to the city market in luling. WOW!! was that brisket GOOD! the sausage, tho, was only ok.
at lockhart, on this trip, i had the best sausage i've
had in a long time at smitty's. wrapped in sweet cottony white bread, the skin snapped and spilled spicy hot juice all down my bearded chin HEAVEN! also in lockhart, at
kreuz, i had positively the WORST brisket ever. dry and
tough, i tried to pull apart a slice, and it stretched
like a rubber band. inedible, i marched it back to the
meat cutter and told him to throw it in the garbage! boy,
did he ever give me a dirty look!
happy to hear john mueller is back. i'll have to get to
bastrop. and next time in taylor i'll get to vencil's
taylor cafe FO'SHO'
this is my first post on this site and i am sure glad i got to talk of my passion for texas BBQ.
I had this same issue at Kreatz last year - the brisket simply was not cooked long enough. It was cooked through, but not long enough for the meat/tissue to breakdown, as is the usual characteristic of good BBQ. I heard the folks at the next table over having the same complaint.
I thnk I may have read somewhere that this was the particular style in central Texas - a lot of chew to the BBQ. Is the "undercooking" intentional at Kreutz?
Chisholm Trail in Lockhart is very underrated. Probably the best BBQ value in the state. When my brother lived there, this was where we went to 'feed the family'.
Luling City market is the king though. Oh how I pine for central Texas Q.
A delightful, comprehensive post. And what sounds like a delightful and comprehensive series of trips. I'm really hungry and quite jealous after reading it.
I know you already mentioned it, but next time, definitely follow up your meal in Taylor with a drive down to Elgin for sausage at Southside - as good as the other places' sausage can be, the stuff at Southside Market still manages to blow my mind consistently every time I make it there.
Also, a word of caution. All of these places are consistently great, but after numerous trips to many of them I find that the relative qualities do vary greatly from visit to visit. Louis Mueller's has served me the best brisket I've ever eaten, but last time I was there they served me the worst I had on that trip (even Elgin had better brisket), and it was City Market that took the gold for brisket that weekend (the first time they've ever won in that category, for me at least - I should mention that I didn't make it back to Black's that time, though). I mean, by all means pick a favorite, and then defend it as the best as loudly and angrily as possible, but do still keep an open mind (and mouth) towards the others - they all have their moments.
I just realized, immediately after posting this, that in my self-righteous equivocation I forgot to agree with you about Kreuz's and Mikeska's. I'm willing to believe that Kreuz's hits sometimes, but I rarely go there, since they're right next to Black's and Smitty's, which I think are much better. And the first time I ate at Mikeska's was also the last. I mean, it's not BAD barbecue, but that doesn't begin to cut it in this hallowed collection of BBQ places.
Finally, if you do ever decide to go back to Smitty's, be sure and try the pork chops and prime rib. Last time I was there we got two end-piece pork chops. One was kind of dry and only extremely delicious. The other was succulent, juicy, pink with smoke pretty much halfway through, and was some of the best pork I can even imagine (and my pork-imagining muscle gets quite the regular work-out). As good as the best brisket? Well, no, probably not - the cow is a very tasty animal - but still a revelatory, quasireligious eating experience when they hit it just right. And, in their defence (loudly and angrily, now...), they have in the past had the weekend's best brisket, beating out Black's, Kreuz's, and City Market (didn't make it up north that time).
It sounds as though the quality of product at any given BBQ joint on any given day is highly variable; the place with the best brisket today may have the worst tomorrow.
When you serve food made to order, it is easly to make it the same way everytime. But when dealing with a product that takes 8 or 10 hours to cook, and things are a little hit or miss. A place may have a rush, leaving a shortage of BBQ that has been cooked sufficiently. Or things may be a little slower than usual, causing the meat to get a little old and dry.
As several have noted, there is variability from day to day, and even from one brisket to the next. However, many have noted the dryness and toughness of the brisket at Kreuz's. I agree, this is exactly what the Mrs. & I found when we went there. OTOH, a 1/2" slab of fatty brisket from Smitty's is probably the single best piece of meat I've ever eaten - juicy, smoky, tender. I've had good brisket from City Market, only went to Louie Mueller's once, and it wasn't so great.
Some of it may have to do with timing, also. Best time to go? Late morning. If you go too late, the briskets may tend to dry out or be overcooked. I agree with the other posters who think Kreuz may not be cooking them long slow enough.
Guys, I can't believe none of you have yet tried Coopers---the Pride of Llano, Texas! From their outdoor pits to their butcher-paper plates, everything about this joint screams authentic. The brisket is great, but also not-to-be-missed is the BarBQ Prime Rib. Sheer Heaven!!! Question: What BarBQ was served at the first State (Presidential) Dinner held in the Lone Star State. Answer: Coopers! You get bonus points if you knew that the president in question was LBJ.
Who says none of us have tried Coopers?
It's Laird's I've never tried - I've been to Llano probably 8 or 9 time for BBQ, and not ONCE have they ever been open.
But yeah, I love Cooper's. The place is tremendous. But I just don't think it's as quite as good as the heavy hitters east of Austin.
Kreutz and Black's have websites that should have the latest info on hours of operation. Black's claims to be open 8 days a week until 8pm as I recall and I think Kreutz started staying open until 8 in the last year or so but check with the websites for the latest. I think Smitty's is open only a few hours on Sunday. I don't think Smitty's or Mueller's have websites but I haven't looked in a long time. Beware of the website that comes up for Luling CIty Market, that is for a copy cat restaurant in Houston and not the original in Luling (which closes at 5pm M-Sat I think). BBQ is slow cook food and most places aim for their Q to be ready for lunch rather than in the evening.
I've also been eating BBQ in central Texas for many. many years. My personal favorite is Louis Mueller's in Taylor. I don't like Cooper's and I can live without Kreutz's. I do like Smitty's though.
My son, who lives in Austin raves about Laird's.
And, probably, I'm the only person in Texas who thinks Salt Lick in Dripping Springs is TERRIBLE!.
I believe it has now become a "tourist trap".
Well since we're talking about Central Texas Q I guess I can ask this:
Does anyone know what happened to Burnet County BBQ? I hear they're out of business. That's a shame. They were always a solid, consistent choice for good Q.
Well jogo5, very impressive. I say this because I live in Georgetown Texas and we don't have any good places up here so I travel to Taylor, Lockhart, Luling, Elgin, and dripping Springs (The Salt Lick) for good BBQ other than my own. I agree 1005 with everything you say. As it happensI work 100 yards from Rudy's and don't go there and won't let any of my companies out of town guests go there either. I am fortunate in that one of the positive selling points of my house is in the attached foto. I had to teach myself to smoke and the years have been good. Keep eatin'.
Salt Lick was the second most disappointing food experience of my life. (BBQ in Canada was the first... sorry Canucks).
It's a forty minute drive from Austin, and we had a two hour wait. After almost three hours of anticipation and working up a good hunger, it should have tasted really good. It didn't. The meat wasn't very good and the sides were inedible. Maybe if my expectations hadn't been so high... but, still.
If you're ever forced to go for any reason, at least get the pie for dessert. I think we had blackberry and it was really good... a nice big slice with really tender crust... but I'll never go back there for just the pie.
Cooper's is by far the best in Llano. If you're in Austin there is one out on Spicewood called Opie's. Same great taste as Cooper's since he used to work there and knows the secrets. People only go to Salt Lick to take a country drive and then BYOB and lounge around with pals and listen to the live music. The food is just ok, it's the atmosphere people go for.
Sad to say I agree with all the above folks re: Salt Lick. Twenty plus years ago it was outstanding. Then it got 'discovered'. Then cam e music festivals, celebrities, a death in the family and the pressures of becoming famous. "Living on past glory" just about sums it up. Don't waste the gas.
Just a word about a few hidden goodies...
Chisholm Trail BBQ in Lockhart is pretty darned good eats as well, and is really an unsung player in the local BBQ scene there. Actually, most of the patrons are locals, as the BBQ-istas haven't in large part discovered it yet. On the south end of town...
Closer to SA is Harmon's BBQ in Cibolo. Located out between Schertz and Seguin on FM 78, it's a true hidden gem - and often easily the rival of the Lockhart boys. This place is worth a visit if you're even close.
West of San Antonio - out towards the BBQ no-man's land is a relative newcomer to the CenTex BBQ scene. Just a few years old, Lone Star BBQ in Lakehills puts on a pretty fine fare for a growing place. It is just east of Medina Lake, at the intersection of Park Road 37 and FM 1283
Then there's the good stuff from my pits, but that's another story... LOL.
Have eaten at Harmon's and it was good.They do a great smoked catfish.
Harmon's is busy at lunch with people from Randolph Air Force Base,lot of locals eat there too.San Antonio Express News back in May,2008 had about BBQ places around this area. What do you locals think of Texas Pride BBQ down in Adkins, and have you tried Home of Da Smoke on USHWy 87 around the Lone Oak-Adkins-St.Hedwig area? It got a good reviwe on RoadFood and in the paper, just wonder if anyone has tried it.
I finally did the barbeque tour of Lockhart about a month ago. I first purchased moist brisket from each place... Black's ($3.45 for ¼ lb of brisket, plus what I threw in the ubiquitous tip jar, making it $4), Smitty's ($2.60 for ¼ lb brisket, and there was no tip jar, but they were so friendly, I wish I could have given them Black's tip), and Kreuz ($4.72 for a ½ lb, because by now I was deciding to take some home to my husband. Oh, and no tip jar at Kreuz... thank you!) Note... this was all priced by weight, so don't go in with exact change. I was just offering this for a point of reference.
I took all my barbeque to a place where I could sample each side by side. I thought my non-native-Texan tongue might have a hard time distinguishing subtle nuances in this barbeque, but I was wrong. These were all three completely different.
I started with Black's (I had to go in alphabetical order, because I'm nerdy that way). Black's had lacked a little in décor, but was miles above Smitty's in ambience (not that that's a factor when you're getting it to go). I had expected this to be a “smoke fest” based on a previous visit to Cooper's in Llano. So, my first note was this was not too smoky. They have a sauce for theirs, which when opening the container, smells strongly of vinegar, but it was flavored heavily with chili powder and cumin. The fatty part was good, because as we all know, “fat is flavor”. But, overall, and after moving on to the others, this one was just kind of unremarkable.
Next was Kreuz. They don't offer sauce, which is fine. This was super salty, and possibly even too salty for me (which is hard to do), in some places. It seemed to be seasoned a lot more on one side than the other, with one side of the meat being pretty bland. This was also very fatty, which was fine with me. This did win out for most flavor, but it was by far the toughest of the three. I'm blaming this one for my teeth hurting the rest of the night. They are very generous with their bread. And the restaurant is cleanest and nicest and newest in ambience, which is of little significance to quality of the bbq, but I thought it might be worth noting for people who want to have large groups eat in.
Finally, I sampled Smitty's. And, I fell in love. This was super tender. I found myself taking a whole strip of brisket and just kind of rolling it up and popping it in my mouth. It was like velvet. (I hope I'm not grossing anyone out. It was like folding NY pizza, it just made sense). Smitty's does not win on ambience. I'm afraid I wouldn't enjoy eating inside there. It has long tables, set up like church dinner style, and it was pretty much a dive. Also, I really, really hated the sauce, but that's a matter of personal taste. It's that super orangey sauce that was all tang. My husband said it was his favorite sauce. I dipped some of my Smitty's in Black's bbq sauce, then decided it really didn't need sauce. This was my favorite of the three, and I quickly finished off that ¼ lb I bought, so, although I still had plenty of Black's and Kreuz to take home to my husband, guilt made me go back to Smitty's and get him some to try.
You know, though, on any given day, someone could carve a brisket differently, or a brisket could spend more time in the smoker, and you could have an entirely different experience than I did. So, I'd recommend everyone doing a taste test of their own.
In summary, Smitty's was by far my favorite on that day. Super moist, super tender, great flavor. Downside: ugly restaurant, bad sauce (unless you like that tangy orange sauce).
Black's was my second, simply because of how tough Kreuz's was. Honestly, though, Black's was pretty unremarkable and didn't excel in anything. I guess their sauce was best, but not great enough to crave again. Their ambience ok, if dining in.
Kreuz was a wild card. Some bites were powerful flavor, but it was all too chewy. Nice new restaurant for large groups.
One more note – the people in all of these were some of the nicest people I've encountered in any Texas eating establishment. They are happy to be serving famous barbeque, they don't rush you, and don't care if you're only ordering a few dollars worth of their food. This whole experience was refreshing.
I had Kreuz a couple weekends ago and I want to echo some of the sentiments here. The brisket was undercooked, very little smoke flavor, and super salty. The shoulder was a bit better and the ribs were meaty...unfortunately everything was just too salty! I was planning on visiting other BBQ places in Lockhart on that trip, but the Kreuz experience put me off to BBQ for that weekend.
*enjoy the sauce*
For the love of Pete don't let Kreuz[which is pitiful]sour you on eating delicious barbecue in Lockhart.If I walk into a barbecue restaurant and there's seating for 600 or so people I SPRINT out the door and into the parking lot.Hopefully I left the motor running so I can get out of Dodge even faster.
Smitty's is great.I prefer Black's but you can't go wrong either way.Bear in mind it's only 15 minutes or so further down to Luling and City Market which is mindblowing.
I know it's been mentioned a few times, but I wanted to review our recent trip to Cooper's in Llano. ]It was our eldest daughter’s birthday, so what better excuse for a road trip for BBQ? We took her, her husband and the grandkids to Cooper’s BBQ in Llano, TX. Arriving at 1:30 (to miss the rush), we found the line still wrapped all the way around the front of the building. A very good sign!
Many long brick pits are arrayed outside the front door, tended by a full crew of smoke folk. Once you make it up the line, you place your order at the pit, telling the pitmaster what you want for your crew. The selection was large, consisting of spare ribs, sausage, jalapeno sausage, pork loin, half-chickens, prime rib(!) and brisket. The pitmaster cuts your selections to order and loads them on a tray, and will optionally dunk them in a large bucket of sauce if you like. The sauce is a thin table sauce typical of Texas BBQ, although slightly too vinegary for my taste.
You then take your tray inside, where the cutting staff makes sure your meat is portioned out, weighed, and wrapped in butcher paper. They print a label for each cut, and slap it on the package for the cashier to see. That is also where you can pick up sides like cole slaw and potato salad, and pay for and receive cups for your drinks at the register.
The best part is that there are no plates in the place! It is knives, forks and fingers. There are paper towels, jars of jalapenos, napkins and large sheets of butcher paper arrayed on all the tables. Also available at no charge for self serve in the dining room were some very good pinto beans, pickles and onions, a large steamer of table sauce, soft drinks, sweetened and unsweetened iced tea, ice water and coffee. It was truly a feast. After doing our best, we had to take a decent amount home (darn). There is even a ‘foiling station’ off to the side for wrapping up your leftovers for the trip home.
We didn’t sample all the offerings at Cooper’s but we came close. The Prime Rib and cole slaw will have to wait for another trip. I will say that the Prime Rib looked excellent, was still very rare, and the cole slaw looked to be popular among the other diners. The potato salad is a slightly spicy German-style, made with red potatoes. All of the meats we ordered had a nice smoke ring and were seasoned just the right amount. Here’s the dish on the meats we sampled:
I was disappointed by the brisket. Perhaps my expectations were high because of reputation, but I found it to be a little dry, a little tough and relatively lacking in flavor. Application of the table sauce did not serve to change anyone’s impression of it.
Pork Spare Ribs
I just don’t know what to say. I have been doing ribs for a long time, and I’ve eaten excellent ribs from other good cookers and at many of the best places in Texas. I have never had spare ribs as good as these – anywhere. I’ve come close at home, but not this good and I made a point of telling the pit crew so on the way out. These guys have reset the bar and given me a new goal to shoot at in cooking spares.
Both the regular and jalapeno sausages were good, above average, but not as good as at Luling’s City Market or Elgin’s Southside Market Hot Guts or Meyer’s Elgin Sausage. Still, it’s a nice accompaniment to the rest of the fare. The jalapeno sausage was spicy, but not overly hot.
Billed as the “Big Chop”, this beauty fills the bill in all ways. All the praise I heaped upon the ribs goes equally as well for the chops. Center cut with very little fat, it was cooked and seasoned perfectly throughout. I’ve paid a lot more for quality steaks I’ve liked a lot less. Mine was 2 1/4" thick.
The chicken was of average size and was done perfectly. It was extremely juicy in both light and dark meat, and the amount of smoke perfectly complemented the chicken. Very highly recommended.
In summary, if you get nothing else at Cooper’s, make it spare ribs and/or the Big Chop. Skip the brisket, Bill Miller’s BBQ chain brisket is better, at least a little. The beans are excellent without being over or under spiced, and are done just perfectly. If you’ve never been there, eating at Cooper’s BBQ in Llano is worth the drive from just about anywhere, and makes an excellent destination for a day trip. I know I’ll be back, and it’s only 100 miles away for me!
Thanks for that great report. I just want to say that I hope you will try the brisket again some day. I've lived in central Texas for more than forty years and have been to Cooper's and the other great barbecue joints around here many times. Everybody is susceptible to a bad day or hitting meat from a not-so-great steer or hog. Usually the brisket I get at Cooper's (and I always ask for meat with some fat on it) is praiseworthy, but a few times I have been disappointed. I've also been disappointed by the big chop a time or two, but that's also unusual. This is consistent with my experiences at Louie Mueller's, Kreuz Market, and City Market in Luling (my favorite!). It's a shame you drove 100 miles for sub-par brisket, but I'm glad you liked the other stuff.
After disappoimtment at Kreuzs on my first trip to Texas, I did some research here and hit the City Market in Luling on my second visit.
It was a quasi-religious experience.
I'm from the east coast of Canada (just above Maine) which means that I make my own BBQ, so I am no expert. But the brisket and pork ribs in Luling were unbelievable.
This may be impolite to ask, but has anyone reverse-engineered the sauce? I was so blown away that I forgot to commit the taste of the sauce to memory. I can remember the colour, which gives the ketchup to mustard ratio, but I can't figure out the rest. I can make something resembling that saace that is very tasty, but it is nowhere near as good.
Surely someone has a recipe that is close??
Maybe disclosing BBQ sauce recipes gets one shot in Texas. I'd certainly kill for some more of that BBQ and sauce. This whole thing about good Texas BBQ not needing sauce does not hold up to rational scrutiny. It may not need it - but why would you want to deny yourself?
Well, I agree with your general message, but not the details. Lobster can benefit from a little fat (typically clarified butter). Foie gras is rich, and benefits from a little acidity and sweetness (usually a fruit-based reduction or gastric). And gold nuggets probably don't taste good no matter what sauce you put on them. Sauces can enhance a lot of things.
The question is this: how does BBQ sauce enhance the flavor of moist and delicious smoky meat? In my opinion, it usually just makes it taste like BBQ sauce - that is, it obscures rather than enhances the flavor.
don't get me wrong... it's some pretty tasty sauce, and I have nothing against slathering it on lower-grade BBQ. Dry brisket? Add sauce. No smoky flavor? Add sauce. And I'll enjoy it. But it seems (again, my opinion) a shame to mask the craftsmanship of great BBQ with all that sweet-n-tangy. That's why (in response to BarnNB), I might want to "deny" myself the pleasure of BBQ sauce.
I was actually a little surprised by BarnNB's post - I didn't find any of the BBQ sauce down in Central TX to be all that great. My impression was that they really didn't pay any attention to the sauce, focusing all of their effort on the meat. But then again, I can't say for sure that I tried the sauce at City Market... I had meat-fatigue by then (4th stop of the day).
Luling City Maket in Houston sells sauce online. They're not the same folks, but it can be very good on a their better days. I've had the sauce in Houston, but not at City Market in Luling, On a recent trip to San Antonio we ate at City Market and Smitty's in Lockart on the way and City Market again on the return trip. We got brisket, ribs and sausage in Luling, and ribs, brisket, prime rib, ribs, and a pork chop at Smitty's. I didn't feel the need for sauce in Luling, and they don't have any at Smitty's. I give a slight nod to the ribs in Luling, but both were the best I've ever had. The brisket in Luling was much better but I have to give Smitty's a pass, I wasn't paying attention and ordered lean instead of fatty. The sausage, prime rib, and pork chop were all excellent. I've posted this before, there is a place in Richmond called Galvan's Sausage House, and their brisket can both places a run for their money. Their sausage is a different style, but is equally delicious. It is on US 90 alternate at Pitts road, about a mile east of the Brazos River. It's just a small joint with maybe six tables.
I love all of those classic central Texas joints that you mentioned, but do yourself a favor and head to Lexington and try Snow's. I'm sure you've heard of it from the hype in Texas Monthly, but it's worth it. One you've probably never tried is Lum's BBQ in Junction. Great stuff from a joint with no fanfare. You can read about 100 other joints at www.fullcustomgospelbbq.com
I read about Lum's. It's 50 miles from here and doesn't open til 7:00 P.M. By that time I'm legally drunk so I'd need a designated driver. Doesn't seem worth the effort and somehow I think BBQ is a daytime meal, but there's nuthin in Kerrville unless Buzzy's or Bill's has improved greatly. Forget Cooper's in Junction...mass production.