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Transcendant BBQ (Luling City Market, Luling, TX)

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It’s a bit of an understatement to say that I had some BBQ for lunch today, and perhaps closer to the truth to say that thanks to Luling City Market (Luling, TX) my faith in American restaurants has been rejuvenated. The food was wonderful, but even better, the restaurant itself was as well honed as the finest Parisian neighborhood restaurant.

One enters through the two dining rooms, packed with local families and couples (equally Mexican, White, and Black), and finds in the back the enclosed smokehouse where one orders the meat. For $8 a pound one gets brisket and pork ribs, and for $1.75 more a smoked homemade beef sausage. Pickles and onions and fluffy white bread are available, and many people ordering for a family carried off a whole loaf of bread still in the plastic bag. The meat is served on two layers of butcher paper with the corners folded up to make it easier to carry to your table.

From a counter in the middle of the dining room one can order soft drinks (Big Red and root beer seemed most popular), potato salad, and beans. If you had two people you could save a bit of time by each hitting one line, but the experience wouldn’t really be complete for either one. The sauce (sweet, mustardy, red-peppery, black-peppery goodness) is already in bottles on the tables, but you can get more from the counter if the bottle is empty.

The beef sausage was coarse and juicy, almost like a burger that was smoked in a casing. It was good, but not really my thing. The ribs were sweet, succulent, and salty, also good, but I like my pork a little drier and spicier. The beans were straightforward, unspiced pintos — a nice complement, but forgettable. The potato salad was standard mayonnaised stuff, but perked up nicely with some of the sauce added. But the brisket, the brisket was perfect: crispy on the outside, moist and juicy inside, wood smoke throughout, too good even for the otherwise tremendous sauce.

There may be better brisket out there (I’ve yet to eat the neighboring BBQ mecca of Lockhart) but this was pretty good. And as restaurants go, this is the sort of place one should take food conscious Europeans or Asians to show them that at least in parts of this country we know how to eat too.

Update:

I went to Kreuz Market in Lockhart today, and while good it didn’t exceed my expectations the way that Luling City Market did. While the smoked prime rib was delicious, at $20/lb I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than twice as good as the brisket at Luling. The brisket at Kreuz’s ($10/lb vs $8/lb) was excellent (probably juicier than Luling) but a bit salty for my taste. The clod shoulder (also $10/lb) was very good, and an interesting example of a drier cut, but not as good as the brisket at either establishment.

The sides at Kreuz (German Potato Salad and Saurkraut) were disappointing, and the overall ambiance was of disinterested workers and industrial scale. It was friendly, but definitely felt like a commercial establishment rather than a neighborhood favorite. Certainly Kreuz has better BBQ than can be found just about anywhere else in the country, but given the choice for a single visit I’d definitely choose Luling City Market. I’m still hoping to try the other Lockhart establishments, though.

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  1. City Market is just a wonderful place. I'm not crazy about their sausage, but I've never been disappointed with their brisket and ribs. I'm going to be in that neck of the woods tomorrow, and can't decide whether to eat at City Market or at Smitty's in Lockhart.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dallas Alice

      There is a trick to ordering the sausage. Ask for the dry sausage and OMG heaven without shooting a stream of grease across the table on the first bite.

    2. I went to Kreuz and Smitty's recently - Smitty's wins hands down on atmosphere alone. They both serve great Q, with Kreuz being a bit saltier and pepperier (is that a word)??

      Do not miss Smitty's though just for the experience of walking in to those smoke stained hallowed halls (which used to be home to Kreuz's!!).

      1. There's a Luling's here in my new home of Houston. A co-worker recommended it to me, and now I'm even more determined to try it out.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Dorothy

          Just so you know, Dorothy, you co-worker is a bit misinformed. The Luling City Market in Houston is in no way connected to the legendary one in Luling (real name: City Market, Luling, Texas) other than ripping off the name. They attempt to emulate the cue at the original and do pretty good -- you can do a lot worse for cue in Houston. The story is - and you could find this in the archives of the Houston Press - that the original owners of the place in Houston hired someone away from the place in Luling who knew the sauce recipe. He didn't last long and is now back in Central Texas running a sandwich shop or something but their mustard based sauce is supposedly the real thing. (I've never compared them side by side).

          In Houston according to Robb Walsh, the cue is produced in a gas fired oven with logs added for smoke; in Luling, it's cooked in a real pit. In Houston it's served off a steam table, so go early as possible to get the best quality. By late afternoon, the place turns into a small sports bar.

          Here's a pic of some food at Luling in Luling:

          http://tinypic.com/fullsize.php?pic=2...

          and some in Houston:

          http://tinypic.com/fullsize.php?pic=4...

          from my most recent visits to the two places.

          rruben: the Houston place bottles and ships the sauce. Maybe there's a list of ingredients on the label???? ;).

          http://www.lulingcitymarket.com/sauce...

          1. re: Dorothy

            Don't bother, Dorothy. They appropriated the name from City Market in Luling. It's a generic BBQ spot - the only thing special is the name.

          2. Has anyone ever tried to duplicate the Luling City Market BBQ sauce? Any ideas?
            I used to frequent the one in Houston, although it's been years---I can still taste that sauce.

            4 Replies
            1. re: rruben1

              I tried to duplicate the sauce off a recipe I found off the internet somewhere, and failed miserably. I still get ribbed for it by friends. The sauce is great, and while Luling City Market - Houston can't match the original, it is 130 or so miles closer, and good for a quick and often terribly satisfying lunch fix.

              1. re: rruben1

                Did you have any luck? I'd like to try making the sauce myself! I plan to keep going til I get it right?

                Hollis

                1. re: Hollis

                  I agree with much of what has been written here. I have been trying BBQ every time I am in the Lockhart area. Just went to City Market yesterday. Ribs and brisket are great. I like loose packed sausage, but the taste was not right for me. I much prefer the sausage at Smitty's. Still have not tried Chisholm's in Lockhart, though have heard good things about them - - particularly sides?? Would not go back to Blacks. Kreuz brisket is good, agree sides are not. Had a great pork chop at Kreuz.

                  1. re: Hollis

                    Mustard, Ketchup, Vinegar, brown sugar, honey, black pepper lemon and I threw in some aniseed. Seems close.

                2. City Market is a required stop whenever we drive between Houston and San Antonio. It's one of the absolute best BBQ places on the planet; I never miss their pork ribs. My ratings:

                  Pork Ribs: 10/10
                  Brisket: 9/10
                  Sausage: 7/10

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tiger_in_houston

                    I went to college in San Marcos and we went to Luling all the time for the BBQ! Soooo good. The Houston Luling city market doesn't compare!

                  2. My husband and I grew up in Kingsbury and Luling and now live in DFW area--to say that we compare every piece of BBQ and ribs and sausage we eat to City Market and almost 99% fail is just plain truth--our son is planning a wedding in April and they hope to rent a river house in New Braunfels for the ceremony--guess who we plan to have cater the rehersal dinner...
                    the person who posted that picture of City Market's best just ruined my day--nothing I can eat will taste that good (except a margarita from our favorite Mexican food place)..

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: TX_Native

                      Went on a binge a month ago to Coopers, Peete Mesquite, Smitty's, Kreuz, Black's, Opies, City Market and Luling BBQ all in two days. Disgusting, I know. But I wanted to compare all in short period of time.

                      Smitty's and City Market were very noticeably better than all the rest. City Market brisket was a revelation. Smitty's prime rib is pure gold. City Market had the best sauce I've ever had anywhere, Memphis, Arkansas, KC, Carolinas included.

                    2. The only problem with City Market is having to stop eating. It's just the perfect marriage of smoke, sauce and atmosphere. Definitely the benchmark of Texas Q.