Lockhart BBQ Trek
Flew into Austin from L.A. this past Thursday afternoon for a family weekend event. Three hour window before my brother needed to make the next airport pickup, so boshtx and I headed south to sample the big three BBQ. Cloudy, drizzly late afternoon, so each place only had a couple of other customers.
First stop was Black's. Quarterpound of fatty brisket came in two slices, each with a distinct crackly crust around the upper rim, almost like a burnt end but not quite. Brisket was tender, moist, and very rich. The crust added a nice textural contrast. One sausage link -- bro liked the loose texture a lot and judged it very good, I took one bite and found the mild seasoning too bland for me. Two pork ribs were huge, from the large end of the slab and very meaty. Great texture -- moist, tender but not insipid fall-offthe-bone, very juicy, but not a huge amount of smoke, crust, or seasoning. Black's has squeeze bottles of a thin sauce, and it helped the ribs in particular in my opinion.
Smitty's was next. The most picturesque of the three, with the smokers in prominent view and mounds of glowing logs and embers outside on either side. Brisket again came in two slices, but was noticeably darker in color and not nearly as moist. Hate to say it, but actually a little on the tough side. Sausage link was tighter in texture, but to my taste also short on seasoning and flavor.
Kreiz's was our last stop. Here the quarterpound of brisket was served in one very thick slice. Very similar to Black's -- moist, tender, rich, with a more pronounced smoke ring. Just didn't have that crust. Ribs were from the small end of the slab, and were much thinner and therefore a bit more done. Very ronounced black pepper flavor and crust. Really nice texture. Sausage was tighter, similar in texture to Smitty's, but much spicier and to my taste clearly my favorite, but when we do this again I'll probably stick to the brisket and ribs.
Conclusions: On Dec. 18, 2008 between 3 and 4:30, our unanimous winner was Black's. The brisket was extraordinary and both of our favorite. Might have just been our luck, but the folks there were also clearly the most friendly, offering to bring us our drinks and asking what they could do to help. Kreiz's was a close second in brisket, and a slight winner for the ribs. Smitty's placed a distant third. Note that despite both of us being huge BBQ fans and hungry, we couldn't finish the meat at any of the three; I was very surprised at how rich it was. And we didn't sample any sides or use any bread. We were interested in trying the prime rib, but the cuts we saw looked much more done than the medium-rare we prefer. Loved Lockhart, the big old church and historic-looking courthouse or city hall in the square. Easy drive from the airport which is south of the center of Austin anyway. Highly recommended, and I'd love to do it again. Thanks, Billy!
My last two trips to Smitty's have also sadly resulted in some tough slices. One of my friends is convinced that there is a time-of-day trick to getting the best quality brisket at Smitty's and I might return earlier in the day to test it.
Nice BBQ chronicle, nosh. We make the Lockhart every few months and each time I'm more enamored of the BBQ Black's prepares than I am of the other, more heralded establishments. A bit of a digression, but I was fortunate enough to visit on the 80th birthday of the proprietor, Edgar, as he sat down to a sprawling plate of BBQ. Any lingering fears of the damaging long-term effects of cholesterol were instantly banished...
I've had varying experiences at all of the big 3 over the years, and this is the first time I've heard of anything bad to say about Smitty's. I hope its aberrant.
The best thing I've *ever* tasted at Kreuz's is their thick cut BBQ Pork Chop. I've only had it twice, in part because its usually SOLD OUT.
A general rule of thumb--don't even bother getting the lean brisket at any of these places. That's a little like buying a $100 bottle of Scotch and mixing it with Dr. Pepper. If you're that paranoid about the extra fat, stay in Austin and go to Veggie Heaven.
The best thing I've ever had at Black's is not served there anymore: a pork jalapeno sausage. They ruined it a few years ago when too many people groused that it was too spicy for them and then they started adding Velveeta to it. Bad call! The original version was best eaten once it had been smoked so long that it was almost overcooked and a bit on the dry side. This yielded a sausage of incredible intensity, with the jalapeno giving almost a floral flavor and aroma. My dining companion was so blown away by it he was actually laughing and crying at the same time.
I'm glad nosh didn't bother with the sides. That's something I like to reiterate with all the great BBQ places in Lockhart, Luling, Elgin, Llano, and Austin (particularly Sam's BBQ). Its all about the meat, and its the only time I ever eat white bread.