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I ate at Texas Monthly’s Top 5 BBQ Pits in One Weekend.

Like many CH readers, I wondered about the Texas Monthly list. Are these five places really the best? I was especially curious about Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. Could a pit only open on Saturday really beat the great pits of Lockhart, Luling and Taylor? There was only one way to find out. And so, on one Friday and Saturday I ate at all five.

It’s not really that difficult. You simply have to pace yourself. It’s like going to Napa Valley and hitting many wineries. Also, it helps if you don’t fill up on bread/crackers or eat sides. On Friday, I sampled Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market in Lockhart and then City Market in Luling. On Saturday (after a stop at Round Rock Bakery) it was Snow’s and then Louie Mueller in Taylor. After that, all I really wanted was a salad.

Here is what I found.

1. It is worth it to drive to Snow’s if only for the brisket.

I hit Snow’s at 9:30 on Saturday morning. Already, there was a line and a full if small dining room. In talking to Kerry Bexley and the amazing Tootsie Tomanetz they don’t run out quite as quickly as they used to. This is because their mail order operation has allowed them to expand the number of pits. The brisket is so tender and flavorful. I don’t like burnt ends normally but these are amazing. The other meats are good but not quite as good as the brisket. So, if your BBQ favorite meat is ribs or sausage, Snow’s won’t be the great experience as it is for a brisket lover. Still, I’d go anyway if simply to see the pits and eat BBQ at 9:30 without feeling weird. The order for the other four for brisket was City Market, Smitty’s and then Louie Mueller’s (I didn’t have brisket at Kreuz because they had smoked prime rib and Smitty’s was out. However, I thought the brisket at City Market was better than the prime rib at Kreuz).

2. City Market in Luling is the best overall.
Snow’s has great brisket. But I believe City Market’s sausage and ribs are better. Also, its hours are better and they don’t run out of meat. If you could only go to one pit on a Saturday morning I might lean towards Snow’s. But as a general one pit rule I’d go to City Market over Lockhart and Taylor. This brings me to my next point.

3. The Austin tollroads changes everything.

It used to be so hard to get to these pits. Now, SH 130 ends about ten miles North of Lockhart (24 miles North of Luling) and cuts travel time to Lexington and Taylor. At some point, these pits will become suburban restaurants. Already, the building that houses Smitty’s also hosts a gym. I hope easier access doesn’t ruin these places but you may want to hurry.

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  1. Even though it's 2009, you get the 2008 ChowHound Spirit Award for personifying the purpose of ChowHound with your exploration.

    Fine work...

    1. I did something similar and hit Kreuz, Luling City Market, and Louie Muellers all in one week.

      Muellers: Brisket was fantastic. Very tender and seasoned perfectly. Ribs had good flavor but were a little bit tough. I didn't care for the sausage but the rest of the party seemed to enjoy it. It had a crumbly consistency much like the Lockhart style sausage.

      Kreuz: The brisket was very tough and fatty. I was very disappointed. The ribs were over seasoned and very dry. I'll have to go back again as I think I caught them on an off day.

      Luling City Market: The brisket was tender and moist, flavored well. Ribs were excellent, slightly crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth tender. Sausage was also excellent, tasted like it was all beef. Probably the best sausage I've had at a bbq joint. I'm usually not big on sauce but I thought theirs was great.

      Rankings:

      Brisket:
      1. Louie Mueller
      2. Luling City Market
      3. Kreuz

      Ribs:
      1. Luling City Market
      2.. Louie Mueller
      3. Kreuz

      Sausage:
      1. Luling City Market
      2. Louis Mueller
      3. Kreuz

      I would agree that Luling was the best overall.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Madcap

        I have noticed over the years that the brisket quality can vary a bit at all of the Lockhart joints, but one thing for sure: don't get the lean brisket. It is usually too tough.Always go with the fatty brisket. And I don't think anyone really goes to Lockhart for ribs, that's not what they're known for. It seems a waste of time that you went to Kreuz's and didn't try to get the thick BBQ pork chop. Insanely great.

        1. re: taliesin15

          I can't disagree strongly enough. Fat is just fine if it is distributed evenly enough that it doesn't form a distinct element. But fatty brisket almost always has strands of fat that are pretty nasty to bit into. The texture sometimes makes me nearly gag. Yes, it's easy to overcook lean brisket and dry it out too much, but a properly done lean brisket is infinitely superior.

          1. re: klanch

            But it surely is a matter of taste.

            1. re: tommy

              I guess...

              1. re: agoodbite

                No need to guess. Feel confident.

            2. re: klanch

              I couldn't disagree more .... With "lean brisket," my motto is garbage in, garbage out!

              1. re: klanch

                no fat, no flavor

                1. re: kayakn

                  Plenty of foods, muscle included, have flavor without the need for lots of fat. Old wives tale

          2. A few thoughts: First, this report probably belongs on the Texas board, not the Austin board. Second, the gym next door to Smitty's has been there for at least a decade, so no reason for alarm. Third, the ribs at Smitty's and Kreuz have been bad for as long as they have been served. The pork product to get at both places are the delicious and more consistent pork chops. Fourth, when Kreuz and Smitty's are firing on all cylinders, they turn out brisket that beats the prime rib.

            3 Replies
            1. re: austinfood

              Your point about the correct board brings up an interesting question. Is the limits of the Austin board the Austin city limits? Or is the limit a box of say Elgin, Driftwood, Lockhart and Round Rock? With the new toll roads making it easier to get to the pits, where does Austin stop and Texas begin?

              1. re: overresearched

                Something else to be considered IMO, is what is a "distance" varies with one's locale. For example in West Texas driving 100 miles or so for lunch is no big deal, whereas driving the same distance in the NE might be unheard of. I personally consider Austin and the area as going as far south as San Marcos and as far north as Georgetown. I drive to Georgetown on a fairly regular basis to have lunch with a friend. Likewise to Lakeway,Liberty Hill, and to the east, Bastrop. But that's just me. J.

              2. re: austinfood

                I think its limiting to the purpose of this forum to put arbitrary limits on what should or shouldn't pertain. While some people may live in south Austin and think of Round Rock as too far, to those in north Austin, Round Rock is a mere five to ten minutes away and vice versa. If the post is irrelevent to chowhounds reading the Austin board, likely there would be no productive posts on it hence it would fade into the archives no harm no foul.
                On the positive note, maybe someone who never would think about visiting the Texas board would read this and hear about some place they had never heard of before. If it was never posted, they would have then missed out on the great BBQ available within a short drive.
                Speaking as someone new to the forum (and liking it!), it is not immediately obvious that posts about the outlying towns around Austin would be relevent to the Texas board and not the Austin one.
                I say let the chips fall where they may!

              3. I haven't been to Luling in a couple of years, but I recall their pork ribs had some sort of barbecue sauce on them when smoked. Is that still the case?

                1. I was wondering, is it considered improper etiquette to request fat to be trimmed off your brisket before they weigh it? Snow's brisket is the best I've had, but they do leave quite a layer of fat on top (I know, I know, that's where the flavor comes from, but, still)..

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: luggage512

                    It might be considered in bad taste, but requests to trim the fat are so ubiquitous these days, I can assure you that any BBQ place is happy to do this (though they probably think like I do, what a waste!).

                  2. I have always thought Luling Market was exceptional, at least a top 5 in the state and the Lockhart places were good, but not deserving of their "Icon" status. You have motivated me to go out and try Snow's. Thanks for the great report!

                    1. PS: I think the report is fine on the Austin Board and I for one am glad it was posted as such. Years ago, Gonzales Meat Market (RIP) run by the Breitschoph Brothers trumped all of these.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: bobbyh

                        I think in cases like BBQ places within a one or two hour drive of Austin, I don't think there's that much of a problem. Personally, I consider much of "Austin" north of the Arboretum as South Dallas.

                        But, by all means, let's do discuss the BBQ in Gonzalez, also Llano, Elgin, Seguin, San Marcos, and Taylor.

                      2. Wow! Awesome.

                        1. sounds awesome, but i would probably explode :)

                          1. It took me just over a month to complete what you did in 1 day, but I agree with your overall assessment. Luling City Market is the best overall of the bunch. The ribs are cooked to perfection, falling off the bone, but you don't run the risk of getting bone marrow in your bite. I found Kreuz's disturbing for that reason. The brisket is supberb and the sausage is good. After trying them all, when I want BBQ and I am going to drive 45 minutes, why not just make it an hour and go to Luling. Plus, even though sauce shouldn't be a factor, the BBQ sauce at luling was far superior to the others.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Beaker75

                              "...when I want BBQ and I am going to drive 45 minutes, why not just make it an hour and go to Luling."

                              And if you're gonna drive that 45-60 mins, why not just go hit the holy trinity (Black's, Smitty's, Kreuz) while you're at it ? That's pretty much my standard protocol for these barbecue jaunts. Plus, it's anybody's game on any given day, so I always institute my Barbecue Risk Mitigation Plan and hit as many of them as I can on each visit. Sure, Kreuz usually turns out the better link and shoulder clod, Black's the better brisket and spare-rib, but really -- depending on when in the cook-cycle you show up, and which way the wind is blowing, any one of them could be tops. Some things are consistent, like Kreuz's ribs consistently not to my tastes.

                              Everybody should visit at least 3 places on every visit to Lockhart/Luling.

                              1. re: Nab

                                I always try for 3, and end up giving up after 2. Either I order too much at each place, or I'm just a lightweight.... always have a good time regardless. Last trip Smitty's was better than Kreuzes for both brisket and sausage. Brisket at Kreuze's was better than their prime rib.

                                1. re: Nab

                                  Everybody seems to forget or have not tried the fourth bbq joint in Lockhart. Chisholm Trail has great bbq. I went through there yesterday and bought a Slice Beef Sandwich on a bun for $2.10. It was great brisket. The only thing is that they try to put mayo on the sandwiches. I don't think any of the other joints in Lockhart are any better. Floyd the owner grew up learning the trade at Blacks. The locals really like the place. And I've got to tell you that The Gonzales Meat Market takes backseat to nobody. The sausage is really good and so is the sauce.

                                  And I don't know why we forget to talk about the bbq in Elgin. I love Meyers.

                                  We are really lucky here in Central Texas. I think our bbq is the best, but I don't think it is limited to Lockhart and Luling.

                                  1. re: tuckspop

                                    Agreed on Chisholm Trail. The BBQ is equal to Black's in my opinion with sides that are superior to anyone else.

                                    While we're talking about Central Texas, let me throw in a hearty endorsement for the brisket at the City Meat Market in Giddings. You can literally taste the burnt wood. Highly recommended.

                              2. Good information in this post and it seemed to beg the question of whether or not visiting the Top 5 could be done in one day. So, a group of guys that I work with have decided to give it a try and we are eating our way through Texas Monthly Top 5 this Saturday. We figure it should take about 12 hours and we plan to cover about 400 miles (leaving from Houston). We will report back.

                                1. I haven't been to all of those places yet, but I've been to Snow's, City Market, and Louie Mueller's. I have to agree that City Market probably just edges out Snow's, but both are fantastic. I went to Louie Mueller's last weekend and found it to be pretty disappointing.. atmosphere is a 10 for sure, BBQ (pork ribs, sausage, brisket) was maybe a 6. Too much black pepper and not enough flavor.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Defman

                                    Actually my wife and mother-in-law had the same impression of Louie Mueller's. They didn't think the brisket or ribs were all that.

                                    Then again I have a Big Green Egg so maybe I've spoiled them. :)

                                  2. I heard Snow's gets their sausage from City Market.

                                    It's not in the top 5, but I was impressed with Mann's on 183. I've always contended to get good barbecue you have to drive outside the city limits, but I think they're pretty good.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Blanche Davidian

                                      On my trip to Snow's a few months ago, I snapped photos of the bbq pits and the surrounding areas. One of the photos has a clear picture of a box that contained sausages. The label says that the sausage came from Texas Chaw Meat Products (Caldwell, Texas). Specifically, it is the beef and pork smoked sausage. I have no idea whether or not this is the same sausage served at City Market.

                                      1. re: bassque

                                        The sausage actually comes from right down the road in Giddings, TX at the City Meat Market. I've confirmed this with both owners.

                                    2. Gonzales City Market is still open. It is downtown and has been run by the same hispanic family for over 30+ years. All of the meat is as remarkable as Smitty's, Black's, Mueller's. But it is the Mutton that you should drive down a little further to enjoy. If you have never had mutton then remember that it is a very stong tasting meat and the folks in Gonzales do a great job of preparing it.

                                      1. Hi, Over-Researched: I wish I'd seen the note on your odyssey earlier so I could have congratulated you. I'm thrilled to see all the posts from Chow folowers. You people take barbecue seriously, and I'll keep the remarks in mind for the next time we do the barbecue story, in 2013 (it's every five years). Pat Sharpe, Food Editor, Texas Monthly

                                        1. Hey Overresearched and other bbq nuts ( I say that with great affection). I just moved back to TX with my fancypants CA chef husband. We're on "sabbatical" and have lots of free time to eat. Does the Trifecta of Barbecue still stand? We have eaten at Luling and City Market blew.him.a.way. (Ah, the smile of a smug Texan!) But we're ready to roadtrip! Snows and. . .

                                          -----
                                          City Market
                                          633 E Davis St, Luling, TX 78648

                                          12 Replies
                                          1. re: pickypicky

                                            Yes to Snow's. Yes to Lockhart (Black's and Smitty's in particular). Good pick with Luling. Have you been to Gonzales? Their City Market is under-reviewed here, but I thought their sausage was some of the best I've had. Elgin is another popular destination, but unless you're going there for sausage, put it further down your list. Mueller's in Taylor is another popular joint - let's see what fellow 'hounds have to say below.

                                            -----
                                            City Market
                                            633 E Davis St, Luling, TX 78648

                                            1. re: gilintx

                                              thanks, gilintx! Succinct and clear directive. Nice summary of the CenTX barbecue paradise. We've got our assignments!

                                              1. re: gilintx

                                                Would you folks say it's a necessity to get to some of these places by 9.30 am (Snows, the other highly rated places) if you want brisket before they run out? That seem insane, but I'll do it if necessary.

                                                If that's the case, it is the norm for Texans to eat their brisket so early? Or would one take it home and eat it later.

                                                1. re: tommy

                                                  Tommy,

                                                  It's only really Snow's in Lexington that makes you have your barbecue for breakfast (and yes, I would recommend you eat it hot off the pit rather than save it for later). For all the other joints (in Luling, Lockhart, Taylor, etc.), prime time is the lunch rush. After that, some stuff may start running out, or getting on the dry side. If you check older barbecue reviews here, you'll note that 'hounds usually mention what time they hit what place. It really does make that much of a difference.

                                                  1. re: gilintx

                                                    That's good to know gilintx. Thanks for the info. I'll continue reading!

                                                    1. re: gilintx

                                                      I tried to hit Franklin's right at 11 this weekend and it was obvious by the line snaking down the block that I was too late for brisket, so we left. Hopefully that's just a product of all the activities in town for the weekend.

                                                      1. re: amysuehere

                                                        I think that they open at 11, Amy - the line queues up with people waiting for them to start serving. It dies down after about an hour.

                                                        1. re: rudeboy

                                                          It was quite a line (I actually pulled up about 11:15 or 20). It snaked out the lot and down the street. Given what I've heard about folks having to wait with just a few people in line, we decided we'd do it another day. I'm glad they're doing well. I really enjoyed it the one time I tried it.

                                                    2. re: tommy

                                                      11 am is my "prime time" for bbq. It isn't crazy - it sort of satisfies that protein craving....like dim sum. On those days that you don't eat breakfast.

                                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                                        i tend to like beer with BBQ. maybe that's the northerner in me. regardless, i will drink beer at 11 am if they will allow it. i have no problem with that at all.

                                                        1. re: tommy

                                                          Well. Austin is a drinking town - I'm sure that drinking beer at 11 AM is de rigueur for most......

                                                  2. re: pickypicky

                                                    You might also want to give Franklin BBQ at ~38th and IH-35 a try. It's pretty good, although they smoke the brisket at 250F which is well on the high side IMHO.

                                                    http://www.franklinbarbecue.com/

                                                  3. Back from a weekend trip to Houston (from Fredericksburg). We hit City Market (Luling) going and Gonzales Food Market (Gonzales) on the way back. As my chef-husband put it: "i'd drive special to go to City Market. But not to Gonzales." That said, Gonzales was a great place-- AND a welcome place to eat after a few hours on Alt90 with nothing else in sight. We were greeted warmly by the owner-- and the place was hopping at 4pm on a Sat afternoon. The sausage was great, the bbq sauce interesting (more sweet than vinegar), and I loved the coleslaw with raisins. The brisket was pretty tender. What I deeply regret is that I did not order the lamb. I had had bad bbq lamb at Cooper's and I missed the comment below. So, maybe my husband WILL have to drive back to Gonzales with me. If you go to Gonzales, don't miss the amazing, crumbling mansions of your TX forebears. There are street after street of the cattle barons' homes-- not yet restored by retiring babyboomers.

                                                    -----
                                                    Gonzales Food Market
                                                    311 Saint Lawrence St, Gonzales, TX 78629

                                                    City Market
                                                    633 E Davis St, Luling, TX 78648

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                      We are making such tours an annual Father's Day trip. in 09 we did Lockhart, Lexington, Luling, Taylor and Elgin (10 places total) all on a Saturday. This year we did 12 (11 restaurants on Sat and 1 on Sunday- Franklins- some great food) only this year we went west of Austin- the Coopers and beyond. If you only order one big mixed place and share among 4 (and order more to go if you find something fantastic) it is very manageable.
                                                      Next year we are thinkin DFW/FW or maybe Houston, College Station and thereabouts. It makes for some great pictures and memories and helps us locate places we HAVE to go back to.

                                                    2. I also went to Texas Monthly's Second Annual Barbecue Festival on Sunday, Oct. 30th.
                                                      You are not going to believe this, but I had never dined on Texas barbecue before. It's
                                                      surprising because I've lived in Texas for more than20 years!
                                                      So since I'm not an expert on barbecue joints, all 22 of the ones featured at the Bar BQ Fest
                                                      delivered some lip-smacking, finger-licking good ribs, brisket and sausages-in my opinion. In
                                                      fact, I bit off way more than I could chew by sampling from about 10 different barbecue joints.
                                                      But I loved the food, music, and Austin location. The price is a little steep, so that's why some
                                                      folks gobbled down way too much barbecue. I heard several folks say they wanted to get their money's worth......

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: rosic

                                                        Glad you enjoyed your bbq and what took you so long?!?

                                                        The OP wasn't referring to attending the event at Palmer. He actually made the drive to each of the places in a very short period of time. It's an admirable and very worthy endeavor!

                                                        1. re: rosic

                                                          wow, 22 years in texas and 2011 marks the first bite of texas 'cue? This deserves some sort of Morrissey Abstinence Award.

                                                        2. Hey! Try Snow's chicken too if ya get there in time. I've never seen my favorite bbq joint on a list, but it's amazing. It's in Marlin and it's called Whup's Boomarang BBQ. Hard to find, but well worth it. Heck, It's even better than Snow's!!!!! Make the drive folks....barbecue heaven is in the hood in Marlin