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Where should I stop for BBQ between San Antonio and Austin?

Consensus on another site was Smitty's in Lockhart, But I had to ask my Chows- what's your favorite?

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  1. I really liked Black's the one time I was there last year

    1 Reply
    1. re: saeyedoc

      I like the prime rib at Smitty's, and the pork ribs and brisket at City Market in Luling.

    2. Well, if I were driving that route, and I do all the time, I'd put a small cooler into my car, then head out on I-10 to Luling, stop in at City Market, have just a few sample bites (but not a meal) of brisket and sausage and one pork rib, buy some more of whatever I really liked that day to put into my cooler, then head north on 183 to Lockhart, go into Smitty's, have one or two more bites of brisket, a little prime rib but skip the pork ribs, buy some brisket, prime rib and sausage to put into the cooler, then hop back into the car and head the couple of blocks up to Black's, where I'd get some more moist brisket and sausage to nibble on there and some more for my cooler, and by now I'd be filling up pretty handily, and I'd have a very nice selection to take to wherever I'm going, and some to put into my freezer.

      Honestly, as many times as I've traveled those roads, and I can't begin to count how many that is, I don't believe I've ever, not even once, stopped in at only one of those legendary old smoked-meat markets. And I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to do so. You can get in and out very quickly, so time shouldn't matter. You can order just a slice or two at each place (by the pound, just like you do at your local butcher) and I certainly never get any sides (other than jalapenos and onions of course - I mean, really? Potato salad, beans, cole slaw? You can get those anywhere, including your own kitchen, and much better versions, so why would you waste time, money, tummy space on these during your BBQ run? Not to mention that most of these CenTex BBQ joints don't even offer them anyway.), so it's not like you're getting a big meal that you can't eat. And you never know on any given day which of these "big three" might be the one to blow the others out of the water when it comes to that day's brisket. And which of the others might have had an "off" day, or gotten an unusually tough cut of meat. Why risk it.

      I will say that if I were advising somebody that had never tried any of them, and was determined to go to only one for some reason that I personally cannot imagine, and I couldn't talk them out of it, I, too, would suggest Smitty's, but not just because of the food.

      That iconic old building is like the holy temple of Central Texas barbecue. When you go there the first time you should tour the whole building to reverentially breathe in that history and pay your respects to the legendary and long-gone pitmasters that started the whole thing. It's absolutely, 100%, not to be missed by anybody that cares anything about Central Texas-style barbecue.

      1. That sounds like a plan. Is there much difference in scenery going up hwy 183, than i-35?

        3 Replies
        1. re: roxanne207

          The scenery and topography along I-35 and 183 are pretty similar except that the land along I-35 is far more developed; 183 is fairly rural all the way.

          I-35 is a 4-lane interstate, with all that implies. 183 is a state highway, good road, 4-lanes most of the way, and much, much more lightly-traveled. I-35 goes right into the heart of downtown Austin; 183 hits Austin farther east - out by the airport.

          I-35 is a major highway for NAFTA traffic coming from the border and heading to all US points north, and it carries a LOT of buses and big trucks. I don't think it's fun to drive at all and sometimes it's a nightmare. However, there are two advantages to I-35: assuming the traffic is light and there's no construction, which there often is, it can be faster. And, it goes through two quite nice small towns - New Braunfels and San Marcos. There are interesting things to see and do and eat in each town, but you do have to get off of the interstate to go see and do and eat them. I will say that the food, including atmosphere and ambiance, in both towns can be really good, but I don't think it's that unusual, if you know what I mean. Luling and Lockhart, on the other hand, are the only two places on the planet where you can get Luling and Lockhart barbecue.

          Overall, I'd say that while I-35 is probably faster, 183 is a far more pleasant drive in every way and, of course, there is no comparison whatsoever if what you're interested in is world-class barbecue.

          1. re: roxanne207

            Back when I was doing my bbq runs a few years back, I always stuck to the backroads - Taylor down to Elgin, thru Bastrop, then Lockhart, Luling. The few times I've been on I-35 between Austin and SA I've thought the scenery was much better than 183, particularly the stretch of 183 between Lockhart and Austin but there's a whole lot of nothing to look at along some of those roads. For my money and time the scenery around Bastrop is the best as far as anything east of Austin in the Hill Country but I don't know how that looks after the wildfires of last year. The road I most try to avoid is I-35 through Austin, particularly during rush hours.

            But I wouldn't worry about it - I think your 'cue experiences are going to make you forget all about the scenery.

            And I can't argue with your final choices as you state them below.

            1. re: brucesw

              Well, you're sure right about the scenery between Lockhart and Austin - flat farm/cattle country. Not much to look at.

              But, as you say, the 'cue more than makes up for it.

          2. Smitty's and Black's have my favorite brisket; it's a coin flip to me. However, I'd also drive 10 miles or so down 183 to City Market down in Luling for their sausage; it's the best sausage (by far!) I have ever had.

            1. don't come to austin and not get the fatty brisket at Franklin's. it's a long wait, but better than the rest !!!!!

              2 Replies
              1. re: slowcoooked

                Yes, that's the current consensus opinion.

                But I don't know how much time these nice folks have, or how long they're going to be in Austin, or how many other obligations they've got to fulfill while they're there, and it's quite possible to stand in line at Franklin's for several hours. In fact, you should count on it.

                Not to mention that, as good as Franklin's is, and it is, there's not a whole lot of history there, you know? A year or so at a food truck/trailer, and then to the current building,

                The very best option for Roxanne would be to saunter up 183 sampling some of Central Texas's very best barbecue, and very best barbecue history, and then go to Franklin's in Austin, just to complete her journey.

                Roxie - if you've got the time, Texas has the 'cue.

                1. re: Jaymes

                  I've heard a lot about Franklin's, and would love to try it, but Jaymes is right, we just don't have the time. We're going to do the Luling/Lockhart tour of 'cue, though.