|The cutting block at Kreuz Market, in Lockhart, Texas|
Texas Q Tours takes meat-hungry Texans and travelers to hot barbecue spots around Texas to sample some of the best. They’ve guided public tours to areas of the Hill Country and private tours to seven (read ‘em, seven!) places in two days, plus two stop-offs in Austin, two days in a row, to Lambert’s (those were some impressive out-of-towners).
But on Saturday at noon, twenty or so people piled into two vans for a (relatively) more modest trip and trekked down to Lockhart to try Kreuz Market, Black’s and Smitty’s Market. Now, I’m sure many of you have tried all three places, but not like this.
At Kreuz, our first stop, we learned we could skip the line and immediately find a table. The rockabilly pitmaster brought the barbecue to us, and, as it was the first stop, we all stopped for a second to admire his handiwork. It was lunchtime, and we were hungry. Everyone dug in: moist brisket, pork tenderloin, pork ribs, prime rib, turkey, jalapeño sausage and regular sausage, as well as Butter Krust white bread and Shiner. As every Texan knows, there’s no sauce at Kreuz, so you can really taste the meat itself. The highlight was the dry, peppery pork rib, tender and fatty yet with a nice crust. After we ate we wandered around the pits, admiring the dry oak and the fire, opening the custom-made pits for pictures and watching the workers slice the fatty brisket.
From there we drove near the town square to try Black’s. Again, we skipped the line and sat down at tables. Where Kreuz is old-school spare, Black’s is old-school cluttered. Framed photos of high school sports teams from decades past hang on the walls, as do deer heads, Longhorns, jackalopes and signs galore. The crowd was starting to feel the effects of all that meat, but that didn’t stop us from a second lunch. The highlights at Black’s were the beef ribs with burnt ends, the snappy sausage, the sauce and, surprisingly, the turkey. I’ve always thought barbecue turkey was kind of a throwaway, but this stuff (to use a cliché) literally melted in your mouth. The texture was spot on, and the salt level was just right.
You may be asking, What about the sides? Black’s makes fresh rolls and cornbread, but the Texas Q Tours guys are purists. There’s no room to waste on those carbs or even sides like coleslaw. On this tour, it was all about the meat.
Black’s claims it’s the longest-running barbecue establishment by one family in Texas, since 1932, and after we ate, a Black family member took us on a more extensive tour of the pits. Among other things, we learned that the oak they use is from a nearby county and has been aged for a year to a year and a half.
Next we burned a few calories by walking about two blocks to Smitty’s. By this point even the staunchest barbecue lovers were groaning. But there’s no, “Oh, I’ll just have a bite” when all of that handsome meat is placed in front of you. In fact, no one even had any spare energy to debate the age-old barbecue drama of Kreuz versus Smitty’s. Instead, we had a mission (eating!), and now was the time for dedication and strong spirits.
Again, the troughs were brought out, and everyone dug in. This time we were treated to beans and cheddar cheese as well as meat. I liked the moist, decadent brisket here best, and the sweet-glazed pork ribs distinguished themselves from the dry variety we’d already been eating at the other two places. Smitty’s definitely took the prize for the weirdest wall decoration: in the upstairs room, they had framed two shots from a suggestive magazine spread of Sandra Bullock posing on the long table where our barbecue had been laid out.
After the bravest of the brave ate their Blue Bell ice cream (how did they have room?!), we headed back to Austin for a tour of Hops and Grain Brewing, where Man Up Texas Barbecue has its annual Gettin’ Sauced barbecue sauce festival.
“Y’all smell like barbecue!” co-owner Josh Hare told us as we walked in. We sipped on Alteration and Pale Dog beers as we took a tour of the brewery, learning about barley and yeast as well as Hops and Grain’s sustainable process.
Finally, at 5:30, we ended up back where we started, at the Takoba parking lot, and said our goodbyes: when you’re in those kind of eating trenches, you make best friends for life (or at least an afternoon).
I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I know I went home in a meat coma and took one helluva nap.
Want to go on the next tour or just keep up with Texas barbecue? Stay tuned to Man Up Texas BBQ for more information. And be sure to check out the Gettin’ Sauced festival, on September 28 at Hops and Grain Brewing.
Photos by Brad Istre and Megan Giller