Off the beaten path, about 35 miles south of Austin is the small town of Lockhart Texas. The city, which would otherwise be indistinguishable from many other small towns in the Central Texas area, is home to four barbecue establishments that many have claimed to serve the best BBQ in the state. Lockhart, TX BBQ is so acclaimed and revered that the state senate officially named it the BBQ Capital of Texas back in 2003.
For fans of Central Texas Barbecue (which is vastly different from East Texas Barbecue ) it has been considered a rite of passage to make a pilgrimage to the town and sample off the menu of all four eateries. In this article, we will examine all four establishments’ histories and what makes each one unique from the other so you can learn about the rich tradition that Lockhart has cemented as its legacy in the annuls of barbecue folk-lore.
Make no mistake about it, BBQ in the city of Lockhart defines Central Texas BBQ. Whereas its Eastern Texas BBQ counterpart relies heavily on Southern influences, Central Texas BBQ is a no sauce, no frills approach. The meat is covered in a light salt, pepper, and spice rub then slow cooked via smoke and indirect heat in large pits. As long as the meat is cooked properly, it should remain the star of the show and be enough to delight hungry BBQ fanatics.
At the turn of the 20th century, Charles Kreuz Sr
bought Lockhart’s local meat market for $200
and renamed it after his namesake. He would soon revamp the market with a what was then modern approach and began
selling smoked meats,
like how his German ancestors did in the old country. Infusing this German tradition with local Texas meats and
oak hardwoods gave birth to the Central Texas BBQ style that is known and loved to this day.
Kreuz Market’s BBQ offerings were a
quick hit with the local cattle ranchers,
farmers, and cowboys who loved the protein rich meals that would fuel their long, labored days.
In 1924, the barbecue side of the business grew so much that they decided to construct a new building so customers could have space to dine inside. Kreuz Market remained in the building until 1999 when the Schmidt family (owners of Kreuz Market since 1948) moved the business to a newer and larger building. Another family member remained owner of the original building and reopened it as Smitty’s.
When we say “no frills” we mean it. Don’t expect sauces, forks, or heck, plates (your meat will be served wrapped in pink butcher paper). What you can expect are some exceptionally tasty brisket, beef and pork ribs, pork chops, sausage and the standard sides of beans, mac and cheese, etc. Order at the back of the building near the brick pits and take a seat at the picnic tables in the dining room. Reserve wiping your hands until after you’ve licked your fingers clean.
Smitty’s began after Schmidt family descendants Nina Schmidt Sells and her brothers Don and Rick Schmidt settled a legal dispute where Nina would retain ownership of the building while her brothers kept ownership of the Kreuz business. Nina immediately converted the building into Smitty’s Market and maintained the rich barbecue tradition of the building and her family.
Naturally Smitty’s Market BBQ has many similarities to Kreuz Market. One interesting difference is that at Smitty’s you have the option to dip your meat in sauce if you so desire....or don’t. It makes no difference to them, just as long as you have a good time and enjoy the Q’!
Just past the Caldwell County Courthouse in downtown Lockhart is Black’s Barbecue, another staple in Central Texas BBQ folklore.
Black’s Barbecue was started by Edgar Black back in 1932 and has remained in the Black family for four generations with four locations throughout Central Texas. Texas Monthly has called Black’s “One of the 50 Best Barbecue Joints in the World.”
Texas Monthly says that the one thing that separates Black’s from their more famous Lockhart counterparts is simply, “good brisket.” . This “good brisket” is the result of a unique cooking technique that is not found at other establishments in Lockhart. In short, the brisket is cooked for 8 hours on a rotisserie using wood which partially smokes the meat. It is then stored in a cooler for a couple of days until it is finally smoked for four hours in a brick pit. According to Texas Monthly, the result is “a thick black crust which covers the tender beef, and there’s plenty of well-cooked fat with a deep and powerful smokiness that just isn’t found elsewhere in town.”
Chisholm Trail was the last of the four Lockhart establishments to jump on the BBQ bandwagon. Since that was over four decades ago, however, we would say they deserve being mentioned in the same breath as the other three legendary BBQ joints.
Compared to the others, the food at Chisholm is very tasty and adequate BBQ fare. What separates Chisholm from the rest of the pack is it is a bit more consumer friendly. There is a drive thru), the prices are affordable, and food is served on some advanced technological resting device called....a plate.
Essential to Central Texas BBQ is the wood fired flavor from meat cooked low and slow. Whereas the original Lockhart pit masters had to cook their BBQ over coals in a traditional brick pit, a Pit Boss Wood Pellet Grill or Vertical Smoker simplifies the process so you can make flavorful, tender, and juicy smoked Central Texas Style BBQ at home.
Check out our Texas Style Smoked Brisket recipe to cook your own Lockhart inspired brisket!
Follow along on our social media channels to learn more and join #pitbossnation.