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Daytripper with Chet Garner: Luling

Luling, Land of Meats and Melons
Written by Chet Garner.

(Photo courtesy of Chet Garner)

 Some folks dream of a land flowing with milk and honey, but what about one that’s rich with barbecue and watermelons? 
The good news is that this magical place exists in the Central Texas town of Luling.


9:00 a.m.  I pulled into town and instantly realized that barbecue sauce isn’t the only valuable liquid still flowing in Luling these days, as the town was dotted with oil pumps working hard to pull Texas black gold up from the ground. However, instead of letting these pumpjacks turn into industrial eyesores, the artistic residents of Luling have decorated them as everything from an orca to an airplane to a football player.

9:45 a.m.  Curious about Luling’s history, I stopped by the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum to explore the great exhibits about life in Luling during its early oil heyday. Once known as the “toughest town in Texas,” Luling hit it big in 1922 when oil prospector Edgar Davis discovered oil at his “Rafael Rios #1” well, which transformed this small town into a booming community. Davis went on to become Luling’s resident philanthropist and established an agricultural education foundation that still exists today.

11:00 a.m.  Present-day Luling also deals in another precious Texas commodity—barbecue. And while its downtown may be just a few city blocks long, Luling houses two of the state’s best barbecue joints. With plans to eat at both, I made my first stop at Luling City Market. For more than 50 years, this old-school market has been turning out succulent brisket, sausage, and ribs that patrons purchase straight off the pits at the back of the dining room. My lunch was incredible, and the complimentary smoky cologne clinging to my clothes on the way out was just an added bonus.

12:30 p.m.  The best way to polish off a barbecue lunch in Luling is with a juicy slice of watermelon. So I crossed the street to the Farmer’s Market, where hundreds of locally grown melons awaited. After a quick lesson from Watts Produce on how to “thump” a melon to test for ripeness, I picked out what I hoped was a good one.

1:15 p.m.  Next up, Zedler Mill, a local museum, park, meeting place, and swimming hole that sits right on the San Marcos River. At one point Zedler Mill was the town’s main mill, but today it makes for Luling’s best place to swim, rope swing, and jump into the refreshing river below. So after covering myself in the sweet, juicy nectar from my watermelon, I simply dove into the river and washed it all away.

3:30 p.m.  In the mood for more adventure, I drove to Palmetto State Park to take a hike through one of the few palmetto patches in Central Texas. The dwarf palmetto is a small, trunkless palm tree that grows in abundance at the park, far from its usual East Texas habitat. Once I was down the trail and had lost sight of the parking lot, I found myself in the midst of the palms and felt transported to the middle of an exotic rainforest.

6:30 p.m.  I headed back into town to Luling Bar-B-Q. While its neighbor prides itself on a limited selection, this joint serves the entire spectrum of smoked meats and sides from pork loin to broccoli salad. My full plate of beef, chicken, and pork made me happier (and fuller) than a thirsty tick on a big, fat dog.

While oil still flows in Luling, meats and melons have created a boom of their own. And as long as these delicious resources stay plentiful, I will continue to make my tasty pilgrimage to this Texas-style promised land. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road. 

Contact the Luling Chamber of Commerce, 830/875-3214.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper travel show on PBS.

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