By Chet Garner
It’s official. A while back, the Texas Legislature settled the debate over which town deserves the overall crown for best ’cue: Lockhart (designated “Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1999). I made a trip to our smoky capital on a meaty mission—to try every barbecue restaurant in town.
10:30 a.m. Too early for barbecue? Not in Lockhart. I kicked off my day at the oldest, most-storied joint in town—Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), which has been around for more than 100 years and started as a meat market and grocery store.
Kreuz still does things the old-fashioned way, and they’ve posted the rules. Rule Number 1: No Sauce. Kreuz believes good meat doesn’t need sauce. Rule Number 2: No Forks. You’ve got your fingers. Rule Number 3: No Kidding.
After passing down a long hallway, I reached the pit room, where an apron-clad lady waited expectantly behind the counter. Without thinking, I spoke. “A half-pound of fatty brisket, a sausage ring, and a couple of pork ribs.” It wasn’t until after I finished my plate of moist and delicious meat that I realized I didn’t even think of sauce.
11:30 a.m. I drove up the street to Smitty’s Market, just off the courthouse square, where the smoky rooms hide an even smokier past. Before it was Smitty’s Market, it was Kreuz Market for more than 75 years. In the 1980s, Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt sold the Kreuz business to his sons, but when he passed away, he left the building to his daughter. The siblings couldn’t agree on lease terms, so Kreuz moved just down the street, and the sister opened her own joint and named it “Smitty’s.”
Family feuds can make for a rather spicy past, but it still comes down to the meat. Turns out that perfectly smoked barbecue by any name tastes just as sweet.
After two lunches, it was time for a break, so I headed to the Caldwell County Museum, housed inside the 1909 Caldwell County Jail. The ground floor has been converted into a museum with photos and artifacts about area history. On the upper floors, visitors can tour a labyrinth of old cells and read the original graffiti of folks who weren’t in town for the barbecue.
2:00 p.m. My next stop, Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que, is the BBQ baby of Lockhart, as it has only been around since 1978. The owner cut his chops (so to speak) working for one of the other places in town. The rules at Chisholm Trail are different, starting with its cafeteria-style line serving more sides than I cared to count—and offering utensils! While Chisholm Trail does serve items like fried catfish and chicken-fried steak, it is still a full-fledged barbecue joint. One bite of the meat puts any arguments otherwise to rest.
3:00 p.m. After my third lunch, I headed to Lockhart State Park. The highlight of the park is a nine-hole golf course built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The park also offers a great shaded hiking trail along the running waters of Clear Fork Creek.
6:30 p.m. I capped off my ’cue quest at Black’s Barbecue, which calls itself the oldest major barbecue joint in Texas continuously operated by the same family. Instead of regular sausage, I went for the jalapeño-cheese variety. And instead of pork ribs, I went for a single big-as-my-femur beef rib. Both were incredibly delicious, and I was incredibly full.
Texans talk (and argue) about barbecue a lot, and someone will usually bring up the little town of Lockhart.
From now on, when someone asks, “Have you ever eaten there?” I can proudly say, “Why, yes, I have, and I even have the stretch marks to prove it.” So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.