In Texas, BBQ is religion. Everyone has their favorite go-to place and competition is fierce. Want to taste some good ‘que? Head to Austin, a good jumping off point to explore the “Central Texas BBQ Belt,” known for its melt-in-your-mouth brisket. Using Austin as a base you get the benefit of the area’s hip vibe plus a great music scene. While other traditional meats are served in most barbecue joints, in Texas, brisket is king. Every pitmaster has their unique way of cooking it, but most just use salt and pepper as a rub.
What makes Texas ‘que different? The consensus is “BEEF,” according to Kreuz’s Keith Schmidt. His aunt Nina (NEYE-na) Schmidt of Smitty’s Market expands, “Beef is what’s for dinner.” and Louis Mueller Barbecue’s Wayne Mueller has more to say, “The BBQ that developed in Texas was unique and different from the rest of the country in that it is beef-centric instead of pork.” That just about sums up Texas’ love affair with smoked brisket. Here are four not-tobe-missed places (and there are lots more – ask any Texas BBQ expert).
From the celebrity pitmaster himself…
Aaron Franklin of Austin’s legendary Franklin BBQ is probably the biggest celebrity pitmaster in Texas, if not the world. Aaron and his wife Stacey had a dream; they wanted their own BBQ place. In 2009, the pair opened their dream eatery in an old travel trailer in a parking lot. Word of their brisket got out, mostly, says Aaron, via food bloggers’ reviews. The lines started to form and before they knew it, the national media caught wind of their wonderful brisket.
In March 2011, the Franklins moved to a brick and mortar location; they’d outgrown the trailer. Then, Bon Appétit called Aaron Franklin a “BBQ genius,” proclaiming that he had “the best barbecue spot in the country.” The rest is Texas culinary history. People line up at Franklin before 8 a.m. (doors open at 11) and they stay open until the ‘que runs out, usually around 4 p.m. Waits can vary depending on the day from as little as an hour to as much as four hours. Waiting in line can be a bit of a party and with the right attitude, you can make it your day’s activity. Is it worth it? You’ll have to go and decide for yourself.
Where tradition was born…
Smitty’s Market in Lockhart sits in the historic 1924 building that once housed Kreuz (pronounced Krites) Market. Refrigeration was poor in those day and thrifty owner Charles Kreuz, Sr. (who opened the market in 1900) didn’t want to throw out unsold meat. He started smoking the leftover cuts and made sausage from the scraps; immediately a tradition was born.
At Smitty’s you get a sense of history with your ‘que which is sold by the pound. No frills here, meats are served on butcher paper with a choice of bread or crackers. You get a knife but no fork, so this better be finger lickin’ good! Meat is smoked in steel-lined brick pits and the horseshoe-shaped sausages are tied and hung on sticks and slow-cooked in similar brick pits. Both pits are fueled by local post oak (white oak found all over Central Texas). What makes their BBQ so tasty? Nina credits the choice-grade meat used, the pits and expertise of her long-term workers. There may be a little magic in it too.
At Kreuz Market’s “new” location, a cavernous barn-like building, the meat takes center stage. You can get pitmaster Roy Perez’s brisket two ways: fatty or lean (shoulder clod). Go with the former. Lean brisket lacks that rich flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture that’s the hallmark of great brisket. Like Smitty’s, meat is sold by the pound, served on butcher paper accompanied by bread or crackers and plastic knives (no forks).
The ultimate cathedral of smoke
Photo by Joshua Bousel
Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor, has been called “a cathedral of smoke.” In 2006, this place that’s been serving up memorable ‘que since 1949, was named an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation. Third generation family pitmaster Wayne Mueller (Louie’s grandson) runs the place.
Photo by Joshua Bousel
Was he always a BBQ fan? “Not the way I am today,” he answers. He had to leave town and get a bit of space before being able to appreciate both good barbecue and the family business. He’s back now and committed to turning out great ‘que. Their meat is smoked in a brick pit over post oak. While they smoke a wide range of meats, their bestsellers are beef brisket, beef ribs and in-house-made beef sausage.
In just about every town in Central Texas, you’ll smell the telltale smoke from a barbecue pit; many of them are turning out memorable ‘que. But be prepared to wait; the word is out. Where is your favorite BBQ joint?