Central Texas BBQ Tour!

As mentioned by Sarah already, we recently went on our babymoon, which was centered around a tour of the best BBQ joints that central Texas has to offer. At least that’s how they’ve been rated. Here’s a glance at our handmade planning map.

As you can see, we decided to not visit Southside Market or Meyer’s in Elgin (they specialize in sausage and we’re not huge sausage people) or Cooper’s in Llano (everything else was east-focused, and we were heading to Houston after the BBQ).

Before I go any further, I present all the meat we ate on our tour!

Mmmmmm, delicious. We ate BBQ for 2 meals a day for 3 1/2 days straight, and definitely did not get sick of it. Included in these 7 meals were the top 5 joints from the latest Texas Monthly ratings from 2008 (Snow’s BBQ, Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market, City Market, Louie Mueller), as well as the local favorite Franklin Barbecue, and Black’s Barbecue since it’s supposed to be another premiere joint in Lockhart. Of course, we created our own ratings based on our own tastes, as you’ll find below.

Given that we started our tour on July 4th, our first day’s schedule was largely determined by who was open. And that meant starting off by standing in line for hours at Franklin Barbecue. This time, we came better prepared than our first visit, bringing umbrellas and cold water in an ice chest. The meat was extremely delicious, and was worth the wait (but only on rare occasions), but we also were put at ease because of Aaron Franklin’s demeanor with us when we finally reached the front of the line. While Sarah assumed I might come across as annoying, Aaron was more than happy to chat about our BBQ tour when I told him about it; he checked out our map, and gave us meat suggestions for a couple of his favorite places. And I’m 80% sure he gave us free sausage even when we refused, because he wanted us to taste everything he was proud of (but if he charged us, no biggie).

Next up, a short drive to Lockhart, which we scoped out by car after checking into the hotel. Of the 3 Lockhart locations on our tour, only Black’s Barbecue was open July 4th. Fortunately, the line was still not very long, which is a good thing since the meat ended up being fairly disappointing.

In the morning, we drove to nearby Luling to visit City Market (not to be confused with Luling City Market in Houston). With us arriving on a work day and well before lunch, we had the place virtually to ourselves. While the selection of meat here is limited to only brisket, ribs, and sausage, it was all delicious.

After brief explorations of Luling and Lockhart, we found ourselves at Kreuz Market at 4 in the afternoon. This was one of my favorite locations, in terms of exuding “BBQ joint” with a well presented pit area and no-nonsense signs focused on the meat. On Aaron Franklin’s recommendation, we added a pork chop to our order, but overall the meats were a little drier than we’d expected (we’d visited once before a couple years ago). I’m not sure if we’d have had better luck if we showed up earlier.

On our third day, we hit up our last Lockhart location, Smitty’s Market, for a nice 10 AM lunch before heading out of town. We entered through what turns out to be the back entrance, and almost immediately were blasted by the heat of a fire burning on the ground right next to us. Smitty’s was quite good, but we agreed that City Market was better than anything in Lockhart, and with Luling only 10 minutes further down the road, we’d have little reason not to drive on through.

Onward to Taylor, for Louie Mueller Barbecue! A brochure on central Texas BBQ gave us a tip to call our order ahead, so we did that as we headed out of Lockhart. After exploring Taylor a bit, we entered another contender for my favorite location. The high-ceiling room had a haze hanging in the air, and the walls had obviously seen years of smoke. We adjusted our call-in order at the counter to add pulled pork, and sat down to some barbecue that stood out strongly compared to anything we’d had since Franklin. I then happily added my business card to the wall as we left satisfied, with one more BBQ joint to go.

We woke up super-early on Saturday to get to Snow’s BBQ at opening time. Snow’s, ranked the #1 BBQ in the 2008 Texas Monthly ratings, only opens on Saturdays, from 8 AM until they run out. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were pretty surprised to find no line at all when we arrived. The Snow’s layout is really cool, because right next to some outdoor seating are the pits, which aren’t hidden away or blocked off. The meat is cut and served in a small building to the side. While the meat at Snow’s looked somehow different than all the other joints’, it definitely met the high bar of expectations. We were happy for the lack of line because we hadn’t ordered enough pork shoulder and went for more (and got an extra slice of brisket too). Definitely a great sendoff to our BBQ tour.

So, now for the ratings! Sarah and I each had score-sheets, but here’s some explanation of how we ate and how we judged.

  • We used a scale of 1-10 (10 best) to rate each meat we ordered, any sides, and the location (we used “other” for the location). As reference points, 6+ indicated enjoyment, while 5- indicated dislike. The boundary from 3 to 2 marked the inflection point where I would actively want to get the meat out of my mouth rather than just frowning about it.
  • Aside from the number ratings, we added comments to explain our reasoning or what stood out to us.
  • In the score sheets, Jonathan used “N/A” for food the joint didn’t provide, and “DNE” for food the joint provided but he did not eat or order. Sarah used an X for the former and a circle for the latter.
  • We judged everything based on our personal preferences, and didn’t take into account anything about what official BBQ judges say is “supposed to be” any certain way.
  • Jonathan ate his meat without sauce (although occasionally tasted it just to see what it was like).
  • When it was available, Sarah ate about half her meat with sauce, but always tried it both with and without.
  • Jonathan ate all his meat without the use of utensils, with the exception of using a knife to slice sausage. (Sarah partook of forks when available).
  • Sarah ate and rated the sides, while Jonathan stuck to the meat.

Here are score sheets, Jonathan’s on the top and Sarah’s on the bottom (click on either image to see a bigger/readable version):

And the winner is…….

Franklin Barbecue!

Everything at Franklin was great meat, but it’s the otherworldly brisket that carried him straight to the top. It really was ridiculously tasty, a notch above anything else.

We concluded that our overall rankings were as follows:
Top tier:
#1 Franklin Barbecue – the very best
#2 Snow’s BBQ – a close second
#3 Louie Mueller Barbecue – a strong third
Second tier:
#4 City Market – noticeably less good than the top tier, but noticeably better than the Lockhart joints
Third tier:
#5 (tie) Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market – maybe a slight edge to Smitty’s
“Why was this on our tour?” tier
#N Black’s Barbecue – A strong disappointment

Speaking practically, the #1 and #2 joints are significantly annoying to easily eat at, with limited hours and/or long lines. #3 is significantly easier to enjoy, with same-day call-ahead ordering and longer hours. So we’re more likely to partake of Louie Mueller more frequently. But if you haven’t been to Franklin or Snow’s, it’s definitely worth the inconvenience at least every once in a while, so do yourself a favor and try the best Central Texas has to offer.

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5 Responses to Central Texas BBQ Tour!

  1. David says:

    Yes! Black‚Äôs Barbecue kinda sucks! I’ve been there a couple of times and I really don’t see why people consider it great bbq. Do these people even live in Texas??

  2. Ryan says:

    Even for a non-meat eater, this was an entertaining post. Also, the pictures really gave it some “flavor.”

  3. Sarah M says:

    If you’re not a 100% meat purist like Jonathan, here are my sauce-related observations:
    1) Place I was most happy to eat the meat without sauce — Franklin
    2) Best sauce — City Market
    3) Best sauce/meat combo — City Market or Franklin
    4) Favorite sauce at Franklin — The “sweet sauce”

    And obviously, if you HAVE to have sauce with your bbq, don’t go to Kreuz or Smitty’s.

  4. Travis H says:

    I appreciate the final roll-up of rankings at the end – especially the tiered approach. I’m intrigued about the Lockhart joints being in the 3rd tier. We made a trip to a couple of the Lockhart joints (Blacks & Kreuz) a year or so ago and while it was still good food, I was disappointed from a bbq-connoisseur standpoint. I thought maybe my expectations were too high, but this gives me newfound hope! I haven’t been to any of the places in your 1st or 2nd tier with the exception Louie Mueller – and it was delicious. I’m looking forward to hitting up some of the others soon.

    • Jonathan says:

      Knowing what I know now, I totally agree. When I first visited Kreuz, though, I’d only really had brisket at Rudy’s, County Line, and Salt Lick, so it was quite noticeably better, and the best brisket I’d ever had at the time. Now, however, I know that there *is* bbq that can transcend from great to incredible, and the Lockhart joints don’t reach that.

      Let me know what you think of the places whenever you go!

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