Story by Catherine Parker
When I was a kid, my granddad wore an apron and always had a sharp knife within arm’s reach to snip off a brisket end for one of his grandkids. Playing so hard we had sweat beads around our necks, we ran in-and-out of his barbecue catering kitchen.
I’d sneak a piece of the white bread, the kind that sticks to the top of your mouth as soon as it gets wet. Then follow it with a handful of pickle slices I’d found in a dish next to the sliced white onions. Years later, the smell of smoke brings back the childhood memories of slapping screen doors, bottles of Big Red and Granddad’s smoked brisket.
Long before Texas BBQ got the credit it deserved as a notable regional cuisine by the James Beard Foundation, kinda like the Academy Awards for food. It was the easiest way to feed a crowd.
So every family gathering started with a blessing, a stack of three-compartment paper plates and a BBQ buffet made by my granddad, Carson Parker of Parker’s Kitchen. Though his restaurant got swallowed up by road construction outside of Houston more 40 years ago.
Texas Small Town BBQ
Visitors to Austin can find Texas BBQ on fancy plates with cloth napkins. Though that’s just for show. To find some authentic Texas BBQ you need to head out of the city center and drive down a Farm-to-Market road for a sensory experience that combines your eyes, nose and mouth.
Texans might not share their political views though they’ll tell you all-you-need know about rubs versus sauce. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a Saturday, the crowd gathered explains the diverse influences on Texas BBQ.
Texas BBQ is a culinary history lesson dating back before its statehood. The Czech and German immigrants smoked beef to preserve it before refrigeration. The vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys, cooked their beef slow and low underground to make barbacoa. And the African-Americans that settled in the state, brought their recipes for sauce and pork ribs.
And Central Texas is where those influences converge.
Make it a BBQ Road Trip
Most think a Texas road trip starts with a gas station breakfast taco. Though for the Central Texas BBQ road trip, start with some brisket for a bold way to start your day, and trip.
Sure, Taylor’s got some serious BBQ but Snow’s is only open on Saturday morning, early. So start there then head south.
And remember your BBQ road trip needs a big appetite and lots of cash. Most places only accept cash and Texas BBQ ain’t a cheap eat so expect to pay about $20 a pound each for the brisket and the ribs with sausage sold by the link.
And it might not be a bad idea to throw the cooler in the back for leftovers.
BBQ for Breakfast at Snow’s in Lexington
In the smoky meat landscape, men usually manage the pits. Except for Miss Tootsie, who’s equal parts smoke and grit. She’s up and womanning her fires when most are tucked in-between their flannel sheets.
Opening in 2003, it was a locals-only joint until Texas Monthly came a knockin’ and put it on its best of list. You’ll miss Miss Tootsie and Snow’s unless you set a Saturday morning alarm. The line starts out front before 7 a.m. in Lexington, a town of about 1,000 people north of Giddings.
Find the Texas BBQ trifecta of brisket, pork ribs and sausage along with a chicken and turkey breast. Brisket is outstanding, known as some of the most tender around.
Eat on its own, or order a side if you must. Though I always tell my kids, that potato salad will only fill you up.
Located at 516 Main St. in Lexington. Open Saturday only from 8 a.m. to noon, or when they sell out.
Take U.S. Route 77 south then turn on to Texas Highway 21 to Bastrop.
The Gas Station in Bastrop
Serving up brisket with heavy metal playing over the loud speaker? Not your typical BBQ joint though this is the original gas station from the iconic, low-budget slasher movie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Leatherface is long gone. Though Ben Hughes, the pitmaster, does his best work overnight when the post oak smoke goes to work tenderizing the brisket.
Located at 1073 Texas Highway 304 in Bastrop from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, closed Monday.
Take FM 20 outside of Bastrop to Lockhart.
Smitty’s Market in Lockhart
The Lockhart BBQ saga reads like an epic Texas novel, where families feud over smoke and fires. In a town with four notable BBQ joints an entire day can be spent sampling in Lockhart.
Though head to the original building for the most memorable experience, Smitty’s Market. Originally Kruenz Market the building has been smoking and selling meat since 1900. Skip the gravel parking lot off Highway 183 and enter through Commerce Street entrance. It’s in the shadow of the county courthouse.
The screen door opens into a sooty hall tinted black from the constant fires. At the end, the open fire boxes will prompt even dad to pick up a toddler and put them on his shoulders.
The brick pits reliably cook brisket, prime rib, pork chops, pork ribs, turkey breast and sausage, including jalapeño sausage. Wrapped in butcher paper, head to the long tables in the dining area for sides and drinks.
Located at 208 S. Commerce St. Open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Take U.S. Highway 183 from Lockhart to Luling.
City Market in Luling
City Market in Luling is another institution commanding a line that snakes through the tables to smoke room in the back. Though this is the original and not the copycat place in Houston.
The glass enclosed smoke room is another burnet umber colored smoke retreat. Though the menu at the Original City Market hasn’t changed in years. So you won’t find poultry on its menu. The brisket, pork ribs and sausage, both regular and hot varieties, are all worth a wait of 30 minutes of more.
Tables go fast. And yes, the town still smells like oil. So find one of its painted pump jacks before heading out. Luling is conveniently located a couple of miles from Interstate 10.
Located at 633 E. Davis St. Open from Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed Sunday.