Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Texas BBQ Trail. Part Two: Smitty’s Market. Black’s BBQ. Franklin Barbecue...

Read: Part One: Snow’s BBQ. Louie Mueller Barbecue.
After an introductory lesson on the religion of Texas BBQ yesterday, we were simply exhausted.  Not only because of the lack of sleep from last night or the driving but by the constant stench of post oak cologne.  It was all over us – it enveloped us.  Our hair, our skin, our clothing – we were reminded of yesterday’s guilty pleasures. When we rolled back into Austin, the town was happening but we were in need of a major nap.  People were out and about – being Austinites. We parked the car and without saying much to each other dove into deep slumber. Tomorrow would be the last day of our short trip in Austin, but we still had a few more places to knock down. But because we had tried so much food today we decided to seriously enforce the “1 x 1 x 1″ rule: one brisket, one rib and one sausage.  Or so we thought…’s Beginner’s Guide to BBQ
To make it easier for my readers and for the fact that I can’t give everyone a group hug for your solid readership, I made a map of all the main BBQ joints in Central Texas so you could enjoy Texas the way we did. As you can see, Austin is the star on the map and the mileage number under each city is the distance from Austin. I wouldn’t be intimidated by the distances because the driving was super easy. Smooth roads, cow-counting and good music only makes the drive that much easier. There are people that have done ALL the BBQ spots in one day, which I think is ludicrous. And those people are probably dead by now. After much research, friends recommendations and talks with a few BBQ pit masters, we decided to pursue a total of five BBQ joints due to our limited number of days in Austin and we split them over the course of two days. Here are a few, not all, of the notable places in each of the cities mentioned on the map. I also referenced Texas Monthly’s amazing 2008 breakdown of the state’s best BBQ.
Austin, Texas – Franklin BBQ.
Driftwood, Texas – Salt Lick BBQ.
Elgin, Texas – Meyer’s. Southside Market.
Giddings, Texas – City Meat Market.
Lexington, Texas – Snow’s BBQ.
Lockhart, Texas – Black’s BBQ. Chisholm Trail BBQ. Kreuz BBQ. Smitty’s Market.
Luling, Texas – City Market.
Taylor, Texas – Louie Mueller’s BBQ.
*Note: We decided not to try the highly-recommended Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas because (a) it is all-you-can-eat for $20 and (b) we had read that it’s better with a group of friends and a beer cooler. We are saving this for the next time around in Austin with friends. Also, Kreuz Market was not an option because it closes on Sunday’s. Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market are run by siblings that are purportedly feuding.
BBQ Menu
I was actually surprised there were really no more than four popular meaty offerings you could order. You could order the BBQ straight up, in a combo plate with sides or in a sandwich.  Some places did offer BBQ chicken and pork chops but that’s not what Texas BBQ is really about – it’s the brisket, ribs and sausage! To maximize our BBQ consumption, we nixed the fillers such as the pillowy, white bread and sides like beans, cole slaw and potato/macaroni salad. I didn’t come here to eat mayonnaise and flavored ketchup after all.
Beef Brisket
This is the lower breast of the cow which needs to be cooked, braised or smoked for numerous hours to break down the connective tissue. It is usually the most prized piece of BBQ and an indication of a pit master’s skills. Not smoked properly can result in dryness and toughness, which results in the forfeiting of your Texas citizenship.
Beef Ribs
We’ve all had short ribs grilled the Korean way or braised in red wine, but having this large meaty rib smoked is an entirely different thing. The bones are simply massive and you get the feeling of being a Flintstone.
Pork Ribs
In addition to brisket, this is another highly sough after piece of meat, especially if they are baby back ribs. Smoky, moist, tender and with just the right amount of fat make this one thing you MUST order.
Beef/Pork Sausage
I may be used to European and Japanese berkshire pork (kurobuta) sausages, but the Texas-style sausage is completely different. Versus having a smooth texture with maximum snap, the textures are way more coarse, less in fat and flavored heavily with large granules of black pepper. Almost like eating ground beef. The reward of having large granules of black pepper stuck in your teeth is fantastic, but I think it’s just missing the fat content and snap. A lot of the sausages were made from beef or a mixture of beef and pork.
BBQ Etiquette, Facts & Advice
Let me preface this by saying that after 60 hours in Austin, I am nowhere near even possessing the title of being a BBQ novice – I’m just a fan from California. But I spoke to the owners and pit masters of all the places we ate at and digested an amazing amount of information. Here’s what I learned and what I’m sharing with y’all. I said “y’all” again.
Know Before You Go
There is nothing more disappointing than driving an hour somewhere, only to find its closed.  That’s why you pick up the phone and call before hand. A lot of these BBQ joints are mom and pop-shops and are limited by the amount of smokers they have.  Some only have two smokers, some have a huge warehouse of smokers.  I made a list of all the BBQ joints with their business hours and estimation of when they would run out.  I’ve provided their hours and “run-out-times” (ROT).  Call anyway to double check.
Type of Wood
Versus using mesquite, Texas-style BBQ employs wood from White Oak trees, also known as post oak. According to one pit master, the mesquite is best used for pork and post oak for brisket. For me, the post oak had a more well-rounded smokiness versus the bold, charcoal taste of mesquite that I’m accustomed to.
On & Off Days
Unless you’re eating in Tokyo where precision is a religion, you’ll have your on and off days. Some of the places were okay despite people’s ravings and I’m about giving things another chance.
There is No Wrong Way to Eat BBQ.
Use a fork and knife or use your 10-digit Swiss Army knife. Get in there and know your food – bring some nail clippers too. There’s nothing more fun than getting your hands all oily as you gently pull the meat apart and take a bite. Some places will have Styrofoam plates and some plates will have “plates”, which are sheets of dark-brown, butcher paper that your BBQ is placed on upon being weighed. Grab all four corners, a wad of napkins and go to town.
Sauce vs. No Sauce
There are purists of food in every culture. For me, when eating a bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho), I refuse to taint my holy broth with Sriracha or hoisin sauce. It’s a sin unless the soup is lacking. The same goes here with BBQ sauces. We rarely used sauce unless we had to. A lot of pit masters in Texas say that sauce hides the lack of flavor and the motto over at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas is “we’ve got nothing to hide”. I suggest trying the BBQ first and adding salt if its lacking. Then as a last resort, call 911 for the emergency sauce.
BBQ Condiments
In addition to BBQ sauce and side dishes, there are two very important condiments offered in Texas BBQ. After you’ve eaten a few pieces of BBQ, your palate is blown to oblivion and that’s why they offer sliced white onions and jarred pickle chips as a palate cleanser. It goes with sushi and pickled ginger.

Choose Your Cuts
What I noticed with all of the BBQ joints is the customer service, which is always on point and almost motherly – Southern hospitality if you will. After they ask you what kind of meat you’d like, they ask you for your preference in cut. Some places advertised both a “lean” and “fatty” brisket with no price difference. In the image of the brisket above, you can see how the meat tapers down in size from right to left. Obviously, the fat cap on the right will be thicker than that of the leaner side. I suggest, at all times, that you pick the fattiest part of the brisket because it will be the moistest piece. You can gladly discard the fat as you eat the super moist and tender brisket meat. End-cuts I usually love when grilled or pan-seared, but when it comes to smoked BBQ, they turn out pretty dry and crusty.
The Smoke Ring
You may hear this term while eating or reading about BBQ and it’s something I learned after talking to some other customers. This term refers to a 1/8″ to 1/4″ pink ring that appears between the black salt & pepper crust and core brisket meat. Some say it’s a true sign of a pit master’s smoking skills but on the other hand science says it’s a reaction between heat and water in the brisket. If the brisket is not left to rest to room temperature and smoked immediately, it will cause a thicker smoke ring. Some people have gone as far as cheating in BBQ competitions by painting it with red food coloring or using a tenderizer by Morton called “Tender Quick”. Judges in BBQ competitions, for those reasons, now disregard the smoke ring phenomenon.
How Much to Order
If you’re going through the Texas BBQ trail, I don’t recommend putting all of your eggs in a basket. Because we knew we would be eating five places we decided to only order one of each main item: brisket, pork rib and sausage. But the people at the BBQ joints knew we were out of town and kept throwing in way too many extras out of generosity and Southern hospitality. I can assure you that one of each is good enough for TWO PEOPLE that only want a taste test. Also, BBQ will obviously hold longer in the fridge since its smoked so be prepared to take your food back home.
Tip the Meat Man
Running a restaurant is a commitment, but running a BBQ restaurant is potentially a 12-14 hour affair especially if you’re the pit master. If a restaurant is open at 10 am, the pit master will be up around 2 am lighting up the wood and smoking at least 500-600 lbs. of food. Tip the good man.
Ask for a BBQ Tour
There is nothing that makes a pit master more happy than you asking him for a personal tour. All the pit masters were super generous and lifted up all the pit covers to show off their prized meats. We actually got a ton of free samples – enough to make it a meal in it self.
I hope you digested all of that. Now, y’all ready for your visual meal?

Smitty’s Market
208 South Commerce
Lockhart, TX 78644
(512) 398-9344
Owner: Nina Schmidt Sells, Jim Sells (husband), John Fullilove (son)
Pit Master: John Fullilove. Pablo Garcia.
Hours: Monday to Friday 7 am – 6 pm; Saturday 7 am – 6:30 pm; Sunday 9 am – 3 pm
ROT: About 2 hours before closing. Brisket and ribs go fast. Call.
Distance: 32 miles south of Austin
About 30 minutes south of Austin is the city of Lockhart, the self-proclaimed barbecue capital of Texas. True or not, they’ve got a great roster of BBQ joints that are rich in history and even a bit of family drama. Our first stop on the second day of the Central Texas BBQ trail lead us to Smitty’s Market, owned by Nina Market Sells. Before this became Smitty’s Market in 1999, the restaurant was run by Nina’s father, Edgar A. “Smitty” Schmidt for nearly 50 years as Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krite’s). After her father had passed away, the restaurant was given to both his children, Nina and brother Rick, so that they both would have a piece of the business, which didn’t turn out as planned. After a dispute over rent, Rick found himself moving 2-3 blocks away and restoring his father’s original business, Kreuz Market.  Nina established the original Kreuz Market as Smitty’s, named after her father.  In an interview I had read concerning the family feud, Rick said that the story was in fact blown out of proportion by the media. But to this day, there’s an ongoing “Smitty’s vs. Kreuz” debate that makes BBQ eating a little more fun.

Like Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, Texas, walking into Smitty’s Market is just an amazing experience. The 50+ year old building also does the smoking within the building so you’ve got the beautiful textures and blackening all over the walls and ceiling. There are two entrances into Smitty’s and in the late afternoon, I found myself in a line with 25 others.  I waited a good 10 minutes before I saw the actual pits. On the image above, you can see the post oak wood being lit outside. The heat and smoke gets naturally vacuumed into the pits, providing the right temperature. You can also see that the bricks and hose are completely covered in stalactites. Clearly, this place is historical.

Before Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt started his barbecue restaurant in 1948, the building was owned by a man named Kreuz who ran a butcher shop and general store with a couple of brick barbecue pits in the back. They’ve kept most of the artifacts from the old butcher/general store. I could only imagine how cool it was back in the 1940s.

The main man here, when John Fullilove, son of Nina and Jim, isn’t here, is Pablo Garcia. The 16-year veteran has been the pit master here even before Smitty’s was still called Kreuz Market. He’s a great person to talk to and joke with and like most pit masters, enjoyed showing us around.

It was almost 2 pm and I was lucky enough to put in my order because all they really had left were the beef sausages. This pit master is lining up the sausages for tomorrow’s service.

In addition to the pit master, the next guy in line is the meat slicer, aka the Sous Chef. He has to know the structure of meat and deliver your choice cut without destroying it into pieces. I prefer the jagged, uneven cuts from using a freehand and a knife. The electric carving action at Snow’s BBQ was too uniform and made my meat look like slices of cake. Beef cakes. At Smitty’s Market, they have a lot of meaty offerings but again, if you’re on a BBQ hunt, I’d stick to the B-R-S rule.
Left to Right: The meat slicer, aka the Sous Chef. “1 x 1 x 1″ rule in effect.

At Smitty’s, the meat is cut in the pit room and separate from everything else. After you pay, you can queue up at the “Sides” counter where you can find your standard Texas BBQ accouterments including slices of Cheddar and Jalapeno Jack cheese. I saw people eating the cheese by itself or making mini BBQ and cheese sandwiches. Order a Texas sweet tea to go with your meal – it’s thirst quenching.

Before the expansion of the main dining hall, people ate in a smaller, hallway-like room. This room is what you’ll most likely see photos of for its darkened walls and darkened wood. Back then, they also didn’t offer any forks and knives and there was actually a communal cutting station for you to use. You can find utensils here now but it’s not the recommended way to eat at Smitty’s Market. I told you to pack some nail clippers right?

Left to Right: Coarse black pepper beef sausage. Brisket action.

We definitely liked the brisket and pork ribs. The brisket had great flavor and a nice cut of fat, but it was a little bit salty. The rib cut had great flavor but a bit on the dry side. As for the sausage, it had a nice amount of coarse black pepper but again, I’m not huge on Texas-style sausages.

After we finished eating, we snooped around like any tourist would and saw the production of Smitty’s Market.  We were blown away by the amount of wood used by Smitty’s Market, which probably sells over 1,000 lbs. of meat everyday. At least. This is one of the coal-tenders, Ernest. At the end of the day, all the ashes from the wood have to be removed for the next day’s fire. He showed us the pits used just to light up the wood, which is brought inside to heat the pits.

This isn’t even all of the wood stored in the back area of Smitty’s Market. There were probably four rows of post oak wood in front of Jeni and four rows behind her.  You can see one of the employees waving at me by the staircase. They said this wood burns out in less than 6 months.  We said goodbye to the good people of Smitty’s Market and headed to our next and last BBQ joint in Lockhart, Texas – Black’s BBQ. We unfortunately did not make it to Kreuz because they close on Sundays.

Black’s BBQ
215 North Main Street
Lockhart, TX 78644
(512) 398-2712
Owner: Edgar and Norma Black
Pit Master: Kent Black (son). Barrett Black (grandson).
Hours: Monday to Thursday; Sunday 10 am – 8 pm; Friday and Saturday 10 am – 8:30 pm
ROT: Well stocked. Call just in case.
Distance: 32 miles south of Austin
Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market may have the beautifully stained buildings and spotlight from the family drama, but there’s one BBQ joint that I felt is pretty under-appreciated and deserves a mention. You go to Smitty’s and Kreuz to admire the history and interior, but at Black’s, it’s where you go with your family. Right when you drive into the town of Lockhart, you can’t miss huge yellow signs advertising Black’s BBQ, a BBQ restaurant that is open “8 days a week” and has been owned by the same family for over 75 years.  The restaurant was first established by Edgar Black Sr. and being managed by the 3rd and 4th generation family members.  Pretty amazing when you think of it.

Right when you walk in, it’s almost as though you’re walking into the Black household. With taxidermy, plaques, photos, awards and magazine articles all over the wooden walls, it’s sort of like being in a very busy American family’s living room. Because this business has been run only by the family, it’s quite obvious that they want you to feel like your part of theirs and that’s a good thing. And we indeed saw quite a few families on this day.  This was the last stop out of three for today and we were pretty tired.  So we made this a pretty quick visit.

I asked the pit master for a tour and this was the first time seeing a brick pit versus the metal pits. The briskets looked beautiful with the light mopping sauce. Black’s BBQ also offers more than your typical Texas BBQ accouterments including mac & cheese, tomato sauce rice, jello and mash potatoes.

Here’s one of the few pit masters that I talked to and he was, like others, super generous. He loved that we were visiting from Los Angeles and hooked us up with goodies. Good man.  Here he’s showing off Black’s BBQ prized brisket. According to the Black’s BBQ website, Edgar Black Jr. was the first American proprietor to use beef brisket for BBQ. Look at how beautiful that blackened spice rub crust is. Look at the fat line right through the center of the brisket. I’m getting hungry just looking at this.

Black’s BBQ is known for their beef/pork sausage but we were so full and skipped it. But we were generously offered a whole sausage ring as a goodbye from the pit master. Their brisket was excellent. It was different than the other BBQ joints I had tried. This brisket was not only fatty and moist, it had this beautiful al dente bite to the meat. I think when meat is too over-smoked it loses its texture. Fall-off-the-bone tender is not always a good thing in my opinion. It could only be the combination of the pit master’s skills, the brick pits and high-grade meat. And also the fact that the brisket is smoked for 24 hours with a simple salt & pepper rub! The seasoning was just right too. The pork rib and sausage wasn’t as memorable as the brisket.

Mr. Pit Master shook his head when he asked if I had tried a Texas-style BBQ rib. He gave me a huge slice and I accused of him trying to kill me. Look at the size of this rib – it’s what the Flintstones ate. Never mess with a Texan eating a beef rib because that bone is an instant weapon or boomerang. To my surprise, the ribs were excellent, although too fatty.

If you come to Lockhart, I recommend you at least try Black’s BBQ after you’ve visited Smitty’s and Kreuz. There’s a reason why they’re still here after 75+ years right? So there doing something right. Next time I’m in Lockhart, I definitely want to checkout Kreuz Market and Chisholm Trail BBQ. And I’d spend more time here at Black’s BBQ.

Franklin Barbecue
900 E. 11th Street
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 398-2712 (TBD: this is new address)
Owner: Aaron and Stacy Franklin
Pit Master: Aaron Franklin. John Louis.
Hours: TBD (this is new address)
ROT: Soldout in 45 minutes to 2 hours. Recommend arriving an hour early.
Distance: In Austin.
Finally, we’re back in Austin and prepare for our flight home. I hope you’re not exhausted by now, but I’ve saved the best for last. Before heading to Smitty’s Market and Black’s BBQ, we paid a visit to a newcomer in the Texas BBQ republic that has garnered quite a lot of attention. My friend Kevin of Portland’s Guilty Carnivore had referred me to his friend’s website about a BBQ documentary he was filming.  In the trailer, he featured a man serving BBQ out of a trailer parked in a old gas station lot. I could see the silhouette of a man lighting up coals in sheer darkness – it was badass. Right then I knew I should contact the owner and ask to get some behind the scenes photos. Introducing Franklin Barbecue.

And this is the silhouetted, man from the video, Aaron Franklin, a 33-year old Texas native. Like Snow’s BBQ’s overnight Cinderella success after being named Texas Monthly’s #1 BBQ restaurant in 2008, Franklin’s story is quite humbling as well. Aaron grew up with BBQ as his parents used to own a BBQ restaurant. In and out of various jobs and drumming gigs, he would experiment with BBQ in his own backyard on the weekends. As he told me: “I was that guy running out in my boxers and beer to check on the BBQ every hour”. After throwing BBQ parties, it was obvious to everyone around him that he had found his calling. A year and a half later after his BBQ debut, I find myself waiting one hour before opening time at 10 am Sunday morning.  Along with 60 others. Thank god we were first in line.
What I liked most about Franklin Barbecue’s set up was that it had its own vibe. Smitty’s and Louie Mueller’s have their historical buildings. Black’s has that family-living room feel. Aaron Franklin has a $300 trailer from Craigslist, a few old smokers, benches and a religious following all on the lot of an old gas station (former 1940s Texaco station) off the Interstate 35 highway. BBQ to me tastes better when you’re eating it outside under the Texas sun.

I met Aaron and it was good to put a face to his voice. I had emailed him only a day before I would arrive in Austin and got a call back from his wife. I told him I wanted to document the preparation of Texas BBQ, but quickly changed my mind when he told me he got up everyday at 3:45 am to do the deed. He showed me his old smoker that he purchased for about $2,000 and had welded with his own hands. According to Aaron, having someone construct a new smoker can cost at least $10,000. So if you’re considering becoming a pit master, it may be wise to restore old, seasoned smokers.

This day was a special day for Aaron Franklin, his religious followers and for me as a first-time visitor, as it was the last day at his original location. After 1.5 years in business, Franklin Barbecue was getting too big and had to expand. They’ve moved into an actual brick and mortar and were very excited about it. So I was glad to experience the original Franklin Barbecue.

At every table, you’ll find Aaron’s trio of sauces. Contrary to what most BBQ purists would say, I actually enjoyed these delicious sauces because you can truly feel the love put in to them. He offers his signature Espresso BBQ sauce, a North Carolina “sour” BBQ sauce for the pulled pork and a standard BBQ sauce. On the right is Franklin’s assistance pit master, John Louis, from Denver, Colorado. Louis himself is a BBQ savant with accolades from a few BBQ competitions in Colorado. And not to mention, a super cool guy. Now, are you ready for my most favorite brisket of the whole trip?

Sometimes pictures can say more than a thousand words – you can actually taste and feel the textures. I seriously get my stomach rumbling when I look at Franklin’s brisket. Franklin proudly uses Meyer’s all-natural beef from Montana. He said there’s no way you can get this kind of quality from Sam’s Club or Costco. When I asked him how much it was per pound, he told me he didn’t want to think about it since he was spending double over what other BBQ joints were spending. Look at that beautiful thin crust and amount of fat. When John Louis took the brisket out of the foil, he dropped it from a height that showed just how perfect the brisket was. When it landed on the cutting board, the brisket jiggled a little like jello. I shed a tear. Even Jeni who was still full from from yesterday’s carnage showed widened eyes. He took his carving knife right down the middle and the brisket basically parted to the sides. It was life a cake of beef.

All I can say is goddamn. The meat was salted beautifully, beyond moist and laden with fat. We didn’t eat much of the fat but kept it attached to the brisket to get the maximum flavor. I dipped some of this in the Espresso BBQ sauce and it just made so much sense – not that it needed it.  The image on the right shows an almost flaccid slice of brisket – it’s toppling over!

The goddamning continued as I tried his pork rib which was lightly lathered with the mopping sauce. This was the best BBQ pork rib I’ve ever eaten. Jeni pulled off a piece of the rib effortlessly. The flavors were there – simply amazing.  Aaron Franklin is pure talent.

Again, the beef sausages were putting me on the spot again. Would I finally give in to Texas-style sausages? No, but Franklin’s was pretty damn good. Although coarse and in need of a little more fat, this sausage was mixed with beef hearts for texture and decent.

A final Google satellite view of Franklin Barbecue’s beautiful spread. We bought extra BBQ to bring back to my father-in-law.  We were concerned the BBQ would make everyone on the flight home a little hot and bothered but we were able to conceal the smokiness.

Your food says a lot about you. With his choice in using high-quality Montana beef, excellent brisket and pork ribs and unique sauces, it’s clear that Franklin is a man true to his profession. In one of his first BBQ competitions, he placed 19th out of 580 competitors for “not really trying”. But I have to acknowledge what a humble gentleman Aaron Franklin is. When I had called about his hours and run-out-time, he digressed and politely asked me how much time I had. Instead of criticizing many of the competitors, he directed me to 3 or 4 other places allover Central Texas, and if I had enough space in the stomach, come back and see him. As much as I liked the other BBQ joints, my overall Texas BBQ experience belonged to Franklin Barbecue. It’s his good, humble attitude that also draws people back here every weekend. The lines are long at Franklin Barbecue because the BBQ is good but that’s also due to the time and care he and John Louis give to every single customer. Do Salt Lick, Smitty’s, Kreuz and Snow’s BBQ. But do not miss Franklin Barbecue. Here’s another rave review by one of Texas’s best BBQ blogs, Full Custom BBQ Gospel.
To not eat BBQ in Texas is to not recognize their way of life. I think in 48 hours, I got to know a lot about Texas culture through conversations with the pit masters/customers, driving to and fro and of course, tasting the food. For sure, this won’t be my last time to Austin. Now go eat some Texas BBQ! Thanks for reading.
Overall Thoughts:
Favorite Brisket: Franklin BBQ. Black’s BBQ. Snow’s BBQ.
Favorite Pork Ribs: Franklin BBQ. Smitty’s Market.
Favorite Beef Ribs: Black’s BBQ.
Favorite Sausage: Louie Mueller’s. Franklin BBQ.
Best Experience: Franklin BBQ. Louie Mueller’s. Smitty’s Market.
*Special Thanks to Texas Monthly’s 2008 BBQ review, Veronica Ramos & Friends and of course my wife, Jeni, for the amazing birthday present.

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