Everyone has a favorite barbecue joint. In Austin, I’ve encountered countless heated debates centered on the topic of Austin’s best smoked meats. Living in Central Texas has its fair share of perks, but I would have to include the outstanding history and heritage of the area’s BBQ restaurants to be one of the best.
If you want to talk to a barbecue purist, there are many schools of thought regarding which pits do the best job. People around these parts take their meats seriously, and when you have towns like Lockhart (officially known as the Barbecue Capital of Texas), Taylor, Luling or the tiny town of Lexington, you have your pick of smoky meats to choose from.
Jake and I like to consider ourselves students of the barbecue arts, and as such we need to take some time once in a while to refresh our meat memories. When I want a really good piece of brisket to do the job, Smitty’s Market in Lockhart is one of my favorite day trips to take for a hearty lunch.
Take a drive down spacious 183 South to a little town just Southeast of Austin, to Lockhart, Texas. From the Lake Travis area, it’s about an hour drive. Here’s where you’ll find an odd concentration of barbecue eateries. For the small town of just over 12,000, there seems to be an odd obsession with smoked meats. But after a little BBQ Texas history, it starts to make sense.
The story goes back to 1900. In the same location that Smitty’s sits on now was the original Kreuz Market, the restaurant specializing in selling smoked meats to be served on butcher paper before it went bad. In 1948, Edgar A. “Smitty” Schmidt bought the restaurant from the Kreuz family and continued to grow the business.
Fast forward to the late 90s, when the BBQ family dynasty had a very public falling out and seemed to split in two—taking part of their history and recipe with it. Smitty’s got to stay in the building off the old town square and a new location would open around the corner, named Kreuz Market.
It’s a dramatic split that has since been resolved, and even ended in a new barbecue in the Lake Travis area to be jointly operated by the grandchildren of the original Smitty’s Market.
Entering the eatery, you get a sense of the sheer amount of meat that has been cooked in that single location, over multiple generations. There’s smoke on the wall as thick as the history of the restaurant, which is an integral part of the town.
Some days there are lines out the door; meats sell out and you’re glad to get a seat in the dining room on a busy Saturday. But when you bite into your first piece of smoked brisket, nothing else in this world seems to matter.
This time around, I decided on a few hot links, lean brisket and smoked prime rib.
Taking a lunch break at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart is a little bit of a time warp. In some sense, time has stopped at the restaurant. Their recipe has never changed, passing down the secrets to their smoked meats with each new generation of pit masters to take to the chopping block. They don’t offer you a fork, only spoons, and it’s cash only. Be prepared to walk out smelling as good as their meats—Jake calls it his “meat perfume.” I call it “Texas smoke.”
You might be too full to do any shopping after you savor the meats at Smitty’s Market, but if you are in the mood, the town also has some of the finest antique and gift shops around.
208 South Commerce St., Lockhart, Texas (map)