Barbecue Capital of Texas: Lockhart

Lockhart, the seat of Caldwell County, is located 28 miles southeast of Austin on U.S. Highway 183. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage, rooted in cattle and cotton.

Beautiful Caldwell County Courthouse in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, on the rolling prairie, freight trains whistle and roll through midtown, church bells peal, and neighbors greet one another with a wave and hello from columned verandas of early 20th-century homes.

Lockhart is blessed with small-town hospitality. The town also benefits from being historically located on three trails—El Camino Real, the Chisholm Trail, and the Texas Independence Trail.

Lockhart derives its name from Missourian Byrd Lockhart, a surveyor for Green DeWitt’s colony. In 1830, Lockhart received four leagues of land on Plum Creek, which skirts the northeastern edge of town, for opening a road from Bexar (San Antonio) to Gonzales.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market.

Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage are served each day. It is estimated that over 5,000 people visit these establishments on a weekly basis—that’s roughly 250,000 people a year who eat BBQ in Lockhart.

The town has long been known for barbecue. It all started in the late 1800s when cowboys herded cattle north along the Chisholm Trail through Lockhart, which became a major trading center. Those ties to the historic cattle trail and the town’s renowned eateries led state lawmakers in 1999 to proclaim Lockhart the “Barbecue Capital of Texas”.

Brick pits that smoke the meats at Smitty’s—brisket, pork ribs, and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get into an argument about which establishment has the best barbecue. But it’s like arguing about politics, you can’t win.

Lockhart’s pit masters smolder native post oak logs, seasoned at least eight months, to provide the fragrant smoke and indirect heat that slowly roasts and flavors the meat. After that, secret recipes, cooking methods, and condiments separate the establishments.

Black’s and Chisholm Trail offer barbecue sauce to their customers; Smitty’s grudgingly provides it; and Kreuz Market bans sauce—and forks, too.

When Kreuz Market opened as a meat market and grocery store in 1900, customers dined off butcher paper with their fingers and used knives attached by chains to the wall to slice their meat. There were no sides or sauce.

Signs posted in Kreuz Market still advise customers not to expect sauce or forks.

Smitty’s serves beans along with extras such as onions, tomatoes, pickles, cheese, and crackers.

Sauce is provided shamelessly at Chisholm Trail, Lockhart’s only barbecue restaurant with a drive-through window. Owner Floyd Wilhelm, who worked at Black’s for 18 years, sold his fishing boat for $1,000 in 1978 and invested the money in the business.

It’s amazing that four barbecue establishments can stay packed all the time—and in a small town, too.

Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. The downtown section—like so many small towns in America—is long past its prime, but it still retains some of the grandeur it displayed a century ago. In the center of the town square proudly stands a fabulous old courthouse more than 100 years old. Another similarly aged building is the oldest continuously operated library in the state of Texas.

RV camping is available at nearby Lockhart State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVers will find a haven (and full hookups) at nearby Lockhart State Park just a few miles from town.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you can get there in an RV.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…
It is better to have burnt and lost, then never to have barbecued at all.

—William Shakespeare

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