Campgrounds As Base Camps For Festivals & Annual Events

Campgrounds are great places to enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With RV and tent sites as well as a wide range of accommodations, campgrounds can also serve as base camps for those interested in attending festivals and annual events throughout the U.S and Canada. These events range from rodeos to music festivals and cultural to culinary happenings.

Following is a sampling of the festivals and annual events that take place during the coming weeks and months, along with listings of nearby attractions and campgrounds and RV parks, many of which also have rental accommodations.

All parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

Alberta: Calgary Stampede, Calgary, July 3-12, 2015

The Calgary Stampede is called “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” for good reason. For 10 days every July, the Stampede City welcomes the world to a spectacular celebration of western hospitality. Stampede Park, located in downtown Calgary, is the world’s greatest gathering of cowboy culture. Each year, more than 1.2 million visitors from around the world come to Calgary to experience the heart-stopping action of the world’s roughest and richest rodeo, featuring bull riding, barrel racing, and more.

The GMC Rangeland Derby is the world’s top Chuckwagon Races. And every night is capped off with the Grandstand Show and fireworks finale that lights up the sky.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada Olympic Park, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Recommended RV Park: Mountain View Camping, Calgary

Freedom Trail, Bostom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Freedom Trail, Bostom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts: 33rd Annual Boston Harborfest 2015, Boston, July 2-6, 2015

The 33rd Annual Boston Harborfest is a six-day Fourth of July Festival that showcases the colonial and maritime heritage of the cradle of the American Revolution: the historic city of

Boston. The award-winning festival strives to honor and remember the past, celebrate the present, and educate the future with reenactments, concerts, and historical tours. The week includes Boston Chowderfest, Children’s Day, and the July 4th Boston Pops Concert, and fireworks.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Freedom Trail, Boston Common, Fenway Park, USS Constitution (“Old Ironside”), Boston Harbor, Plymouth Rock

Recommended RV Park: Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort, Foxboro

New Mexico: 12th annual Pork & Brew State BBQ Championship, Rio Rancho, July 3-5, 2015

Old Town Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Old Town Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come out and enjoy this terrific family-friendly event with live entertainment, arts and crafts, fun jumps, magic show, and, of course, plenty of award-winning BBQ. The Pork & Brew is hosted by the Rio Rancho Convention & Visitors Bureau and is a fully sanctioned Kansas City BBQ Society event—one of the top 10 events on the Society calendar.

With an average attendance of more than 20,000, Pork & Brew has become one of the largest events in New Mexico. Winners go on to participate at the World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri, October 1-4, 2015 .

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Jemez Mountain Trail, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Sandia Peak Tramway, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Park: American RV Park, Albuquerque,

Alberta: The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, Drumheller, July 10-26, 2015

Travel back 2000 years to the land and events that changed the course of history. This dramatic portrayal of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in an acoustically superb natural bowl amphitheater will make you feel like you’re actually there. The Scripture-based script and music, sets, costumes, quality performances, and the site’s remarkable similarity to the Holy Land all add to the experience. “One of Alberta’s Top Cultural Attractions”—Attractions Canada

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Dinosaur Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Royall Tyrrell Museum, Rosebud Theatre

Recommended RV Park: Dinosaur Trail RV Resort, Drumheller, Alberta

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is not a state to arrive at, rather, a manner of traveling.

—Samuel Johnson

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Half-Century Old Texas BBQ Legends

The popularity of Texas BBQ—primarily Texas-style smoked brisket—has launched a frenzy of new activity.

Prause Meat Market
For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than the wonderfully quirky Prause Meat Market right on one corner of the town square in La Grange. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New slow cook joints pop up with frequent regularity, and relatively new pitmasters are hailed as masters of the craft. Many deserve considerable attention and high praise, but let’s not lose sight of what came before, the historic barbecue joints that built the foundation of Texas barbecue many decades ago. The places that began operating a century ago, before barbecue gained its current popularity.

The average age of the celebrated barbecue joint is getting younger. In the statewide Top 50 barbecue list from the June 2013 issue of Texas Monthly, more than half of those listed—27—were opened this century. The average age was was just over 22 years old. In comparison, the oldest barbecue joint in Texas, Southside Market in Elgin, is 132 years old.

While age is not the only appropriate measuring stick for a barbecue joint, just staying open is something to laud.

The Texas Historical Commission has even created an award to help recognize these storied businesses. It’s called the Texas Treasure Business Award, and any business that has been open continuously for fifty years is eligible. I first noticed this award when I noticed it on display at Prause Meat Market in LaGrange.

Prause Meat Market
At Prause Meat Market I enjoyed a plate of brisket, sausage link, and their signature pork roll. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than the wonderfully quirky Prause Meat Market right on one corner of the town square in La Grange.

From the customer parking lot we walked through the back entrance, past the smoldering pits, and were relieved to find that they still had barbecue left for lunch, as they’ve been known to sell out quickly.

Established in 1904, this is one of the oldest BBQ joints in Texas, and one of the better ones. This historic joint is run by a fourth generation of Prauses who still operate a full-service meat market up front and offer smoked meats from the back.

This is a no-frills kind of place which serves amazing barbecue from its back room. Service is the old fashion way—you stand in line around the side of an old meat market counter that winds through the building to the door. Once you get to the front you tell the friendly folks what you want; they put it on a old time scale then calculate what you owe. You pay in cash as no credit cards are accepted.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I get the feeling that the butcher shop is the main business and the BBQ was an afterthought which used to be true of most meat markets/BBQ pits in the distant past.

The taste is amazing. Smoke is the name of the game here, and the rub has a lot of pepper and salt and a great bark.

Everything is good so try it all from the brisket, to the sausage, to the pork—you can’t go wrong. I enjoyed a plate of brisket, sausage link, and their signature pork roll.

Fat has melded into a soft buttery smoky goodness that will leave you wanting more.

A sign near the door says “Seven days without meat makes one weak.” It’s one of many hilarious quips throughout this quirky market.

Numerous trophies hang on the wall. Signs with Texas wisdom also adorn the walls.

“We do not assemble sandwiches” to “My wife is like a bull… she charges everything” to my personal favorite “If a man is in the woods and no woman can hear him, would he still be wrong?”

New Braunfels Smokehouse (established 1952) is the only other barbecue joint with the Texas Treasure Business Award designation.

City Market
Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifty-plus year old barbecue joints also deserving of recognition for their storied smoked meat history include:

  • Southside Market (established 1882) in Elgin
  • Kreuz Market (established 1900) in Lockhart
  • Black’s Barbecue (established 1932) in Lockhart
  • City Meat Market (established 1941) in Giddings
  • City Market (established 1957) in Luling
  • Gonzales Food Market (established 1958) in Gonzales
  • Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (established 1963) in Llano

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Central Texas BBQ Legends

Barbecue is food group. Each region has its own style, it’s preferred meat.

Smitty's Market
Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, beef is king. Brisket is meltingly tender and there’s not enough time in the day, or room in my stomach, to try it all. In fact, when in Central Texas I look at a LOT of BBQ and allow myself to really indulge in tasting a LOT of BBQ.

And while Texas barbecue is a topic that inspires near-religious fervor and heated debate from its devotees, many barbecue die-hards can agree on one thing: Central Texas is the pinnacle of all the smoked meat meccas, a prime reason I return to Central Texas on a regular basis.

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024 to make Lockhart the official Barbecue capital of Texas and the Senate followed suit in 2003, confirming what many already knew to be true.

For such a small town—population roughly 13,000—Lockhart is home to a mighty impressive lineup of time-honored barbecue restaurants that draws visitors from far and wide. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Each one is famous in its own right, but at 82 years old and counting, Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart’s picturesque downtown is one of the oldest family-owned barbecue  restaurants in the state of Texas.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the 19th century, scores of Germans and Czechs emigrated to Central Texas, bringing along traditional foods like sausage and kolaches. Many grocery and meat market businesses were established by these immigrants, and it was from these markets that the institution of Central Texas barbecue was born.

“These pioneers (brought) with them a style of meat-smoking from the old country that involved salt, pepper, meat, and wood. Whatever fresh meat they couldn’t sell, they would smoke and sell as barbecue,” wrote Katy Vine in Texas Monthly.

“As demand grew, the markets evolved into barbecue joints, though the style of service didn’t change much. The meat was still sliced in front of the customer in line and served on butcher paper. Sauce generally wasn’t offered.”

True to form, Black’s Barbecue was originally founded as a meat market and grocery during the Depression. As was typical in those days, leftover meat was utilized to fuel a brisk side business of BBQ.

Fifty years after Black’s was founded, the family got out of the grocery game, but by then the BBQ part of the business had taken on a life of its own. And while the barbecue sauce now flows freely, the smoked meats are still served up on butcher paper just like they were so many years ago.

Smitty's Market
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Customers are funneled through a narrow corridor that shuffles them through a salad bar where side items like deviled eggs, picnic-style potato salad, and pinto beans are served up buffet-style. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find glistening slabs of brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing a picturesque fire blazing in the waist-high ancient brick pit and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices.

A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison, and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks.

Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame.

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender.

 Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black's Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

On a recent trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch

The new Smart GasWatch Scale makes sure you never run out of propane, a true “peace of mind” innovation that will keep the BBQ grill fired up while camping in the RV or tailgating.

Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch
Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch

“Summer may be ending soon, but many households rely on the grill year ‘round and the new Smart GasWatch Scale is ideal for BBQ grills and wintertime heaters that use propane tanks as a source of fuel,” said Shaliendra Suman, the North Carolina technology entrepreneur who first introduced an analog version of GasWatch product 10 years ago.

“This week, we’re introducing two new models of the Smart GasWatch Scale and both are available now on Amazon.com, and at GasWatch.com.”

The original GasWatch Model TVL212, which is still available, uses an analog gauge to estimate remaining fuel in a propane tank.

“We first introduced the GasWatch gauges as a simple way to solve a very frustrating problem—running out of propane in the middle of a cookout,” said Suman, who was recognized this year by the Mayor of Charlotte with an Entrepreneur of the Year award.

“Now we’ve enhanced GasWatch to offer a simple and cost-effective way to keep an eye on how much gas is left in the tank just by monitoring the weight of the tank itself. For about the cost of a single tank refill, you can always know how much cooking time is left on your current tank.”

Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch
Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch

The new GasWatch Digital Scale provides peace of mind with a digital display of how much gas remains in the propane tank, a real-time calculation of remaining cooking time, and convenient audible alerts at the 20 percent, 15 percent, and 10 percent remaining fuel levels. Since the GasWatch Digital Scale simply measures tank weight, it is very accurate and safe to use, said Suman.

“We designed the new Smart GasWatch Scale to fit into most grill cabinets and patio heaters, and it is built to withstand ever-changing weather conditions,” said Suman.

“The new GasWatch is easy to set up and requires no tools. Simply place the tank on the scale, select the tank weight and the scale is ready-to-go.”

There is no connection to the propane tank so there is no worry of any type of leakage with this product. The tank just sits on the scale.

If your grill has a cabinet it fits neatly inside with the digital display placed outside for ease of reading.

The new Smart GasWatch Scale resembles a large plastic “doughnut” that sits under the propane tank and is available in two different models.

The basic Model TVL 216 features a digital readout fixed to the circular baseplate and is available at a suggested retail price of $24.95.

Model TVL 214 includes a 4.5 foot wire to connect the baseplate to a remote digital readout (allowing display placement closer to the cooking area) and carries a suggested retail price of $29.95.

Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch
Never Run Out of Propane With GasWatch

How it works: The tank weight is selected on the display when the tank is placed on the scale. The display will list the percentage of gas available and the cook time remaining due to the current weight and the selected tank weight. The display also includes a low level alarm that sounds when the remaining tank weight is at 20 percent, 15 percent, and 10 percent.

Details

GasWatch

Address: 165 South Trade St., Matthews NC 28105

Website: www.gaswatch.com

Worth Pondering…

I hope you dance because…

Time is a wheel.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.

Tell me, who wants to look back on their years and wonder where their years have gone.

—Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, I Hope You Dance

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Luling: Barbecue Central

Some people dream of a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But I dream of one that’s rich with Texas barbecue…and watermelons.

The good news is that such a magical place exists in the Central Texas town of Luling.

And while its downtown may be just a few blocks long, Luling houses two of the state’s best barbecue joints.

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, Texas, is just such a place.

For more than 50 years, this old-school market has been turning out succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs that patrons purchase straight off the pits at the back of the dining room.

The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. From Monday through Saturday, the unpretentious red building on a corner of East Davis Street becomes the epicenter of activity in Luling. People drive for miles just to eat lunch there and consider it well worth the trip.

Customers form two lines at this gastronomic heaven—one to select their meat and pick up pickles and white bread or crackers in the back room, and the other for drinks (this is Dr. Pepper country) and sides—be sure you try the beans.

This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The meat is sold by the pound—except for sausage; it’s by the link—and then wrapped in butcher paper, which serves as a plate. You’ll find the spicy, mustard-laced sauce in bottles on the long, wooden tables.

This is the arguably the best barbecue in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Customers usually include a mix of local folks and out-of-towners, blue-collar workers and suits, families, and couples. You never know who will be sharing your table, but not to worry, you’ll make a connection over the mouth-watering barbecue.

The first bite of a generous rib was a revelation—tender, salty, fall-off-the- bone succulent.

The perfectly crisp yet moist brisket emanated an addictive woodsmoke flavor. After sinking in my teeth, it was tender like I’ve never known brisket to be. It was savory, smokey, and with just enough chew.

And the homemade beef sausage! It was epic! The link was smokey, juicy, peppery, and savory. The crisp skin and the juices running out with every bite enhanced the flavor. It alone was worth the journey.

As for sauce? You forgot about the sauce, but it’s in a glass bottle right in front of you. And when you get around to tasting it—a thin, orange-ish, deliciously mustardy concoction—the signs imploring you to “Please leave sauce bottles on tables” suddenly make sense.

In fact, your yearnings now met, your hopes fulfilled—suddenly everything makes sense.

You can get your barbecue to go, of course.

Luling Bar-B-Q also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Luling Bar-B-Q also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With this kind of competition, you might think that other barbecue joints wouldn’t stand a chance in Luling. But no, Luling Bar-B-Q also faces East Davis Street, on the other side of U.S. Highway 183. The fact that the restaurant exists at all is testament to the fact that it also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s.

A great way to polish off a barbecue lunch in Luling is with a slice of watermelon. If you’re in season cross the street to the Farmer’s Market, where hundreds of locally grown melons await.

I’d go back in a heartbeat, and miss it already.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 4-Part article

Part 2: Luling: Texas Black Gold

Part 3: Luling: Sixty-One Years of Thumpin’

Part 4: Luling: Texas-style Promised Land

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Words of wisdom from an Oklahoma Cowboy

Will Rogers was quite the cowboy, with all the wisdom of simple, honest folk. His words still ring with common sense today…
Will Rogers, who died in a 1935 plane crash with his best friend, Wylie Post, was probably the greatest political sage the country ever has known.
Enjoy the following:
1. Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.
2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
3. There are two theories to arguing with a woman…neither works.

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Eat My Words: Top BBQ Joints

Each of the four iconic barbecue regions—Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, and North Carolina—serve a different style of barbecue.

 Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black's Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Typically, Memphis, St. Louis, and Kansas City are all about the ribs. In North Carolina, pulled pork dominates the menu, and Texans love brisket. Of course, you’ll also find chicken, turkey, and sausage along the way.

Some of the biggest differences in cooking methods involves the type of wood such as oak or hickory, and direct or indirect heat. Then, there is the wet versus dry debate because some pit masters baste their meat while it is cooking and others use a dry rib.

And of course, an entire book could be written on barbecue sausages alone. Vinegar-based sauce is preferred in the Southeast, while the Midwest and Western regions like a tangier, spicy tomato-based sauce.

Texas Barbecue Belt

In Texas, beef tends to be the best seller on the menu, especially brisket.

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants.
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork.
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar.
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth.
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slices of white bread.

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites). Black’s is known for their giant beef ribs.

If you keep heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Every five years or so (since 1997) Texas Monthly magazine dispatches a team of trained eaters to travel around Texas incognito, ingesting huge amounts of barbecue. Their goal is to visit as many of the state’s approximately two thousand barbecue joints as possible in order to come up with a list of the fifty best. At each joint, the eaters sample at least three meats, a couple of sides, and a dessert. In areas of high barbecue density, they may visit as many as nine places in a day.

Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Immediately after each visit, the eaters fill out a detailed score sheet. The final score considers intangibles like setting, service, and history, but mainly it is based on the meat. The brisket score counts the most.

Eighteen places from the 2008 top fifty made it onto the 2013 list including Kreuz Market in Lockhart and City Market in Luling. Smitty’s Market made the 2008 list while Black’s Barbecue was selected in 2013.

Other repeat winners include:

  • Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (Austin)
  • Austin’s BBQ and Catering (Eagle Lake)
  • McMillan’s Bar-B-Q (Fannin)
  • Cousin’s Bar-B-Q (Fort Worth)
  • City Meat Market (Giddings)
  • Virgie’s Bar-B-Que (Houston)
  • Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q (Kerrville)
  • Snow’s BBQ (Lexington)
  • Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (Llano)
  • Whup’s Boomerang Bar-B-Que (Marlin)
  • Hashknife on the Chisholm (Peadenville)
  • Cowpoke’s (Pearsall)
  • Opie’s Barbecue (Spicewood)
  • Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor)
  • Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue (Tyler)

The best barbecue joint in the state on the 2013 list is Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Rounding out the rest of the Top 4, in alphabetical order: Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor; Pecan Lodge, in Dallas; and Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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RV Across Texas

Texas is full of surprises. Few sections of the country are as influenced by Spanish, Mexican, and European residents as Texas. With one of the largest German, Czech, French, and Mexican populations in the U.S., Texas is diverse.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome that rises 425 feet above ground, 1,825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area consists of 1,643 acres on Big Sandy Creek, 18 miles north of Fredericksburg, on the border between Gillespie and Llano counties.

Coupled with its impressive geologic history, Enchanted Rock also has an extensive archaeological history; the site figures prominently in several Indian legends.

Tonkawa Indians believed ghost fires flickered at the top, and they heard weird creaking and groaning, which geologists now say resulted from the rock’s heating by day and contracting in the cool night.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing, and nature study.

The park offers 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 6/10 mile Summit Trail which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. The 4-mile Loop Trail, a favorite among hikers and backpackers, winds around the base of Enchanted Rock.

Gladys Porter Zoo

Gladys Porter Zoo, rated among the top 10 zoological preserves in the United States, is an oasis nestled in the center of Brownsville. With 26 acres of lush tropical plants and over 1,600 animals, Gladys Porter Zoo is known for its successes in breeding endangered species of wildlife. Animals live in open exhibits surrounded by natural flowing waterways.

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

The zoo is divided into sections. Tropical America is where visitors will see jaguars, Galapagos tortoises, macaws, Caribbean flamingos, spider monkeys, and Cuban crocodiles. Indo-Australia features orangutans, grey kangaroos, kookaburras, agile wallabys, and black swans. Asia has tigers, gaurs, Przewalski’s horse, pileated gibbons, Indian blue peafowl, and Bactrian camels. Africa includes reticulated giraffes, African elephants, Grant’s zebras, African lions, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and one of the rarest antelopes in the world—the Jentink’s duiker.

The Herpetarium and Aquatic Wing contains a large collection of lizards, turtles, snakes, gila monsters, and some rare crocodilians, along with both freshwater and saltwater fish from around the world, with an emphasis on the Texas Gulf Coast area.

Other exhibits include a free-flight aviary, bear grottos, and a California sea lion exhibit.

Lockhart, Barbecue Capital of Texas

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.

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 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.

Black's Barbecue is Texas' oldest and best major barbecue restaurant continuously owned and operated by the same family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Black’s Barbecue is Texas’ oldest and best major barbecue restaurant continuously owned and operated by the same family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 4 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

If a man’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, why embarrass him by asking?

—John Gunther

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Still More Reasons to Love Texas Food

Texans take their food as seriously as they do their football.

Many Winter Texans and other visitors to the Lone Star State have the good sense to agree with them—that Texan food is that of the gods.

1. City Market

Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth.

City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

2. Lockhart: Barbecue Capital of Texas

A short hop, skip, a jump from Luling is Lockhart, 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.

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

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. 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.

It’s amazing that four barbecue establishments can stay packed all the time—and in a small town, too. Incidentally, my favorite is Smitty’s Market. The brisket and links as well as the unique experience make me a repeat customer.

3. Big Texan Steak Ranch

Not one of the businesses to put out a welcome mat for Oprah when she appeared in an Amarillo court against the beef producers, The Big Texan is best known for its 72 ounce steak. No matter how you cut it, 72 ounces is 4½ pounds and that’s a lot of meat. And it’s free if you can eat the steak and the accompanying salad, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, and bread in one hour while everyone else in the restaurant watches.

The atmosphere is awesome. There are elk heads all over the wall, about six Texas flags outside, along with a huge cow statue and other Texan artifacts.

4. Shiner Bock

If Blue Bell Ice Cream is a food group, then why not beer—but not just any beer; it must be a Texas original from “the little brewery in Shiner”. Reflecting the tradition of genuine Bavarian beers, Shiner Bock has been brewed since 1913, almost as long as the Spoetzl Brewery has been in business.

However, it wasn’t until 1973 that Bock went into production year-round. Bock was considered a lent beer, and therefore was only made around that season. Today over 80% of the beer made at the Spoetzl Brewery is Bock.

5. Las Vegas Cafe

For excellent home cooked Tex-Mex food, Las Vegas Café in Harlingen in the Lower Rio Grande Valley doesn’t disappoint.

The key to the eatery’s continued success is its consistency with good food, good service, and reasonable prices.

The name has spicy origins and so do the recipes. The building was a go-go club in the early 1960s that went by the name of Las Vegas Lounge.

Las Vegas owners Julio Charles and his wife, Eloina, started the café in 1964. Today, their two daughters, Lori and Julie, primarily run the café.

The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The classic Shiner Bock is a God given blessing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The popular café began its operation with only three tables and eight stools and now has a seating capacity for 140 people.

This is a great place for lunch, but it’s always very busy. You will never go wrong with the specials posted on the wall. Or if you prefer, ask for a menu. The cheese enchiladas, fajitas, and nachos are fantastic. Also, the sweet tea alone is worth the price of the meal. Great value!

Note: This is the third in an ongoing series on Why I Love Texas Food

Part 1: What’s to Love about Texas Food

Part 2: 6 Reasons to Love Texas Food

Worth Pondering…
You Can’t Spell Texas without H-E-B

You need Corpus, you need Abilene, Odessa and Laredo,
Bastrop and Lufkin, Port Lavaca and Salado.
Dallas, Waco, Harlingen and places big and small,
No, Texas ain’t Texas…unless you got ’em all.

You can’t have the cotton-eyed without the Joe,
And springtime ain’t sprung until the bluebonnets grow.
You couldn’t have a front porch without the rocking chair,
And if it wasn’t for the corn dogs you couldn’t have the Fair.

There’s so much to love about Texas,
That’s why Texas is home for me.
Can’t find any place on Earth like Texas.
And you can’t spell Texas without H-E-B.

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100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die

Alabama Tourism has released a new version of its food brochure, 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama before You Die.

A part of The Year of Alabama Food campaign, the revised brochure lists more than 30 new dishes.

Bessemer’s Bright Star Broiled Star Seafood Platter appears on the front cover of the printed brochure while the back cover shows plates of food from tourism’s Top 25 dishes.

The publication is red with white lettering and white plates of food that represent Alabama’s culinary offerings.

Despite its name, the list actually features 231 dishes from “award-winning restaurants, historic diners, famous BBQ joints, farm-to-table, fresh Gulf seafood and home cooking.”

Broiled seafood platter at The Bright Star (Bessemer)

Some of the new listings include:

  • T-Bird sandwich at Rosie’s Grill in Daphne
  • Sweetbreads with braised seasonal vegetables at True in Mobile
  • Pecan chicken salad at Claunch Café in Tuscumbia
  • Braised Meyer Ranch beef short ribs at the Cotton Row in Huntsville

Four Alabama chefs and restaurants that are semi-finalists in this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, the Oscars of the culinary world, have dishes listed in the brochure. They include:

  • Frank Stitt’s Highland’s baked grits at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham
  • James Lewis and his Neopolitan pizzas at Bettola in Birmingham
  • Chef Chris Hastings and his Tomato salad at Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham
  • Nick Pihakis and his cheese biscuits at Jim N’ Nicks in Birmingham (3 locations), Alabaster, Gardendale, Homewood, Hoover, Jasper, Montgomery, and Prattville
  • Chef Wesley True and his sweetbread with braised vegetables at True in Mobile

A few other dishes that continue to be listed in the brochure include:

  • Muffaletta at Panini Pete’s in Fairhope
  • Peach pie at Peach Park in Clanton
  • Orange-pineapple ice cream at Trowbridge’s in Florence
  • BBQ chicken and white sauce at Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur
  • Cheeseburger in Paradise at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores
  • Eggs Cathedral at Spot of Tea in Mobile
  • BBQ Ribs at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa
  • BLT Supreme at Radley’s Fountain Grille in Monroeville

Following is a partial list of restaurants named to the list, their locations, and the dish that warranted their inclusion on the list:

  • 13th Street Barbecue (Phenix City) – pork chop sandwich and mustard sauce
  • Amsterdam Café (Auburn) – crab cake & avocado sandwich
  • The Battle House Hotel (Mobile) – diver scallops with wild mushroom risotton, sautéed spinach and white truffle oil
  • Cosmo’s Restaurant (Orange Beach) – sea bass wrapped in banana leaves
  • Garrett’s (Montgomery) – jalapeno truffle chocolate soufflé

“We are excited about the new 100 Dishes brochure and the new look. Art Director Tommy Cauthen designed the cover to make it more appealing to travelers as they look for the brochure in our welcome centers,” said Lee Sentell, state tourism director.

Chicken and white sauce at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Decatur)

“It’s been our most popular brochures to date and we think this will continue to hold true as we release this updated version.”

The brochure can be downloaded from the website (see link below), or visitors can pick up a copy at any of the state’s eight Welcome Centers.

Details

Year of Alabama Food

Website: yearofalabamafood.com

Worth Pondering…

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.

—Julia Child

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