A Slice of Texas BBQ Style

There’s hardly a better way to discover a slice of Texas, so to speak, than with a barbecue road trip—especially one that travels through Central Texas with some of the state’s greatest smoked meats.

City Market in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
City Market in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the most impressive barbecue bounties you’ll travel to towns that aren’t necessarily on the way to anywhere.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas as designated by the Texas Legislature. It’s a small town that supports a big barbecue reputation.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart: With new Sunday hours just starting here, you can now make Kreuz Market (since 1900) part of your itinerary any day of the week. I like the weekdays when it’s rare to find a long line. The pressure of a hungry, looming crowd can make one rush an order, but pay attention to what goes on the cutting block and make sure to tell the cutter—which might be the mutton-chopped Roy Perez—if you have a preference like end cuts or fattier slices of beef. Get the shoulder clod and the pork chop along with a link of the jalapeño sausage.

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

Smitty’s Market in Lockhart: It’s hard to find a better place to eat barbecue than this brick building that dates from 1924. Barbecue was first served here when it housed Kreuz Market which moved out in 1999. Smitty’s opened shortly after with a menu almost identical to Kreuz, but don’t miss the glazed pork ribs which are a popular departure. Prime rib comes off the pit at 11:00am and sells fast. Watch out for the open fires when standing in line, and be sure to leave some time to explore the historic building.

Black’s BBQ in Lockhart: With the feud between Smitty’s and Kreuz, sometimes Black’s gets lost in the mix. If you’ve forgotten about it, the billboards in every direction will remind you when you get to town. Follow them to what is consistently the best brisket in Lockhart. There are also enormous beef ribs to enjoy and some incredible smoked turkey for barbecue dabblers.

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

Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q in Lockhart: The locals love it, but it’s usually ignored by barbecue travelers. I love the sausage, and everything here is a bargain.

City Market in Luling: There are three meats on the menu: brisket, pork spare ribs, and beef sausage. Try them all, but bring some cash. Ordering is done in the back room on the other side of the swinging doors, and don’t ask for beans. This room is only for meat, and the sides and drinks are sold at the front counter. One of my favorite bites in Texas barbecue is the sausage at City Market slathered generously with their signature sauce.

Luling Bar-B-Q in Luling: Unlike City Market across the street, this joint has a huge menu. Choose from a half dozen meats and twice as many sides.

Prause Meat Market in La Grange: If you walk in the front door, a wide glass case full of raw meat might make you wonder if you came to the right place. Enter around back like the locals and you’ll walk right through the pit room to order. Homemade sausage and the pork chops are the best options.

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

My Texas BBQ Bucket List

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a foodie would have a Texas BBQ to do list.

Snow’s BBQ in Lexington: Being in line by 9:00 a.m. (opens at 8) will give you a good chance of having your pick of the meats. The brisket is obviously the prize, but the pork steak is a favorite of many—including Tootsie Tomanetz, the (nearly) eighty-year-old pitmaster.

Eating at Snow’s is like scaling Mount Everest: Only the hardy and fully prepared reach the summit. Snow’s is in the middle of nowhere. Furthermore, the window of opportunity is minuscule, because it is open only on Saturday mornings. On top of that, Snow’s septuagenarian guru of ’cue, Tootsie Tomanetz, cooks a limited number of briskets, chickens, pork ribs, and pork butt. When they’re gone, they’re gone. So get there early! Your reward is the most celestial barbecue in Texas—that and the knowledge that you are one of the few, the brave, who have summited Snow’s.

Southside Market in Elgin: It’s not in the original building, but this is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas still in operation. They’re famous for their sausage, or “hot guts” which aren’t as hot as they used to be. Use the hot sauce at the tables to make a pool on your tray and dip the links into it for a kick. Do the same with the great smoked chicken and the mutton ribs which are a rarity in Texas.

Luling Bar-B-Q © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Luling Bar-B-Q © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor: They open at 10:00 on Saturday morning, so don’t worry about getting here too early from Snow’s. The lines at the height of lunch can be daunting, so try to make it here before 11:00. Those who like a little heat will crave the heavy black pepper rub, but amp it up a little with a link of the house made jalapeño or chipotle sausage. A whole beef rib will be tough to tackle for single diners—it can feed a family of four with a few sides added on—but it’s one of the signature trophy cuts in Texas barbecue. Settle in and enjoy the historic building before heading down the street.

Worth Pondering…

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious barbecue. It is the source of all true art and science.

—Albert Einstein

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Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse.

Big Bend National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the state untouched.

We’ve driven through Texas numerous times over the years. But yet, it always amazes us just how big Texas really is.

Charting any RV trip through the state can be a daunting task. So many miles, so many routes, and even after all our years on the road we’ve still not seen large portions of the Lone Star State. Every trip through, we explore new areas—and revisit favorite haunts.

The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

Monahans Sandhills State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually we just follow I-10 in from the west. Yes, it can be boring but it is the most direct route.

We take our time and schedule varied side excursions along the way and make the journey—and not the destination—the highlight of the trip. It is the journey that is the joy of RVing.

We’ve explored the Big Bend area, including Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Alpine, Marfa, and Davis Mountain Observatory. If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park is one-of-a-kind. A half-hour’s drive west of Odessa it’s well worth a visit. The park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted living sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high. The Park is set in one of the areas where the dunes are still active and constantly being shaped by the wind and rain. The dunes grow and change shape due to seasonal prevailing winds and you can watch them change whenever the wind is blowing.

Blue Bell, Brenham  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blue Bell, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream. For us aficionados, ice cream is one of the four food groups. Blue Bell has become the best tasting and certainly the most successful ice cream in Texas (and that means the best in the world). Would my taste buds lie? To learn what makes an exceptionally good thing good, we visited “the little creamery” in Brenham: I think we found out but every few years we require a refresher course.

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 links are served each day. Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage, rooted in cattle and cotton.

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.

Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, we headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour. The tour gave use a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

There’s more—much more—adventure in Texas. Space does not permit to detail our numerous other unforgettable adventures and experiences from The Alamo, River Walk, and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio to Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Hill Country. Galveston, Johnson Space Center, Big Thicket National Preserve, Caddo Lake, Rockport, Goliad, Rio Grande Valley, Palo Duro Canyon, and Austin.

Don’t Mess with Texas, Y’all!

And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas

What’s Next?

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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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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Luling: Texas-style Promised Land

Luling is conveniently located in the heart of Texas at the crossroads of US 90 and 183, Texas 80 and 86, and Interstate 10. Less than an hour from San Antonio and Austin, Luling sits at the southern edge of Caldwell County.

‘Cow Jumping Over Moon’ is located in a field on Pierce Street. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
‘Cow Jumping Over Moon’ is located in a field on Pierce Street. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the banks of the San Marcos River, about 45 miles south of Austin, Luling has all the elements of the perfect Texan small town—historic buildings, great barbecue, quirky history, viable downtown, lively harvest festival, a noon whistle, vintage stop signs, and eclectic shopping.

A friendly, quiet central Texas community, rich in history and Texas pride, Luling is renowned for its barbecue, rich oil history, decorated pump jacks, fresh produce and plants, abundant watermelons, and Texas’ first inland canoe paddling trail on the San Marcos River.

Entering Luling from Interstate 10, you’ll notice the world’s largest watermelon rising up 154 feet from a melon patch. Never mind that this impressive specimen is made of steel and comprises the tank portion of the town’s water tower. The horizontal green and white stripes combine with the shape of the 56-foot-diameter storage tank, to create a great watermelon effect.

However, there’s more. The center of this rural town lies along railroad tracks where oil field workers first pitched their tents—and freight trains continue to rattle on through.

This is Texas as it used to be!

Old oil pump jacks around town are decorated with quirky plywood paintings of animals and a variety of characters—a cow jumping over the moon, a shark, see saw kids, and a yokel devouring a large slice of watermelon. Most of the wells are still active, sucking up black gold under people’s lawns, in local parks, and near businesses and train tracks.

In 1922, Edgar B. Davis brought in Rafael Rios #1, which proved to be one of the most significant oil fields ever discovered in Texas. Perhaps his greatest legacy was the discovery of the Edwards Lime. It set off vigorous exploration to find the lucrative shallow production. Almost overnight, Luling was transformed from a railroad town of 500 to an oil boom town of 5,000. By 1924, the field was producing 11 million barrels of oil per year.

Experience life in old Luling at Zedler Mill Park and Cotton Gin—a turn of the century Cotton Gin—on the banks of the beautiful San Marcos River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Experience life in old Luling at Zedler Mill Park and Cotton Gin—a turn of the century Cotton Gin—on the banks of the beautiful San Marcos River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 180 producing wells have been drilled within the city limits alone! Three major oil fields surround the town.

The Walker Bros. Building also houses also houses the Luling Area Chamber of Commerce where you can pick up a map and brochures about the Pump-Jack tour, historic sites, and other attractions.

Also worth a visit is Zedler Mill, a local museum, park, meeting place, and swimming hole that sits right on the San Marcos River. This agricultural treasure was built in 1874 and originally included a sawmill, a grist mill, and a cotton gin. Today the Zedler Mill complex consists of the 1900 Fritz Zedler home and seven other structures on nine acres. It makes for Luling’s best place to picnic, swim, rope swing, and jump into the refreshing river below.

During our annual visits to this central Texan town, we use RiverBend RV Park and Campground as our home base. A Passport America park, RiverBend is a scenic 40-acre park located on the banks of the San Marcos River. With plenty of space to walk the pets and enjoy the beauty of nature, RiverBend RV park offers a relaxing get-away. Also, it’s easy-on, easy-off Interstate 10 at exit 628 (Highway 80). The campground is located on-eighth mile north on Highway 80. Reservations are advised.

While oil still flows in Luling, meats and melons have created a boom of their own. And as long as these delicious resources stay plentiful, we will continue to make our tasty pilgrimage to this Texas-style promised land.

Experience life in old Luling at Zedler Mill Park and Cotton Gin—a turn of the century Cotton Gin—on the banks of the beautiful San Marcos River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Experience life in old Luling at Zedler Mill Park and Cotton Gin—a turn of the century Cotton Gin—on the banks of the beautiful San Marcos River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Part 1: Luling: Barbecue Central

Part 2: Luling: Texas Black Gold

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

More 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:
10. If you’re riding’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there.
11. Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier’n puttin’ it back.
12. After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

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Luling: Sixty-One Years of Thumpin’

Watermelons have been associated with  Luling since the 1950s, when truck farming began to take off in the area.

Watermelons have been associated with Luling since the 1950s, when truck farming began to take off in the area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Watermelons have been associated with Luling since the 1950s, when truck farming began to take off in the area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1953, Luling residents held the first Watermelon Thump, a festival featuring live music and a seed spitting competition (ready to break the 70-foot distance barrier any day now). There aren’t any points for manners in these events, but the judges do impose a penalty if a seed goes too far out of bounds toward spectators.

Special children’s contests and a team-spitting contest also take place.

Spectators need to stay alert during the seed spitting contests, especially the under-age-eight category, lest they get splattered with flying watermelon.

This popular event was introduced in 1971. The watermelon seed spit record of 68 feet 9 1/8 inches was set in 1989 by Lee Wheelis and is recorded in the Guiness Book of Records.

Local farmers roll out their super-sized black diamond watermelons at the Championship Melon auction where 50 pounders are not uncommon—winners have been known to plump up to over 80 pounds. They’re still trying to grow that 100-pound watermelon!

Other highlights of the four-day celebration include the Watermelon Thump Queen’s coronation, parade with floats promoting other Texas festivals, carnival, children’s entertainment, street dances, and car show. Live music, a beer garden, arts and crafts booths, and food booths remain on tap all weekend.

The earliest local grown watermelons in Texas begin to ripen after the first week in June, so The Thump is a harvest festival of sorts, marking the availability of ripe watermelons.

But why would you thump a watermelon?

To find out if a melon is ripe enough to eat, many people like to use the thump test. That, of course, is how the festival got its name.

Basically, you test the ripeness of a melon by flicking the husk with your index finger. If you get a somewhat hollow sound from the melon, it’s ripe.

Entering Luling from Interstate 10, you’ll notice the world’s largest watermelon rising up 154 feet from a melon patch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Entering Luling from Interstate 10, you’ll notice the world’s largest watermelon rising up 154 feet from a melon patch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

True thump experts say that a perfectly ripe watermelon will ‘thump’ and the thump will be about a b -flat note. Although a lot of people rely on that method, if you’re like me, I can’t tell a b-flat from a hole in the ground.

Look the watermelon over, choose a firm, symmetrical one that is free of bruises, cuts, and dents. Lift it up and turn it over. The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy, yellow spot—called the ground spot—from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the hot Texas sun.

The annual Luling Watermelon Thump is always held the last Thursday to Saturday in June.

Make plans now to attend the 61st Annual Watermelon Thump, June 26-29, 2014.

What is a watermelon?

Watermelon is in the same family as cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins.

Watermelon is 92 percent water and 8 percent sugar. It is rich in lypocene, an antioxidant that gives it its characteristic red color. It’s fat free and contains Vitamin A, C, and a lot of other good things to eat!

Watermelons have higher lycopene content than tomatoes! During the past several years there has been considerable media attention on tomatoes because they contain Lycopene. Lycopene has antioxidant properties and has been claimed to promote a healthy heart and to reduce the risk of cancer. Watermelons contain more lycopene than tomatoes.

Watermelon Fruit or Vegetable?

No matter which way you slice it, a watermelon is a vegetable—and it’s a fruit! It is both!

How awesome is that! You can eat watermelon and get a serving of your daily supply of vegetables!

In North America, most of us use watermelon as a fruit. We slice it, dice it, and scoop it into balls. We put it in fruit salad, we eat it as dessert, and we make fruity drinks out of it.

The annual Luling Watermelon Thump is always held the last Thursday to Saturday in June.
The annual Luling Watermelon Thump is always held the last Thursday to Saturday in June.

Other regions of the world often treat watermelon like a vegetable. The entire watermelon is edible even the rind. In the orient all parts of the watermelon are stir-fried, stewed, and pickled. In Russia, pickled watermelon rind is fairly common.

Travel safe and enjoy your RV experiences. Remember, getting there is half the fun!

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 4-Part article

Part 1: Luling: Barbecue Central

Part 2: Luling: Texas Black Gold

Part 4: Luling: Texas-style Promised Land

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

More 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:
7. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back into your pocket.
8. There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.
9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

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Luling: Texas Black Gold

Barbecue sauce isn’t the only valuable liquid flowing in Luling. The town is dotted with oil pumps that still move the Texas black gold from the ground.

The Central Texas Oil Patch Museum pays tribute to the area’s oil industry. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Central Texas Oil Patch Museum pays tribute to the area’s oil industry. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once known as “the toughest town in Texas”, Luling was established in 1874 as the far western stop of the Sunset Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The developing importance of the town as a cattle-raising center, combined with the importance of the railroad as a shipping point, allowed the town to grow and prosper. Being the northern terminus of a freight road to Chihuahua, Mexico added to its stature.

As the cattle drives to the railroad head decreased, Luling survived by turning to its rich soil and hardy folk. Luling came to be known throughout the region as an agriculture center with cotton, corn, and turkeys as its principal products.

Cotton ruled the local economy until the momentous year of 1922.

On August 9th of that year, Edgar B. Davis’ Rafael Rios No.1 blew in, opening an oilfield 12 miles long and two miles wide. The Rios No. 1 proved to be a part of one of the most significant fields discovered in the Southwest.

Thousands of oil field workers descended upon the little community. They filled every available room and constructed a tent city, called Rag Town, along the railroad tracks. By 1924, the field was producing 11 million barrels of oil per year.

Almost overnight, the railroad town of Luling went from a population of 500 to an oil-boom town of 5,000 people. Tents filled every vacant area as roughnecks and their families set-up housekeeping. Work was hard and living even harder, but the dream that unfolded was a microcosm of Texas history-a time when a community of farmers and their families responded to the coming of the railroad, only to have their lives changed forever by the discovery of oil.

The Oil Patch Museum shares the history and illustrates the life and times of the Central Texas "Oil Boom in the Oil Patch". © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Oil Patch Museum shares the history and illustrates the life and times of the Central Texas “Oil Boom in the Oil Patch”. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Davis went on to become Luling’s resident philanthropist and established an agricultural foundations that continues to this day.

We stopped by the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum to explore the history of Luling during its early oil boom days.

To preserve the memories of Luling and honor the rich heritage, the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum was established in the historic Walker Brothers building located in the heart of the downtown business district.

This beautifully restored building is an historic landmark in itself. Established in 1885, it was a mercantile store, a place where cotton was financed and traded. One of the first buildings constructed in Luling, it played a central role in the town’s social fabric.

The spacious, two-story structure now showcases early oil-field machinery and memorabilia, displays of photographs that date back to 1910, and a scale replica of an old wooden oil derrick. The Oil Tank Theater presents a 20-minute film about Luling’s colorful history and current attractions.

The Oil Patch Museum is dedicated to the collection, restoration, and preservation of historic oil producing methods, accessories, and the people of the industry. Established to share the history with the public, the museum illustrates the life and times of the Central Texas “Oil Boom in the Oil Patch”.

The museum shows the contrast of the tools and technology of the past with those utilized in the oil industry today. This collection traces the development of the oil industry, from the first strike in the nation to the social and economic impact on Central Texas.

The museum strives to demonstrate the struggles between the men and women who were the oil field pioneers and to create a better understanding of the process of oil exploration and production.

The Museum is a focal point of tourist traffic, with the Luling Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center located at its entrance. The facility also serves as a community hall where meetings, seminars, and entertainment are conducted for the benefit of the citizens.

The center of Luling lies along railroad tracks where oil field workers first pitched their tents—and freight trains continue to rattle on through. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The center of Luling lies along railroad tracks where oil field workers first pitched their tents—and freight trains continue to rattle on through. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are almost two hundred oil well pump jacks within the city limits of Luling.

No industrial eyesores for this progressive community. The creative and artistic residents have  created moveable art to decorate many of the wells along the highways and byways. The pump jacks are decorated as everything from an airplane to an orca and a football player to a cow jumping over the moon..

A map of the Pump Jack Tour is available at the Chamber.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 4-Part article

Part 1: Luling: Barbecue Central

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

Part 4: Luling: Texas-style Promised Land

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

More 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:
4. Never miss a good chance to shut up.
5. Always drink upstream from the herd.
6. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

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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.

Read More

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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