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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Junction: Texas Hill Country Hospitality Starts Here

Watch some birds, take a leisurely stroll, tube down the river, enjoy a sunset—and relax.

Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junction boasts first-class outdoor recreation, a big-rig friendly RV park with true Texas hospitality, and all the mouth-watering Texas BBQ you can eat.

I expected the fresh air and open sky. After all, Junction is located on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country, elevation ranging around 2,000 feet. The abundance of outdoor activities was no surprise, either—the town is named for the junction of the north and south forks of the Llano River. Junction is ideal for fishing, tubing, and related activities, and there are scores of low-traffic roads for biking and a sprawling state park and wildlife management area checkered with hiking and biking trails.

What I hadn’t planned on was great Texas BBQ. Junction is a good place to work up an appetite, and, as it turns out, to satisfy it, too.

Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we exited I-10 (Exit 465) for Junction North Llano River RV Park my heart skipped a beat as it jumped for joy! There to the back of a large parking lot was a huge BBQ pit surrounded by many, many, many cords of firewood piled higher than a man’s head like fortress walls. And an outdoor area with picnic tables under the spread of an enormous oak.

The food gods were really smiling on me. Heading west to Arizona with limited time and no hope of seeking out Texas BBQ, I lucked upon Cooper’s. Yes, Cooper’s Bar-B-Q & Grill is a happy accident food-wise on any road trip.

The Cooper family opened its original barbecue joint in Mason in the early 1950s, and Cooper sons later took the tradition to Llano—a location eventually sold outside the family—and here. Roy and Sheila Cooper, their son Mark and daughter-in-law Kim and their children all work at the restaurant, which has been in its current location for 16 years.

Texas Hill Country is the Lone Star State’s prime outdoor destination. But it’s not mountaintops and dramatic views that make this a vacation mecca—it’s water. More than 800 freshwater springs percolate to the surface in crystalline rivers and lakes, and the spot where the North and South Llano rivers meet spawned the town of Junction in 1876. One of the town’s first civic projects was a dam for power and irrigation, and Junction eventually became the commercial hub of Kimble County, named for an Alamo defender, George Kimble. But that has never meant many more than 2,500 people enjoying life in the county seat. Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing are the most popular ways to pass a day in Junction these days.

The dawn of another day along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The dawn of another day along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rolling hills and open spaces still define Junction. Wild turkeys also are a big part of the landscape. The largest concentration of Rio Grande Turkeys in the American Southwest gather in South Llano River State Park south of town. The gregarious birds winter in large flocks around the cottonwood riparian areas growing by the river. Turkeys can be spotted year-round, especially along the scrubby brush and open grasslands of the Fawn Trail that loops up open slopes for three miles.

The 524-acre park and adjacent 2,155-acre wildlife management area were donated to the state by cattle rancher Walter Buck Jr. Two miles of park front the river, but most folks congregate around the bridge near the entrance.

Activities include camping, picnicking, canoeing, tubing, swimming, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, bird-watching, and nature study.

The park offers approximately 20 miles of hiking/biking trails—15 of them prime for mountain biking—58 campsites with water and 30-amp electric service, six walk-in tent sites, and five hike-in primitive campsites.

Rest at one of the park’s top-notch bird blinds. These comfy shelters overlook water and feeding stations frequented by birds pretty much all day, although morning and evening are prime times. Common sightings are flycatchers, swallows, wrens, warblers, hawks, and hummingbirds.

Big-rig friendly North Llano River RV Park at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big-rig friendly North Llano River RV Park at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next door, the Walter Buck State Wildlife Area is a destination to hike, watch birds, and polish wildlife photography skills.

Planning a Visit? Experience true Texas hospitality with welcoming smiles at Junction North Llano River RV Park. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a clean, spacious site nestled in a natural pecan grove along the banks of the North Llano River. Big rig sites over 80-feet in length are available; spacious full hookup sites with 50/30-amp electric service, free cable, and Wi-Fi.

There’s something for everyone whether you’re staying for one night, a week, or more—water sports, birding, fishing, hunting, scenic hill country drives, restaurants, golf, shopping, and good Texas BBQ! We’d be back in a Texas minute!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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RV Parks As Base Camps For Annual Events

RV parks and campgrounds are great places to enjoy hiking, biking, boating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market, Shipshewana, Indiana © 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 annual events range from rodeos to music festivals and cultural to culinary events.

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.

Indiana: Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market, Shipshewana, May 5-October 3, 2015

What started out as a home business in 1922 is now the Midwest’s Largest Flea Market with nearly 900 vendors covering 100 acres and offering a variety of products from fresh produce and beautiful flowers to locally crafted items and handcrafted furniture. Held every Tuesday and Wednesday from early May to early October. The sights, smells, and sounds contribute to a unique experience the whole family will enjoy, remember, and want to repeat!

Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake near the Northwesr Entrance Station. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake near the Northwesr Entrance Station. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This small community comes alive with travelers from all over to visit this “do not miss” Hoosier tradition.

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

Nearby Attractions: Menno-Hof, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Amish Acres, RV/MH Hall of Fame

Recommended RV Park: Pla-Mor Campground, Bremen, Indiana

California: Redding Rodeo Championship Challenge, Redding, May 13-16, 2015

This rodeo is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Nearby Attractions: Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Whiskeytown Lake

Recommended RV Park: JGW RV Park, Redding

California: Lodi, ZinFest Wine Festival, May 15-17, 2015

There are over 80 wineries, hundreds of Lodi-labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
There are over 80 wineries, hundreds of Lodi-labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine, food, and fun at the north side of Lodi Lake Park. Sip, swirl, and savor from a selection of 200 handcrafted wines from over 40 Lodi wineries at the 11th annual ZinFest.

Nearby Attractions: Wine Tasting, Historic Downtown Lodi, Galt Outdoor Market, Sacramento River Delta
Recommended RV Park: Flag City RV Resort, Lodi

Indiana: Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail, Amish Country, May 30-October 1, 2015

One million blooms of flowers come to life each year in the form of 19 dazzling quilt-patterned gardens and are featured with 21 art inspired quilt-themed murals.

Located in the communities of Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, Shipshewana, and Wakarusa along the scenic Heritage Trail in Amish Country of Northern Indiana.

This one-of-a-kind national event is free and fantastic. Combine Quilt Gardens with backroads Amish discoveries, hands-on programs, barn quilts, quilting bees, garden centers, quilt shops, delicious home cooked Amish food, and more. Round out itineraries with Amish farm tours, buggy rides, and step-on guides.

Amish horse and buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Amish horse and buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Nearby Attractions: Shipshewana Flea Auction & Market, Menno-Hof, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Amish Acres, RV/MH Hall of Fame

Recommended RV Park: Pla-Mor Campground, Bremen, Indiana

Indiana: Shipshewana Quilt Festival, Shipshewana, June 24-27, 2015

The Shipshewana Quilt Festival is packed with many exciting activities. A nationally recognized speaker kicks off the event every year on Wednesday followed by the opening of the Quilt & Vendor Show which runs Wednesday through Saturday. A Quilter’s Schoolhouse takes place all day on Thursday; workshops, Shipshewana Backroads Shop Hop and much more.

Experience an old-fashioned quilting bee with local Amish women, dine in an Amish home, or take in the sites at the Midwest’s largest outdoor fl ea market. All this and more await you at the annual Shipshewana Quilt Festival.

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

Nearby Attractions: Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market, Amish Acres, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Quilt Gardens Tour

Recommended RV Park: Pla-Mor Campground, Bremen, Indiana

Texas: 62nd Annual Luling Watermelon Thump, June 25-28, 2015

Riverbend RV Park, Luling, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Riverbend RV Park, Luling, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Guiness Book of Records Watermelon Seed Spit Record is 68 feet 9 1/8 inches from the starting line. The Championship Watermelon Seed Spit record was set in 1989 by Lee Wheelis from Luling, Texas.

Nearby Attractions: Texas BBQ, Lockhart, San Marcos, Austin, San Antonio

Recommended RV Park: Riverbend RV Park, Luling

Worth Pondering…

Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.

—Conita Kent

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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: 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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La Grange: We Gotcha Kolache & Texas BBQ

While in La Grange we Czeched out Weikel’s Bakery with roots to 1929 and Prause Meat Market, one of the oldest BBQ joints in Texas.

Weikel’s Bakery

Weikel's Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next we headed to Weikel’s Bakery with roots to 1929.

Today the bakery specializes in fruit and cheese kolaches. These gooey, fruit-filled Czech pastries and other bakery goods make for excellent road-trip food and the perfect way to ruin any upcoming meal.

The family business started in 1929 with the Bon Ton Café.

They make their Cinnamon Rolls and Honey Bee Rolls from sweet Czech dough. Cinnamon Rolls come plain or with raisins and pecans. The Honey Bee Rolls are like a Cinnamon Roll, but instead of icing they have a thick honey and pecan topping.

Lemon and Pecan Bars resemble Lemon and Pecan Pies. A favorite of mine, the Czech Shortbread Bars have a crumbly texture and are lightly sweetened with a layer of either Apricot or Cherry filling and contain premium ingredients like real butter and pecans.

If you’re still hungry Weikel’s Bakery also offers sausage-filled Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket), cottage cheese pockets, chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, chocolate fudge and carrot cakes, chocolate meringue and cherry cream meringue pies, cupcakes, Morning Glory and blueberry muffins, rice crispy with pecans, poppy seed and cream cheese rolls, apple strudel, and homemade white and wheat bread.

Weikel's Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh daily shipping is also available.

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 5:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

Location: 2247 West State Hwy 71, La Grange, TX 78945

Phone: (979) 968-9413

Website: weikels.com

Prause Meat Market

Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Prause Meat Market © 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.

Unless you know it is there, you may never find it.

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.

This is one of the oldest BBQ joints in Texas, and one of the best.

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.

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.

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.

Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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?”

This is a no-frills kind of place which serves amazing barbeque from its back room.

Location: 253 W Travis Street, La Grange, TX 78945

Phone: (979) 968-3259

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 7-Part series on La Grande, Texas

Part 1: Czeching Out La Grange

Part 2: Vitáme Vás: Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center

Part 4: Frisch Auf: Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site

Part 5: La Grange: The Best Little Quilt Museum in Texas

Part 6: La Petite Gourmet Shoppe: The Best Little Kitchen Shop in Texas

Part 7: La Grande: Fayette County Courthouse & Old County Jail

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.
—Ernestine Ulmer

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Czeching Out La Grange

We headed to the Central Texas town of La Grande to “Czech” out what might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.”

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The events of La Grange’s famous Chicken Ranch inspired the stage play, movie, and the lyrics of a popular song, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Then there’s the ZZ Top song that still fuels Texas folklore.

The brothel is no longer around—it was officially closed in 1973 after operating for more than 130 years. The building was sold and hauled to Dallas where, for awhile, it served as a restaurant that served—what else? Chicken. Later, the building burned to the ground.

All that’s left these days is the legend and some fading memories. However, there’s still plenty to do in this town.

For starters, we Czeched out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gave us a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

The Czech immigration to the Lone Star State began in 1853 and was largely over by 1912. The estimate is that there are roughly a million Texans who trace their roots back to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Slovkia.

Nestled along the winding Colorado River in historic Fayette County, the picturesque Central Texas town of La Grange was first laid out in 1837. From buffalo and Indians in the 1500s to La Salle crossing the Colorado River, La Grange has been a major player in Texas history.

Rich in scenic beauty, La Grange was settled in the 1820s and named after the Marquis de La Fayette, a revolutionary war hero and his home in France near the Swiss border. The Marquis materially aided the American colonists in their struggle for independence.

Weikel's Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange is located between US Highway 77 and Texas 71, midway between Austin and Houston.

La Grange has a storied past from its early days of settlement by members of The Old Three Hundred, colonists under Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas.” However, the town was primarily settled by succeeding waves of Czech, German, and Moravian immigrants.

The city lies below the bluff on the Colorado River and was originally selected as the location for the capitol of Texas until vetoed by Sam Houston.

It’s a great base for getting acquainted with the entire Fayette County region and beyond, offering the historic Fayette County courthouse and old town square, renown quilt museum, quaint shops, and good food—including delicious Czech kolaches and Texas BBQ.

One of the historic buildings on the town square, La Petite Gourmet Shoppe is a specialty kitchen shop across the street from the Fayette County courthouse. Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe features something everyone will love—from gadgets that make gourmet cooking a snap, to all the essential cookware, ingredients, and cutlery kitchen necessities.

The Texas Quilt Museum is housed in two historic 1890s buildings, which provide a fine showcase for both antique and contemporary quilt art with their high ceilings, brick walls, and original hardwood floors.

Texas Quilt Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Quilt Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To taste Czech culture and a delectable kolache—gooey, fruit-filled Czech pastries—and other bakery goods we headed to Weikel’s Bakery. They make their Cinnamon Rolls and Honey Bee Rolls from sweet Czech dough. Cinnamon Rolls come plain or with raisins and pecans. The Honey Bee Rolls are like a Cinnamon Roll, but instead of icing they have a thick honey and pecan topping.

For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than Prause Meat Market right off the square in La Grange. I got 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. They have been serving customers since the 1890s. Today the fourth generation of Prauses are manning the chopping block helping customers stuff their bellies with tradition.

Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. This park holds two incredible historic sites, one is Monument Hill honoring the Texan heroes who lost their lives in the Dawson Massacre and Mier Expedition, where Texans had to draw beans for their lives.

The other stop is the ruins of the Kreische Brewery and the house of the Kreische family.

As ZZ Top would say….”how how how how”.

While some may only know La Grange for its infamous Chicken Ranch or through the music bearded rockers ZZ Top, in truth this Central Texas town has much more to offer.

Fayette County Court House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fayette County Court House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 7-Part series on La Grande, Texas

Part 2: Vitáme Vás: Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center

Part 3: La Grange: We Gotcha Kolache & Texas BBQ

Part 4: Frisch Auf: Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site

Part 5: La Grange: The Best Little Quilt Museum in Texas

Part 6: La Petite Gourmet Shoppe: The Best Little Kitchen Shop in Texas

Part 7: La Grande: Fayette County Courthouse & Old County Jail

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

La Grange

Rumor sprendin’ a-’round in that Texas town

’bout that shack outside La Grange

and you know what I’m talkin’ about.

Just let me know if you wanna go

to that home out on the range.

Have mercy.

—recorded by ZZ Top (1973); lyrics by Joe Michael Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Lee Beard

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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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