Sunday, August 31, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008: Smitty's Market (Lockhart, Texas)

After a couple of deep breaths when we finished up at Kreuz, we drove about a minute down the road to our second lunch at Smitty's Market. Also one of Texas Monthly's Top 5 for 2008, expectations were again high. How would it compare to Kreuz? Was it worth driving 60 seconds past Kreuz, were we to return for a meal at just one spot in Lockhart? Could we judge it fairly, given that we had just eaten what was more than enough for one lunch? We had to stay focused.We waited in the sweltering Texas heat to enter the restaurant through the back door.

Once inside, our hopes of cooling off crashed like waves on jagged rocks. As you stand in line inside Smitty's, waiting to order, a fire burns on the floor, literally a couple of feet from you. Wood ablaze, ashes strewn, nothing separating you from the flames and the heat. Sweat came quickly.

Like Kreuz, no plates, no forks, no sauce. Just butcher paper and meat. We loaded up on brisket and ribs. The former was moist and tender; the latter, unlike the meaty, cracked-pepper ribs at Kreuz, were sweet and succulent. Both excellent. The slaw was a nice complement. Note: Unlike Kreuz, your basic pickle slices are not free at Smitty's. Like Kreuz, however, bread and/or crackers are.

Russell provides another great recap: "This place gives new meaning to, 'If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.' If you feel like stepping back in time, and don’t mind straight man-ing up to what must be several hundred degrees of flame and smoke to order you some meat…then you are truly in for a geniune Central Texas treat at Smitty’s. The brisket was amazing and the ribs, which had a bit of a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth flavor, were simply out-of-this-world awesome. Sweet tea was also top notch. This place is not for the faint of heart and requires you to man up and get your eat on."

Todd's reaction: "These ribs were covered in a sweet sauce, which was a little too sweet for my taste. I need to go back and try the other cuts of meat for a more accurate rating. The atmosphere and history of the joint helped the rating, watch out for the fire! Oh, and get some blue bell ice cream."

Jason loved him some ribs: "Crack ribs…that’s all I have to say about this place. Best ribs I’ve had in Texas maybe in my life. If you like pork ribs; you need to try Smitty’s. So of course I will review the ribs first; the ribs are sauced up; a sweet sauce that just goes well! I’m not saying that you need sauce to make a good rib…Hey I call these crack ribs for a reason; b/c I need them on frequent basis. The ribs that day were an 8.5 I like mine a litte more saucy...and it was def. competing against the dry rub pork I had at Kruez’s. Had the pleasure of getting Prime rib at Smitty’s; an excellent choice! I loved it; very tender and nice good rich flavor. The price was nice to; as it was significantly cheaper then Kruez’s; which was a selling point for me to try it! Def. a 9 on the prime rib!"

Both Kreuz and Smitty's were top notch. Both worth a drive. If you make the trip to Lockhart, you might as well hit up both. However, if I had to choose between the two, I'd give the slight edge to Smitty's, based on the ambience. Kreuz is in a newer, nicer building, while Smitty's looks like it hasn't change since oil was first struck in Lockhart and allows you the opportunity to mull your BBQ order standing next to an open fire, smack dab on the floor. I guess that tips the scales for me.

Russell's rankings - Ribs: 10; Brisket: 9; Overall experience: 9.8

Drew's rankings - Ribs: 9.5; Brisket 9.3; Overall experience: 9.5

Todd's rankings - Ribs: 7.25; Overall experience: 8.9

Jason's rankings - Ribs: 8.5; Prime rib: 9; Overall experience: 8.5

Overall Man-Up Ranking: 9.175

Smitty's Market on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008: Kreuz Market (Lockhart, Texas)

The first stop on our Mission of Manliness was Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. Lockhart, dubbed The Barbecue Capital of Texas by the Texas Legislature, is home to Kreuz, Smitty's, Black's, and Chisholm Trail. Our 3.5-hour round trip included BBQ at Kreuz and Smitty's, followed by peach cobbler a la mode at Chisholm Trail. Needless to say, we came out of the gate swinging. As we left Chisholm Trail, full of wholesome BBQ goodness and high on life, we knew we had set the bar high for the many outings to come. Lesser men would shy away, but, well, they are lesser men. Drew, Jason, Rex, Russell, and Todd laughed in the face of the challenge, firing back with a call to "Bring it!"

Kreuz's stellar reputation preceded it (ranked one of the Top 5 BBQ joints in 2008 by Texas Monthly magazine), and it did not disappoint. As is the case with several authentic Texas BBQ spots, Kreuz is a no-frills place: No plates (just butcher paper). No forks (just plastic knives). No BBQ sauce (just hot sauce). With 2 stops left, we knew we had to pace ourselves. Even so, we manned up with some serious orders. The main events were the meaty, cracked-pepper ribs and the thick slices of brisket and shoulder clod. The jalapeno-cheese sausage is a must-try, and the ham was a hit. (View the menu.)

Russell recounts the stop, with comparisons to Smitty's (Smitty's post to follow.): "As brisket goes, this is first class, probably about as well as meat can be barbequed by human hands. I believe this place is older than Smitty’s, but somehow Smitty’s feels more authentic. Was not a huge fan of their ordering system, measurement of weights, or the 'service' we received. Did respect Kreuz’s avoidance of forks and sauce; that was delightfully primitive. Neither Kreuz’s nor Smitty’s really need any sauce; that said, I do recommend putting a bit of tabsco or hot sauce on their brisket anyway (and wrapping it in some bread) for that extra man-up flavor! Loved their brisket and shoulder clod; would rank their ribs just a notch below Smitty’s."

Todd weighs in: "These ribs were fabulous! Some of the best I have ever had. Next time, I think I might even forgo every other cut of meat. These ribs were seasoned perfectly, not too much, but just right! The shoulder brisket was good. This cut of meat is pretty lean, so it loses a bit of flavor there. This was good, but I've certainly had better. The ham was amazing. This was some of the best ham I have had. If you go, and this is on the menu, you must try it."

Jason says, "So our first spot on our Texas bbq review started in good ole Lockhart; some call BBQ capital of America! This was my first time coming to Kruez’s in the several visits out to Lockhart. I ordered the pork chop and brisket. Pork chop was a little dry at some places; but near the bone was Awesome!! Dryness is expected outside the pork chop; but a little hot sauce took care of that. Kreuz’s has no sauce; but the dry rub was exceptional! Good old salt and pepper rubbed outside of that bad boy! You must always measure a good bqq by its brisket. So of course I ordered some…Good taste, good texture, and good quality. Fatty pieces are always great! Not the best I’ve had. A little dry in some places as well...the sausage that I tried of Rex’s!! Great stuff; I would def. order this next time I go back!"

All Man-Up rankings are on a 10-point scale.

Russell's rankings - Ribs: 8.5; Brisket/Shoulder: 9.5; Overall: 9.5

Drew's rankings - Ribs: 9.8; Brisket/Shoulder: 8.5; Ham: 9.5; Jalapeno-cheese sausage: 9.0; Overall: 9.1

Todd's rankings - Ribs: 9.5; Brisket/Shoulder: 6.98; Ham: 9.5; Overall: 9.6

Jason's rankings - Pork chop: 7; Brisket: 7.5; Sausage: 9; Overall: 8

Overall Man-Up Ranking: 9.05

Kreuz Market on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 29, 2008

Man Up.

One of the things I looked forward to, as I prepared to move to Texas, was the chance to try out the Lone Star State's array of barbecue. Being from the Deep South, I was no stranger to great barbecue and was intrigued by what made Texas barbecue so special. Was it truly the real deal, or was it Texans' overinflated sense of state pride? Once I arrived, it was time to see if they have good reason to put their barbecue in a league of its own. Thus began my journey.

I've been here a year now, but this blog starts with my recent barbecue travels with some great friends. As our fearless leader Russell informed us before our first outing, this was no journey for light eaters: It was time to man up. No whining, forget about calories, high cholesterol be damned.

We'll post as hit up each place, and we look forward to your comments, particularly ones about your experiences at the places we highlight.

Warning: Don't read on an empty stomach.