On the first Thursday of nearly every month, I meet a small group of people and make a short drive to the town of Lockhart, "The Barbecue Capital of Texas". The crowd varies in size month to month depending on who can make it. Today's group includes the founding members; Dave Bieser, who is kind of a "Big Shot" with Time Warner and Randy Merritt, a successful commercial real estate broker with whom I do business and share referrals along with me and our friend Kelly. When I say "Capital", it is no exaggeration as the town of 5,000 boasts four of the top BBQ establishments in the State of Texas. An estimated 5,000 people visit each week or around 250,000 people a year eat BBQ in Lockhart. Of course when you mention BBQ in Texas, you will always spark a debate on the merits of who serves the best.Our destination is Smitty's which is home to our favorite BBQ in the town. Smitty's originally started as Kreuz Market in 1900 by Charles Kreuz as a meat market and grocery store. Many years ago to prevent wasting meat, the proprietors would cook cuts of beef and pork along with sausage in barbecue pits. Customers would buy their barbecue and sausage then purchase some items from the grocery store to go along the BBQ. The origins of one stop shopping! Charles passed the business along to his sons and son-in-law who ran it until 1948, when Edgar Schmidt, who had worked there since 1936, bought the market from the Kreuz's. In 1984, Edgar sold the business to his sons, Rick and Don Schmidt, and they ran the popular restaurant until Don's retirement in 1997.
Now I do not know the actual circumstances but in 1999, there was some sort of dust-up in the family business and one of the brothers decided to move Kruez's a quarter mile away from of the old location. There was even a ceremonial moving of a tub of glowing embers from the pits to the new location to preserve the fiery/smoky heritage. However the original location stayed open with only the name change to Smitty's marking the transfer. Honestly, I never realized that there was a change and continued to patronize the place I had first discovered in the mid 1970's.
Arriving at the back of the building and parking in a large dusty parking lot, we enter through the back door and the first thing you see is a huge L-shaped pit fed by an open fire on each end. In the middle of the room is a large cutting block table and a counter with two scales. Standing in line you order and the items are weighed and then placed on red butcher paper (fine china or even plates are not available) with either crackers or white bread. Paying for your items, you enter the main store and order pickles, onions, cheese, avocados along with potato salad or beans and you are ready to eat! In the old day you were given butcher paper for and the knives were actually chained to the long tables and there was NO BBQ SAUCE. Now days BBQ sauce is served for those who care to indulge. I like mine mixed with some hot sauce.
I have been thinking about this meal since I my morning run and have ordered all of my favorites; brisket,3 ribs and a hot link along with some onions and pickles and an avocado. I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach! I offer some avocado slices to Randy but he is a purist and says he does not want any "vegetables" today. I will say this is NOT a spot for vegetarians or as Anthony Bourdain describes them, "their Hezbollah like allies, the vegans!" This is always a good time with plenty of conversation from my "First Thursday" friends and more than enough of some of the best BBQ you can find in the state. Oh...and that white bread? It is the best thing ever to sop up the grease that is in ALL good BBQ. I keep meaning to try one of the other places in town, which I know must be good but it's never "convenient" to do so. Smitty's is only a short drive from Austin and you can make it out, eat lunch and back in about an hour and forty five minutes so if you do have some time, make the trip. You will be glad you did and take a friend too!