I hadn't imagined that barbecue this good existed. Have you been to southern France, trying obscure Michelin two-fork restaurants? The simplest dishes, such as roast chicken, or cassoulet, blow you away and you swear never to eat again in the outrageously priced starred restaurants? This was a comparable experience...
Lockhart, a town of about 11,000, has a hollowed out core, perhaps due to the local Wal-Mart. The architecture dates from the 1890s. The large County Courthouse is in the style of the French Second Empire. German names such as Vogel are stencilled on the buildings, although mostly Mexicans hang around downtown these days. In both look and feel, it reminds me of the more obscure German parts of southern Brazil. Yet it is only half an hour from Austin.
The best barbecue places in Lockhart open between 7 and 10 a.m.. The pitmasters tell me they have to be there anyway, to look after the meats. They can close as early as 4 p.m.
The ingredients are simple: salt and pepper rub and meat to die for. Slow cooking in open pits. Schmitty’s lets its pit spill over onto the restaurant floor; be careful not to step or fall into the fire when you walk in the door. Did I mention that town fire and safety regulations are lax and they have a friendly insurance agent with a taste for barbecue?
Barbecue came from the Caribbean to the Carolinas and then to Tennessee; Tennessee migrants brought it to Texas, where it mixed with the indigenous Mexican barbecue tradition. Germans set up meat markets in Lockhart (drawing supplies from the Chisholm trail cattle drives) and shortly thereafter attached barbecue pits, circa 1900. The food owes as much to German sausage-making and the Schlachtplatte [slaughter plate] tradition as to traditional barbecue. Sauce is frowned upon. In Kreuz Market the food comes on plain paper and you eat with your fingers. Sauerkraut and German potatoes are the two most prominent side dishes.
All other barbecue will now taste worse. At what discount rate, or at what implied rate of memory deterioration, am I better off for having been there? Or do seek something other than happiness through food?