Austin City Guide: The Top 5 Barbecue Joints Outside Austin


This post is the first in a series of entries dedicated to the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide 2012, aimed at helping visitors and newcomers sort out the city’s most notable food establishments. Over the course of the next week, I’ll be covering a broad array of topics dedicated to the best places to eat and drink and socialize in Austin.

You can’t visit or live in Austin without experiencing the centerpiece of Central Texas foodways, barbecue. (I might know a little bit about the topic.) While Austin certainly boasts a number of remarkably delicious barbecue restaurants, there are a number of long-established, iconic barbecue joints beyond the city limits. Long before Aaron Franklin, the brisket ninja, took Austin by storm (indeed, long before he was a twinkle in his parents’ eyes), these folks have been smoking brisket and sausage to great acclaim.

Opinions differ on what constitutes excellent barbecue. For me, it’s brisket that’s tender and moist (nothing gets under my saddle like dry brisket), with a bright smoke ring and a dark, flavorful bark. Sausage should have a nice snap from the casing, a slightly coarse grind, and a peppery bite. Ribs should have a nice caramelization on the outside from the rub, and the meat should be fall-off-the-bone tender. Sauce is a sacrilege; if you serve me a plate of barbecue smothered in sauce, you’re dead to me. Again, though, this is all a matter of opinion. Some people — people who are wrong, wrong, wrong, I should note — think sauce is important. Some people prefer lean brisket. Some are vegetarian. (I can joke because I’ve given up meat for Lent and am totally okay with that.)

The rankings here are the result of a survey taken of the Alliance’s approximately 100 members. As such, I should note that these rankings do not reflect my personal opinions about what constitutes the best barbecue beyond Austin city limits. That said, I do offer my personal opinions on the restaurants because, well, I have opinions about barbecue.

5. Kreuz Market

Kreuz Market photo courtesy of Matt Abendschein, youstayyummyaustin.blogspot.com

Located about 30 miles southeast of Austin in the small town of Lockhart, Kreuz has long been a beacon on the Central Texas barbecue landscape. Indeed, Lockhart is home to so many fiercely loved barbecue joints that it has long been a destination for out-of-towners looking for an authentic barbecue experience. Kreuz Market started out as a grocery store and meat market in 1900, where the proprietor, Charles Kreuz, would smoke the meat to help prevent spoilage. It has been a dedicated barbecue restaurant and meat market since its second owner, Edgar Schmidt, converted it in the 1960s, and is a very popular stop for barbecue road-trippers. (Seriously, go to any of these spots on a weekend and you’ll see great clumps of pudgy, red-faced, middle-aged fraternity brothers in khaki shorts and Robert Earl Keen t-shirts sat at large tables, surrounded by giant Styrofoam cups of iced tea or a dozen six-packs of crappy beer, going at huge mounds of brisket and sausage. It will likely be their first stop of many for the day/weekend.)

It’s been a while since I ate at Kreuz, but I really like their jalapeno sausage. It’s got a nicely textured grind and the zing of the jalapeno is a message from the sausagemaker that says, “Yeah, you’re a grownup. You can take the heat. Don’t be a pansy.” Kreuz is cash-only, and plan to stand in a long line of a lunch hour. Also plan on using your hands (no forks!) and being offered saltine crackers with your meat.

4. City Market, Luling

Meat at Luling City Market. Photo courtesy of Cooking For Engineers, http://www.cookingforengineers.com/.

Head about 15 miles farther south from Lockhart and you’ll find yourself in Luling, home to City Market, another general store converted into a barbecue restaurant. When you walk in, you’ll probably feel some dismay when you realize that not only is the end of the line about six inches from where you walked in, but all of the tables are full. Good luck getting to the bathroom! As you get closer and closer to the pit room at the back of the space, where you will order your meats by the pound, you will have had plenty of time to inspect the display of various chips, homemade pralines, ice cream, watch the cashiers in action, and so on. People watching is part of the fun of a trip to City Market; not only will you see fellow city slickers like yourself, you will get to watch the locals in their natural habitat. (Pro tip: if the locals outnumber the tourists, you’ve found a winner.) But then when you get your meat and you’ve knocked over a little old lady to get your bum in a seat at a recently vacated table, you’ll forget the wait. Brisket, sausage, ribs: you can’t go wrong. (I’m partial to the brisket, tho.)

Part of the charm of Luling City Market is the small-town Texas experience you get as part of the barbecue meal. Another pro tip: if you time your visit for late May/early June, you will be witness to the aggressive campaigns of ambitious high-school girls angling to be elected the Watermelon Thump Queen. (Luling’s trademark crop is watermelons, and they hold an annual Watermelon Thump in the summer. The entire town is decorated with a watermelon motif.)

3. Smitty’s

Smoking sausages at Smitty's. Photo courtesy of Cooking For Engineers, http://www.cookingforengineers.com/.

Smitty’s was established in 1999 by Nina Schmidt Sells, the daughter of Edgar Schmidt, in the wake of a bitter split with her brother, who now owns Kreuz Market. Smitty’s is situated in the original Kreuz space on the square in Lockhart. I’ve never been to Smitty’s, but I hear the brisket is the star here. Smitty’s also offers a smoked pork chop, which is pretty unusual for a barbecue place.

2. Louie Mueller

Wayne Mueller, son of the late, lamented Bobby Mueller

This is hands-down my favorite barbecue outside Austin. If you love Franklin Barbecue, you also love Louie Mueller, because Aaron Franklin learned from the masters. Located in Taylor, about 30 miles to the northwest, Louie Mueller’s, like so many other barbecue joints in Texas, started its life as a grocery store in the 1940s. Bobby Mueller took over operations at the barbecue place in the 1970s and established himself as a major player on the Texas barbecue scene. When he died suddenly in the fall of 2008, he had worked more than 150,000 hours at the pit, and his loss was keenly felt. His sons, John and Wayne, were forced to contend with the business; Wayne took over the business in Taylor, while John foundered for a while before opening his new trailer in Austin. (The February 2012 issue of Texas Monthly has a very moving profile of John Mueller and Aaron Franklin, and I highly recommend you check it out.)

At any rate, the brisket at Louie Mueller in Taylor is the best brisket I’ve ever had. Period. Hands-down. Yeah, if you get there too late in the morning, you’re going to wait in line, and it’s smoky and the sticky brown patina on the walls and photographs bear testament to decades’ worth of that smoke. But the brisket, my god, the brisket.

1. The Salt Lick

Finishing pit, The Salt Lick. Photo courtesy of Cooking For Engineers, http://www.cookingforengineers.com/.

Okay, here’s where I part ways with my AFBA peers. I don’t think that the Salt Lick has very good barbecue. But, whatever. It’s a fun experience to drive the 22 miles west out to Driftwood (BYOB, by the way), hang out with your friends and family while you wait for a table, and eat family style at the same picnic tables I scrubbed down as a drink girl (and waitress) in high school. But just know that when you go to the Salt Lick, you’re not getting the same quality of meat that you would at Mueller’s. I will say, though, that the blackberry cobbler is the best I’ve ever had. The bottom line? Go for the experience, not the food.

Meal Plan: 2/12-2/18 (with recipe!)


It’s RETURN OF THE MEAL PLAN!!! After a week of WAY TOO MANY meals out, I put together and shopped for a meal plan that has us eating home every single night this week. My goals for this week’s meals were to have at least two vegetarian dinners, keep waste at a minimum, and be weight-loss friendly. (I’ve also written a meal plan for myself that has each day’s meals/calories/snacks planned out in advance because, dammit, I really want to be able to fit into all the cute clothes in my closet!) Of course, it didn’t help that after tonight’s pretty darn virtuous dinner, I had half an individual black- and blueberry pie from Pie Fixes Everything topped with a slightly unreasonable dollop of vanilla ice cream. Baby steps.

I’ve listed the mains here, but I also have a bunch of veggies from Johnson’s on hand: Brussels sprouts, carrots, bok choy, beets, and purple cauliflower. I’ve also got some salad fixings from the grocery. I just need to get some fruit that isn’t clementines, tangelos, or oranges. I’m not really a huge fan of summer, but I am ready for some fruit that isn’t citrus.

Sunday: Taco ‘Tater Skins (pictured above, recipe below)
Monday: Inner Peace Brown Rice and Cashews
Tuesday: Chicken with Pepperoni-Marinara sauce
Wednesday: leftovers
Thursday:Vegetable and Tofu Pad Thai (with a side of shrimp for the boy)
Friday: Pork and Potato meatloaf
Saturday: Leftovers/freezer surprise

The meal I made tonight was quite delicious and satisfying. I found it on Gina’s Skinny Recipes and, because I am lazy and skipped over certain parts of the recipe, I am going to post my cheater’s version here. I have renamed them Taco ‘Tater Skins because I refuse to call something “Santa Fe” just because it has black beans and corn in it.

Taco Tater Skins
adapted from Gina’s Skinny Recipes
(I don’t have a Points+ value for these, but I reckon they’re about a 5? Or a 7? I really have no idea.)

4 large Russet potatoes, cleaned and pierced with a fork
3/4 lb. ground turkey breast
1/2 white onion
cumin to taste
salt to taste
1 cup jarred salsa
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
shredded cheese (I used a cheddar-monterey jack blend)

Preheat the oven to 450. After washing and piercing the potatoes, wrap them individually in foil and place them in the oven. Bake for 1 hour.

While the potatoes are baking, dice the onion. Warm about a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until soft. Add the turkey and saute until cooked through. Add the cumin, salt, and salsa and stir until combined. Add the beans and corn, mix thoroughly, then cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes.

After the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven (leave the oven on). Cut them in half and scoop out the insides, leaving about a quarter-inch of flesh on the inside of the potato. (I put the potato innards in the freezer to use when I need mashed potatoes.) Once the innards have been scooped, arrange the potatoes on a baking sheet (cover it with foil if you want easier cleanup). Place 1/2 cup of filling into each potato half (you may have excess filling; divide it evenly among your potato halves or just save it for later). Sprinkle some cheese on top of each half, then put the baking sheet in the oven. Bake until cheese is melted.

Serve with sour cream, if you like, or more salsa, or jalapeno slices, or guacamole, whatever.

Slow Cooker Spinach and Black Bean Enchiladas


Oh, this life as a food writer (and as someone who is surrounded by other food writers/bloggers and lovers of food) is wearing on me. And by “wearing on me,” I mean “I have to log 15-20 miles per week running or on the elliptical in order to fit into what few items of clothing I have that still fit me.” Sometimes you just have to clean that mess up. And with the weekend ahead of me — lunch tomorrow at Lucky J’s and dinner at Lucy’s, plus a baby shower here and a Super Bowl potluck on Sunday — I suspect I will be on an all-juice diet at least one day next week!

But tonight was all about vegetables, getting some fiber down the hatch in a pleasurable way. I had planned to make these for a vegetarian mommy meal, but a casserole presented itself for that family and we wound up having these all to ourselves. I like these because they are not super heavy in cheese (although they could be if you wanted them to) and they are mostly vegetables. I found these via Pinterest, and tweaked the recipe to suit what I had on hand (primarily a large bundle of spinach I’d bought at the farmers market and needed to use up). Once they’re cooked, they more closely resemble chilaquiles than enchiladas, but what is really important is that they are really, really delicious with the bonus of being incredibly easy.

(And we shall not speak of the peanut butter brownies and lemon sponge cake in the fridge.)



Slow Cooker Spinach and Black Bean Enchiladas

adapted from The Kitchn

1/2 white onion, diced
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 t chili powder
1 t cumin
1 t salt
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a blend of cheddar and monterey jack)
3 cups salsa (I used Mrs. Renfro’s)
12 small corn tortillas

Mix together the onion, spinach, beans, spices, sour cream, and 1/2 cup cheese in a bowl.
Pour 1 cup salsa into the slow cooker and cover the surface of the crock.
Make a single layer of six enchiladas by filling each tortilla with about 1/4 cup of filling, then rolling it and placing it on top of the salsa.
Spread a cup of salsa on top of your first layer, then sprinkle it evenly with 1/2 cup of cheese.
Make the second layer of enchiladas with the remaining filling and six tortillas.
Top with the final cup of salsa, but do not top with cheese.
Cover the crock pot and cook on high for about 3 hours.
15 minutes before serving, top with the remaining cheese and allow to melt.

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