Barbecue Nirvana – Best BBQ EVER
This is my last piece on BBQ for a long time, I swear.
As I mentioned yesterday, every year Texas Monthly Magazine ranks and reviews the Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas. One thing that is a constant each year is that Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas will be in the top 5, if not in the number one slot. This year was no exception, as Smitty’s earned a perfect score of 5.
Here is what Texas Monthly had to say about them:
Don’t bother going in the front door. You’ll end up in the parking lot behind the boxy brick building anyway, doing the Smitty’s shuffle: At peak hours, the lines invariably stretch out the back door. Patiently, you inch your way forward, passing the waist-high brick pits and perusing the list of post oak–smoked meats (brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, prime rib).
Salivating, you finally place your order for a pound or so of meat (in this ancient hall there are no platters or sandwiches). You pay with cash or check (here there is no debit or credit). You proceed to the high-ceilinged dining room, staring at the meats on your butcher paper (here there are no plates). Yet again you are made to stand in line, to order sides and drinks. At last, faint from hunger, you squeeze in at one of the long communal tables and tear into some of the finest barbecue in Texas.
Smitty’s began around 1900 as Kreuz Market, a German butcher shop that sold fresh meat during the week and smoked whatever was left over on the weekend. The Kreuz name endured even after Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt bought the business, in 1948. It was still in use in 1999, when a dust-up among the late Edgar’s three children caused his son Rick to take the Kreuz name to a new building down the road (see page 126). Fortunately, daughter Nina Schmidt Sells and her son, John Fullilove, kept the fires burning and reopened under the current name. They made a few concessions to modernity, such as repainting the dining room and offering sauce (you have to ask for it). Other than that, the place is still the proud bulwark of tradition it has always been. May it never change. Patricia Sharpe
Trying to describe the BBQ at Smitty’s Market, or the experience of going there is likely impossible. As well written as the above description is, it hardly prepared me for what I found at Smitty’s. Yes, you stand in the Texas sun waiting to get in, and then move from the frying pan literally into the fire. A smoky haze hangs in the air and stings your eyes. The walls are blackened by decades of wood smoke and most of the light comes from the fire pits. The pits that are described above are directly next to you as you wait in line. The fire is on the ground about a foot away from your legs. It is hot, and if you foolishly move up instead of leaving a gap in the line next to the fire, embers crack and hiss as they shoot toward your legs. Did I mention that I was wearing shorts?
Then the rest of the experience is as described, except for one thing that they left out. The friendly camaraderie that develops with your line mates. There was a friendly family in front of us who provided us with conversation and tips since it was our first visit. They also ended up sitting next to us at one of the long communal tables.
After a lot of food talk we discovered that one of new friends was Adrian Galindo, Executive Chef of The Inn Above Onion Creek in Kyle, TX. One of these days soon I hope to visit and sample some of Mr. Galindo’s cooking.
But back to the BBQ. I had read so much about Smitty’s Market, and watched features about it on the Food Network, that I was trying very hard not to let my expectations get out of hand. I had eaten plenty of very good barbecue over the years. I even pride myself on being able to turn out some pretty good ‘cue of my own. However, I was prepared to be disappointed. I mean, how much better could it be than what I have eaten before?
A lot better. After the first bite of their spectacular pork ribs I knew that I was really only eating BBQ for the first time. Their impossibly tender, juicy and perfectly seasoned brisket was insulted when I dipped it into the sauce and let me know that I have a long, long way to go before I consider my feeble attempts at the smoker to be even adequate. Their sausage links redefined for me what sausage should be. All of the above are eaten with your hands off butcher paper, which just seems right.
I was right, trying to describe this food is impossible. It has to be experienced. If you ever can get to Lockhart, Texas, I strongly recommend that you brave the sun and fire pits of Smitty’s Market and experience the revelatory joys of barbecue nirvana.