It’s been a bit over a month since I enjoyed Hard 8 BBQ with my friend Scott. Good BBQ is something I didn’t start to appreciate until later in life, but I’m definitely here now.
Just over a week ago I had a scheduled trip to fly in to Austin. I had a scheduled lunch before a drive to San Antonio. Austin is one of those cities where I’ve rarely (maybe never) had a bad meal. My lunch partners chose a nice restaurant where I enjoyed a great fresh lunch and headed on my way to San Antonio. But, then the magnetic pull of BBQ took over. It was a bit coincidental that my good friend Gary had posted earlier in the day about his most recent foray to Lockhart, TX, a very small town South of Austin that’s been described as the epicenter of BBQ.
What to do at a time like this? Well, I called Gary and asked for directions to his favorite haunts in Lockhart. Luckily, he answered. Shortly thereafter I showed up at Black’s. It was recommended as one of the more consistent (if not necessarily best) BBQ joints in Lockhart. I was showing up later in the afternoon so I was a bit nervous that the meat might not be at the peak of freshness. That wouldn’t be an issue.
I took quick cruise around Lockhart before ending up at Black’s. I knew I was close to good BBQ because I saw the first wood pile. Good BBQ doesn’t happen in an oven with gas or electric. You need a slow fire with quality wood that transforms normal every day cuts of meat into slices of heaven. To do that every day, you need a lot of wood.
There’s not much of a “main drag” in Lockhart. Even so, Black’s wasn’t on anything you could consider the main road in town. I did see a big sign that pointed the way and pulled up moments later ready for lunch #2.
I walked inside and faced a cold buffet line to get started before I got to the counter where they served the BBQ. Since this was my second lunch, I had only one purpose and it didn’t involve anything on the cold buffet. I considered snapping a picture of it for a moment but the anticipation of a plate of ribs and brisket got the better of me. To the meat counter we go!
Take note of the top left part of the menu board. Lean brisket? I don’t think so. Some fat, please. And, definitely have to add some ribs. Hmm, while you’re at it, let’s add some chicken.
It’s a simple enough ordering process. You tell the folks at Black’s how many ribs you want (or slices of brisket), they throw it on a scale and charge you appropriately. Shortly after, I was sitting down to enjoy that plate full of anticipation.
Knowing this would be my second lunch in less than 2 hours, I worked strategically, starting with the brisket. Brisket is “make or break” for me with any BBQ joint. It needs to be juicy and at least a little bit fatty. I started there, figuring if it was dry I had the ribs to rescue me. But, the brisket was great. Easily one of the top 5 briskets I’ve ever had. Unless you’re really watching your cholesterol, I’d always order the “with some fat” brisket. You can cut around the fat if you like but it does enhance the flavor.
I moved onto the ribs next. They were interesting. Dry smoked, at first blush I thought they were too dry. But, the meat melted right off the bone in my mouth. Finally, I conquered the chicken. Chicken isn’t usually something I target when I order BBQ. Nothing against chicken, but brisket and ribs are the cornerstones of my barbecue feasts. The chicken was outstanding. Easily the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had. A bit smoky and yet incredibly juicy.
The restaurant had located a bottle of BBQ sauce on the table but it turned out there was no need to moisten anything or drown it in sauce. Everything had a great flavor and was still moist.
There are definitely two camps of hardcore BBQ fans. “Sauce” and “You’re nuts if you put sauce on BBQ”. I generally fall into the second category, though not a diehard. My general feeling is if the ribs and brisket can’t stand up on their own without sauce, I probably won’t go out of my way for another meal at that restaurant.
After wolfing down my meal I got up to waddle to the car before my food coma set in and I couldn’t drive. I snapped a few pics on my way out of Black’s.
As you can see, Black’s is very informal. Circa 1960s metal folding chairs, plywood table, checkered table cloths. Paper towels and a few condiments, but other than that just real estate to devour BBQ.
I walked out of Black’s smelling just a bit smoky even though I washed my hands well on the way out. I had a new appreciation for Texas BBQ after this stop, and I’m sure I’ll be back to draw my own comparisons of various Lockhart BBQ joints. This is serious barbecue. No holds barred, nothing fancy, just great food at the epicenter of the BBQ world. As I climbed into my car I was a bit mournful I didn’t order some sausage as well. Just more motivation for a future stop.
On the way out of town I took one more tip from Gary. He mentioned that he had driven a brand new highway when he was there, one not even on Google Maps. I was sure he was joking, but sure enough, nothing popped up on my Google Maps where he said the highway was. Just as described though, a brand new highway to nowhere popped up on my way out of Lockhart. The cool thing for me was the speed limit sign.
I wasn’t entirely sure where the road led, but I figured it was likely I’d end up in San Antonio at some point if I headed South. Lockhart itself is an out of the way place. Once on the highway, I think I saw all of a half dozen cars, each of which passed me like I wasn’t even there. It’s the only time I can really recall being in the Internet Age and having exactly no idea where I was going but was perfectly happy with the drive.
This was a toll road nicknamed the “Pickle Parkway“. It was devised as a way of dealing with all the congestion between San Antonio and Austin, of which a reasonable amount can be attributed to NAFTA. All the toll points were automated and I never slowed down from the time I got on the highway. Just 4 straight lanes of asphalt and concrete made for an easy, quiet drive and some time to digest my second lunch of the day.