An Englishman Hits the Road for Lockhart BBQ. Comes Home Stuffed, Smoky and Happy (Part 1)
No doubt you've heard of Lockhart. It's a small, attractive town out somewhere south of Austin. It has an antiques shop that contains items from a more questionable period in America's history, a large building in the town square reminiscent of Denton and a gigantic metal fish that, while an attractive shade of orange, serves no purpose whatsoever. Lockhart is, understandably, not famous for any of these things. It is, for reasons I cannot fully understand (and that fall outside of my job description of "guy that does no research and waffles on interminably"), famous for its high concentration of some of the finest barbecue restaurants in Texas.
While I did what I termed a barbecue road trip before, only now do I realize the laughable scale of such a trip. Fort Worth, for goodness' sakes. I could take public transport there. An afternoon spent on Texan public transport would be one of the worst experiences I could possibly have, but I could do it. A three-hour drive south is much more like it. Because I am incredibly jealous of The Dallas Morning News' BBQ Posse and their desire to tell people in restaurants how important they are, I decided to form my own posse for this trip, one with greater opportunities for women and children, thus chiming with the Observer's more progressive agenda. We also turned it into a camping trip because goddammit if we're not totally awesome. I sold it to everyone else as a camping trip, anyway, but to my mind it was just an excuse to fulfill an ambition of however long it's been since someone told me about this town famous for the sheer mind-bending quality of its brisket.
Well. I was quite excited. Rolling into Lockhart, I was more excited than a child on Christmas Eve whose birthday is on Christmas and who knows that the beloved family dog, recently buried in the Pet Semetary, will be back that morning as well. The disadvantage to having a BBQ Posse, one that the DMN will never tell you about, is trying to get six people to all go to the same place at once. "WHY ARE WE SIGHTSEEING?! LEAVE THE ORANGE METAL FISH ALONE! WE DO NOT NEED THIS CAMERA SHOT!" Black's Barbecue is right over there for goodness' sakes.
Upon finally arriving, we are greeted by a line stretching back to the door and obscuring any food, or indeed a menu. There is, however, an advert from the owner attempting to sell his jet-ski. This seems like an unnecessary and expensive side dish. Talking of side dishes, as the head of the EOBBQP* I have been put in charge of sorting out how much meat we want, while the rest of the party has been assigned to sides. This is a daunting task. We can smell the brisket. We've been able to smell it for a while. There's a haze of smoke hanging over Lockhart. No one's eaten anything yet, but there are two places to go after this. When we get to the meat, I sort it out so we all have one chunky slice of brisket and one rib each, with one sausage link of each kind to share among the group (original, garlic, jalapeño cheese, and Shiner Bock). I'm pretty pleased with myself. I turn round ready to pay only to discover that the ravenous EOBBQP, after being left in charge of sides, have decided to purchase one of every side and dessert in the entire place.
Come on EOBBQP. Get it together. This is an amateur move. We have so much to do. So many lives to change, so little available stomach space. The sides are bound to be good, but we're not here for them. Taking what is now a frankly outlandish amount of food through to the packed, wooden, smoky dinner hall, we sat down, fastidiously divided the brisket and began. There was silence. People pulled faces. I think I saw everyone's sex face. I definitely saw my wife's. The brisket was astonishing. Mindblowing, almost. My wife, First Lady of the EOBBQP (FLOTEOBBQP), described it as "life changing." There was some weeping.
It was like smoke had a baby with perfection. A thousand happy dead cows danced in my mouth. Just that one bite of perfectly cooked brisket, tender, smoky and rubbed only with salt and pepper, made all of moving to Texas, all the visa hassle, all the weird Texasness, completely worthwhile. People were stunned. The ribs were incredible, the sausage (especially the utterly filthy garlic sausage) was fantastic, but I mean, the brisket. Holy shit. It doesn't even bear comparison to most brisket found up here in Dallas. It's like it's not the same thing at all. After most of the meat had been demolished, we found a lone small piece of bark at the bottom of our meaty tray. We divided it up into six even tinier pieces with a knife. It was savoured for some time. Just perfection. It pretty much made everything else I had ever eaten taste like worthless shit (I don't really mean that, Mum. And sorry about the swearing).
We had, however, eaten too much. There was banana pudding. It was divine. Four sausages went down. All the sides were demolished. Pecan pie? Incredible. Peach cobbler? That too. Everyone was kind of full. No one had realized the challenges that lay ahead. The town of Lockhart was about to claim six more victims, using nothing but meat. What we didn't realize was that we were about to walk into something very closely approximating an incredibly delicious hell.
Coming Tuesday: An Englishman goes to Smitty's
*Equal Opportunity BBQ Posse