Letter From Texas
Have anything to eat as long as it’s meat
I’m standing on a sun-warmed sidewalk in small-town Texas blinking at a darkened storefront that I have been told houses one of the best barbecue eateries in the state. It looks closed, but when I catch a sweet, smoky aroma percolating through the air, I push gingerly on the heavy wooden door.
Entering Smitty’s Market – one of a handful of old-school eateries in Lockhart, officially designated by the state legislature as the barbecue capital of Texas – is like stepping back in time. Its high-ceilinged entrance, complete with heavily sooted walls, leads to a shadowy back kitchen that resembles a furnace room from a Victorian workhouse. Smitty’s is all about the meat: with cheap chairs, rows of Formica tables and bare fluorescent lighting, there is almost no attempt to create an attractive ambiance.
Two steaming rectangles of bricks – each the size of a large chest freezer – are fuelled by flaming oak logs and topped with blackened metal lids. The air is thick with the smell of slow-roasting meat. Traditional Texas barbecue has been sold on this site for more than a century and some of the larger regulars look as if they may have been here on opening day.
Salivating as I unwrap my warm parcel, I discover a greasy jumble of horseshoe-shaped sausages, sweet blackened ribs, butter-soft brisket slices and a lightly tanned pork chop. It looks like a road wreck at an abattoir, but turns out to be the best meat I’ve tasted.
I weave across town to Black’s Barbecue, a fixture since 1932. Its homestyle, wood-lined interior includes a gaggle of deer heads staring wearily at the carnivores dining below. Sampling the velvety Angus beef brisket, I wash it down with a cup of sweet Texas iced tea. My belt is seriously straining.
I’m determined to make it to my final barbecue joint with some appetite intact, but when I waddle through the door of the Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Cue, the chances of pushing any more meat through my mouth seem remote.
Overseeing operations is Floyd Wilhelm, an unassuming 62-year-old. He tells me they produce 2,000 sausages here every day with 450kg of brisket prepared on busy Saturdays.
Blinking twice when I ask him about vegetarian options, he points towards the small vegetable bar. I amble over and discover okra, potatoes and onion rings – all deep-fried of course.