Before a big plate of smoked brisket and ribs became the national dish of the Lone Star State and the fare of fancy restaurants, it was a quick bite to eat from roadside stands.
Lazy T's BBQ in Hamilton continues a Texas barbecue tradition. Before a big plate of smoked brisket and ribs became the national dish of the Lone Star State and the fare of fancy restaurants, it was a quick bite to eat from roadside stands.
Lazy T's, as most folks call the Turner family business, has been selling quality barbecue from the window of a small trailer since 1999. On U.S. 281 on the south side of town, the little barbecue stand has steadily grown with the addition of a canopy and wind screen, but the same simple goodness remains unchanged.
Before barbecue became the stuff of legends and cookbooks, the roadside stand was the place to get the tastiest smoked meats. Drive down any highway in Texas, before the interstates took over, and you could pass at least a couple of smokers parked beside the road doing a land-rush business. The column of smoke would announce the goods better than any signage. In the days before air conditioning, if the wind was right, you could even smell the barbecue miles before you got to it.
Most of the roadside stands offered the minimum beyond the essentials. Ribs and brisket were the most common offerings, with sausage a close third and chicken not unheard of. The sweet taste of the smoked meat was to drive for. The chefs were backyard cookers, usually making a few extra bucks on weekends. Occasionally, they would offer something more than white bread or saltines to go with the meat, but rarely.
My father used to carry a block of cheese in the cooler in the backseat of our old Ford when we went on Sunday drives. The stated reason was a snack for the six noisy kids. But it often served as a compliment to barbecue he bought from a roadside stand. Jackson's Bar-BQ in Thrall started as a backyard smoker. Kenneth Laird in Llano started his business from his back yard alongside the highway before he moved into a two-story building on the south side of town.
"We started out working the rodeos," says Rick Turner, the proprietor of Lazy T's BBQ, "but we found we did better staying in one place." He picked a spot on the scenic route between Austin and Fort Worth with only one other barbecue joint within 40 miles. His menu is simple; brisket, quarter-of-a-chicken, Elgin sausage, and juicy ribs "that don't stick around long," he says.
Turner had the good fortune of being born into the Cooper barbecue family. "My dad did barbecue all my life," he says. Don Turner, Rick's father, worked with George Cooper to help his cousin build the Llano joint into one of the legends of Texas barbecue. Cooper's smokehouse was also a training ground for other barbecue cooks around the state. George's son Gary still runs Cooper's BBQ in Round Rock.
"A lot of folks think that my sauce tastes a lot like Cooper's," Turner says, "but it was my dad's recipe, and it's thicker." He judiciously declines to say which is better.
Rick worked with his dad at several incarnations of Lazy T's BBQ stand, starting with a small place on Braker Lane in North Austin and then Don's Barbecue at the intersection of U.S. 183 and TX 29 in Seward Junction. Don passed away in 1995. When Rick was laid off from his job as a mechanic, he decided to revive the family tradition.
"The idea is to maybe someday move into a building," says Karen Turner, Rick's wife who sometimes works at the stand along with their son and daughter. "We might better serve the public with a restaurant, but there are pros and cons to doing that. Rick won't be able to close up and go fishing if he has a restaurant to look after."
Rick doesn't get much opportunity to drown many worms with the roadside stand being open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm or until they sell out. Like any barbecue joint, it is a good idea to get there early before the best cuts of meat are sold out, "especially during deer season and spring break," Turner added. For catering jobs, give Rick a call at 254/386-4466.
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