Second Helpings: BBQ Joints Within an Hour of Austin

Cusines editor Virigina B. Wood and Chronicle writer Greg Beets serve up barbecue joints within an hour of Austin in this week's Second Helpings.

Second Helpings: BBQ Joints Within an Hour of Austin

The weekly Chronicle feature "Second Helpings" offers readers the opportunity to sample tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were compiled by Chronicle Cuisines editor Virginia B. Wood and Chronicle writer Greg Beets. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

For years, Central Texas towns such as Lockhart, Elgin, and Taylor have been home to some justifiably famous barbecue joints. Due to recent developments, tiny Spicewood west of Austin is now a necessary stop on the barbecue trail. Some of these places are of the meat market variety and others are full-service cafes. Whatever your pleasure, here's a partial list of joints within an hour's drive of Austin that were deemed worthy of inclusion in our 1999 Smokin' Hall of Fame.

1. Louis Mueller Barbecue

206 W. Second, Taylor, 512/352-6206

Mon-Thu, 9am-8pm; Fri, 9am-5pm

Sat, 9am till they run out of food

In Taylor, the Mueller family has been serving barbecue practically unchanged for more than 50 years in a little storefront with a rickety screen door. Here, the legendary brisket, chicken, beef and pork ribs, tenderloin, and two kinds of sausage (jalapeño & regular) attract customers from all over. It's a no-frills kind of place: no plates, no trays, just butcher paper and meat. The Muellers shy away from sugar in all their food, so instead of a thick, sweet sauce, you'll be served a savory meat jus with every order and potato salad bursting with the tang of dill pickles and mustard. The newly expanded seating area makes a tastefully prosperous addition to an established business.

2. Rudy Mikeska's

300 W. Second, Taylor, 512/365-3722; 800/962-5706

Mon-Sat, 10am-8pm; Sun, 10am-2pm

The Mikeskas have carved a comfortable niche for themselves in the pantheon of Texas barbecue all-stars. All five of Rudy's brothers have their own barbecue joints in other Texas towns. Called the "first family of Texas barbecue," the Mikeskas have been serving reliable barbecue for almost 50 years, passing the torch from generation to generation. At this cafeteria-style restaurant, Rudy offers the standard round of barbecue fare with the addition of smoked mutton, roast beef, and ham. What sets this place apart is their non-traditional side dishes such as corn on the cob, hot buttered potatoes, and creamed green beans that compete with the usual sentinels: coleslaw, potato salad, and beans. The efficient drive-thru window around back is popular with travelers.

3. Cross-Town Bar-B-Q

211 Central Ave., Elgin, 281-5594

Thu and Sun, 10am-8pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-11pm

For the past 12 years, Cross-Town has been doing business in an unassuming little downtown building that you might miss if you hadn't been told to look for it. After a couple of visits, our advice is this: If you prefer your barbecue down-home, greasy, and full of flavor, this is your joint. Partners Carol Grady and Larry Morgan make their own spectacular all-beef sausage and smoke everything from brisket to pork ribs to mutton over a slow oak fire. It's all good and the sausage is great. This is old-time, deep South, eat-with-your-fingers-and-make-a-greasy-mess-style meal you won't soon forget.

4. Southside Market & Bar-B-Cue

1212 U.S. 290 E., Elgin, 281-4650

Mon-Thu, 8am-8pm; Fri-Sat, 8am-10pm; Sun, 9am-7pm

This sausage factory is one of the main reasons Elgin bears the distinction of being "the sausage capital of Texas." A family named Moon founded the factory in 1882, and it's been run by the current owners, the Bracewells, since 1968. They've maintained the traditions of quality in the factory and meat market, adding a dining room where diners can order a variety of meats by the sandwich, plate, or pound. The signature sausage is reliably delicious, piquant but not overly spicy, juicy but not overly greasy. FYI: If you're fond of crunchy brisket ends, Southside will win a spot in your heart. They offer Brisket Trimmings for $2 per pound, a mighty good guilty pleasure.

5. Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse

188 U.S.290 E., Elgin, 281-3331

Sun-Thu, 10am-7pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-8pm

Since 1949, the Meyer family has been making sausage in Elgin from the precious heirloom recipe brought to Texas by a German immigrant great-grandfather. The current generation of Meyer brothers expanded the wholesale sausage operation and added a restaurant in 1998. In addition to two flavors of sausage, the smokehouse menu features turkey breast, pork ribs, and beef brisket by the sandwich, plate, or pound with traditional side dishes. Everything comes on butcher paper and plastic containers, with rolls of paper towels and bottles of sauce placed in strategic locations. Grab an icy cold beer or soda from the metal tub, find a table, and eat.

6. Black's Barbecue

215 North Main, Lockhart, 512/398-2712

Daily, 10am-10pm

Drive to Lockhart in search of true blue barbecue and you won't have a hard time finding it. Signs along Hwy. 183 advertising Black's as "the oldest BBQ house in Texas continuously owned by the same family since 1932" will direct you exactly where you need to go. When ordering here, you'll have to make the decisions about your side dishes before you order the meat, but don't let that distract you. Meat is the reason you're here. Black's serves post-oak smoked meats: brisket, pork ribs, pork loin, ham, chicken, and sausage. You want to concentrate on the deliciously peppery 87% beef, 13% pork sausage, the salty, crisp ends of brisket, and the thick, sweet sauce. If you can't get enough on one visit, they'll gladly ship their wares nationwide.

7. Kreuz Market

619 N. Colorado, Lockhart, 512/398-2361

Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm; Sat, 9am-6:30pm

When longtime Lockhart barbecue master "Smitty" Schmidts died, sibling rivalry ensued because he left the family business to his son and the building that housed it to his daughter. When differences couldn't be resolved, brother Don Schmidt moved the original family meat market operation to a brand-new building while his sister opened her own market in the spruced-up old building, now called Smitty's. Barbecue fans all over Texas held their breath. The good news is that the meat at the relocated Kreuz's is as good as it ever was: The well-seasoned, un-sauced lean brisket, fat brisket, pork chops, sausage, and prime rib are still worth the trip. Be advised: This is truly a meat market. Meats come on butcher paper with bread or crackers, no sauce, no sides. You'll smack your lips, lick your fingers, and look around for more.

8. Fuschak's Pit BBQ

920 Hwy. 80, San Marcos, 512/353-2713

Daily, 11am-9pm

Fuschak's has been family-owned and -operated since 1966, and has a rustic wood interior decorated with antique farm implements. The meats are smoked over hickory in a rotisserie pit from the Fifties. As it circulates, the meats baste each other, rendering an ultra-moist product. Place your order at the counter from a menu that includes pork ribs, sausage, brisket, beef fajitas, chicken, turkey, and, on Mondays, sirloin steak. Be sure to check out the Bar-Burrito, a flour tortilla stuffed with brisket, refried beans, cheese, hot and barbecue sauces, and onions. Traditional sides are available, including homemade banana pudding and pecan pie for dessert.

9. R.O.'s Outpost

Hwy. 71 W. at Hazy Hills Dr. (17 miles west of the Y in Oak Hill), Spicewood, 264-1169

Tue-Sat, 11am-9pm

Time was when tiny Spicewood was only famous because Willie Nelson lives and plays golf nearby. Now one of the reasons it's a bona-fide stop on the barbecue trail is due to Randy and Kath Osban's great country restaurant. The meats here are smoked in a Southern Pride-enclosed smoker over pecan wood with a dry rub for seasoning. The Outpost has a complete menu which includes turkey breast, pork loin and ribs, brisket, ham, sausage, and chicken as well as a great chicken fried steak and pan-fried quail. The side dish selections are plentiful and delicious and Kathy's pies and cobblers are simply stellar. No matter how much meat you eat, you must save room for pie.

10. Opie's Barbecue

Hwy. 71 W. (20 miles past the intersection of Hwy. 71 W. and RR 620, turn right at gas station) beyond Spicewood, 830/693-8660

Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm; Sun, 11am-4pm

Opie's Barbecue is the second place that now puts Spicewood on the Central Texas barbecue map. Herbie Lynn opened his own meat smoking operation in Spicewood, where true barbecue aficionados are discovering him in droves. Outside the informal restaurant is a 12-foot smoke pit where you can choose from pork chops, pork ribs, two kinds of sausage (regular or jalapeño), chicken, brisket, and sometimes even cabrito (kid goat). The meat is mopped with a vinegary sauce and plopped on a cafeteria tray. Inside the restaurant, they'll weigh the meat, place it on butcher paper and return it to your tray. The seating is informal at the indoor picnic tables. Utensils, drinks, and fixins such as onion, pickles, warm sauce and a big vat of pinto beans are available on the sideboard. The pork chops here are not to be missed, and be sure to try the cabrito if they happen to have it when you visit. Top it all off with blackberry cobbler for dessert.

11. The Salt Lick

FM 1826, Driftwood, 512/858-4959

Daily, 11am-10pm

This is where to take expatriate Texans (or mere wannabes) who need a barbecue epiphany that will hold them over until next year. The $13.95 family platter service gives you all the brisket, pork ribs, and sausage you can hold plus sides of beans, potato salad, and coleslaw. If you still have room, try the enormous peach cobbler with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream. Remember to BYOB if you want to drink.

12. Smitty's Market

208 S. Commerce, Lockhart, 512/398-9344

Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm; Sat, 8am-6:30pm

Named after Kreuz Market patriarch Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt, Smitty's opened in October 1999 in the location formerly occupied by Kreuz for almost a century. The familial spat leading to Kreuz Market's relocation is destined to be a Texas legend. Like Kreuz, Smitty's serves beef, pork chops, and sausage on brown paper with no sauce and no forks, but the addition of (gasp) beans to the menu provoked more than a few double-takes in this barbecue-obsessed region.

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