Monday, January 17, 2011

The Lockhart Challenge, completed!

Sampled 1/17/10

The Lockhart challenge went off as promised on Monday, January 17.  The 252 mile trip came off without incident and I rolled into Lockhart about 7:30 pm the previous evening.  I prepared as if judging a big BBQ cook-off by not eating anything the previous day.  I actually planned to stop by Black's Sunday evening and have a bite of brisket, but found them closed at 7:30 pm, despite the fact they supposedly stay open til 8.  I don't know if there was a private party going on or what, but there were lots of cars around and the lights were still on.  On the way down to the hotel I noticed Chisolm Trail was still doing business, but I decided to just wait until morning.

I ordered the same thing at all 4 joints, 1/2 pound of fatty brisket, 2 pork ribs, and a ring of sausage.  My thinking was I wanted several slices of brisket to choose from, as in a judged contest. I also wanted 2 ribs for the same reason.  I got a rib tip at both Black's and Smitty's, so it was a good thing that I also had an inside rib to compare with the other joints.  The rings were jalapeno cheese at Black's and Kreuz, but just sausage at Smittys and Chisolm Trail.  I brought ziploc bags and a cooler for leftovers.

I rolled out of the hotel about 11:45 am on Monday and headed north up the main drag.  Chisolm Trail has a nice drive up window, so I decided right there I would get everything to go and sample at the hotel room.  That proved to be a good plan.  There were 3 cars in front of me and it took about 10 minutes to get up to the window. Next over to Smitty's and Black's where there was almost no waiting.  I got a cup of sweet tea at Black's, but took one sip and it tasted like sludge.  I poured it out but kept the souvenir cup for beer back at the hotel.  As I pulled up to Kreuz it was clear they were very busy.  The parking lot was packed, and they have a huge lot.  When I walked in the door I found almost 40 people waiting in line in front of me.  Now that was a surprise!  It was about 12:10 but I guess around lunch time a few minutes makes a big difference.  The line moved quickly and I was out in about 10 minutes or so.  I was back at the hotel by 12:30.  Passing by Chisolm Trail I noted their lot was packed and they had 5 cars in line at the drive thru.  Smitty's gravel lot was similarly full.

Now I want you to appreciate how lucky you are that I had the will power to take pictures FIRST, before digging in.  Not only was I hungry, but I had to smell all that BBQ in my truck, plus 4 smoke pits, with nary a bite.  You'd better enjoy those pictures!

Just for grins, here's the cost for the same meal at the 4 joints.  Chisolm Trail, $8.84, Smitty's $9.70, Black's (minus the tea) $9.78, Kreuz $13.30.  Chisolm Trail threw in a small container of sauce, plus 4 slices of white bread.  Black's was the only place that handed me a receipt.

Now before the fun begins, let me just say, as usual, this review is for this meal on this day. Experience has shown, over and over, that any place can serve up a great meal or a horrible meal at any given time.  The truly great joints are those who serve up consistently great meals time after time.  I have eaten at all of these places before and probably will again.  I just thought it would be fun to sit down and try all 4 together and see how they compared. 

Of the four, Black's came out on top for tenderness and for their deep smoky flavor,  Chisolm trail was second, again with good tenderness and a slight smoke flavor.  Kreuz and Smitty's had a very similar salty taste with Kreuz's brisket being the more tender of the two. I did the standard KCBS pull-apart judging test and Smitty's was definitely tough and chewy.  Both Kreuz and Smitty's needed sauce, at least today.

Spare Ribs
Of the four, Black's again came out on top, but Smitty's was a close second.  Both left a perfect bite mark and pulled away from the bone just right.  Black's had a deep smoky crust of a bark while smitty's had a very nice sweet glaze.  Both were very nice ribs, but different.  Chisolm Trail's rib was chewy with decent smoke and a salty flavor.  The ribs from Kreuz were overcooked and chewy as leather.  I do like their pepper rub but these ribs were just too chewy.

Sausage was the only category where I was not exactly comparing apples to apples.  Two were jalapeno cheese and two were plain sausage.  However I was surprised how easy it was to pick my favorites here.  Kreuz was easily my favorite.  I guess that should be no surprise since I often take cases of the stuff back to my freezer (and shall this time, as well).  However Smitty's ring was the clear number 2 of the 4.  The two previous times I had Smitty's sausage it was way too greasy for my taste.  This time they were spot on, with just the right amount of wet to dry.  That was an excellent flavorful link even though it was not as spicy as I prefer.  Chislom trail came in next with even less spice.  The surprise was I got a bad link at Black's that was clearly inferior to the other 3.  It was downright mushy with little flavor at all.  Surprising, considering it was supposed to be jalapeno cheese.

So who is the winner?  Me.  I win because I got to sit down and eat from all four at the same time.  It was interesting to compare brisket to brisket and rib to rib.  That would have been harder to do had I not taken them all back to the hotel.  Testing back and forth between the samples to find the different flavors and textures was definitely helpful and interesting.  It would be even more fun to do blind judging from the same spots, plus maybe throw in the two from Luling, just 15 minutes south.  Now there's a challenge to look forward to in the future!  I guess if I had to choose, Black's would still be my favorite with Smitty's and Kreuz being about equal, and Chisolm Trail being close behind.  I think the real deciding factor today was Black's excellent brisket.  That is something they consistently have done well, time after time.  That won't stop me from buying 3 boxes of Kreuz jalapeno cheese sausage tomorrow!  The bottom line is there is some pretty good BBQ in Lockhart and you can have a good meal at any of the 4 places in town.  I will not identify the individual photos, try to guess which is which!

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