That’s right: You’re not from Texas. But Texas wants you anyway — particularly, they want you to come and eat their barbecue. Robert Jacob Lerma, an Austin-based photographer, has been touring the big state’s temples of barbecue. Today, The Bitter Southerner lets Robert take you on a barbecue journey through some of Texas' top ’cue spots.
Let’s make one thing clear. I wasn’t born a Texan. My parents were. My brothers were. But I was born and raised in California, the land of tri-tip. My father was a military man. After he died, we just stayed. Aside from my mother and sister, my whole family lived in Texas. We had visited many times growing up, and for a short time as a kid, we lived in Corpus Christi.
My first trip to Texas as an adult happened in the summer of 2005. I had just finished the police academy and was about to begin graduate school when my girlfriend (now wife) and I decided we needed to get the hell out of California.
God bless America. And Texas. And barbecue. And sometimes not in that order.
A little bit of everything at Snow's BBQ in Lexington.
“Let’s go to Austin,” she said. And a few weeks later, there we were. I had brought my cheap camera that I purchased on Craigslist to document the trip. Little did I know at the time that this trip would lay the foundation for my foray into Texas barbecue.
Everyone remembers their first bite of great brisket. Mine happened at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. Not to be dramatic, but holy hell. Never before had I experienced barbecue this good. Coupled with the old building and history, I was hooked. Over the next week we traveled to Elgin, Lockhart and Luling, visiting all the classic Texas barbecue places. I took pictures here and there. My time working in the Evidence Unit, before becoming a police officer, taught me how to photograph crime scenes. That’s how I photographed barbecue. I was enamored with the grit, the culture, the people.
We moved to Austin after I finished graduate school in August 2008. Not knowing very many people, barbecue became my friend, my passion.
As they say, I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could.
Pitmaster Sullivan of City Market in Schulenberg is ready to take your order.
Lunchtime at City Market in Luling. To many in Texas, coming together to eat is just as important as the barbecue being served. Maybe even more.
Vencil Mares, age 92. You can still find him most days, sitting in the same chair, near the side door of Taylor Cafe. Having been open since 1948, Taylor Cafe is regarded as a "must visit" for many barbecue lovers.
Up above the open fire pit at Smitty's Market in Lockhart. Customers literally walk beside the fire when entering the pit room to place their orders.
Smoking about 100 briskets per day, Franklin Barbecue in Austin is considered by many to be one of the best in America. Cooked on barbecue pits he built himself, Aaron Franklin is also a best selling author, James Beard award winner and an all-around genuine guy. He's pretty much the same guy I met six years ago when he was only cooking five briskets per day.
Despite all his accomplishments, Aaron Franklin still does nearly every job at Franklin Barbecue regularly. Watching him slice is an added bonus for eager customers awaiting their first bite of his renowned brisket.
The only easy day was yesterday. Working the brick pits at Smitty's Market requires constant attention. With an open fire on the floor and no temperature gauges, Pitmaster Pablo Garcia relies on experience to ensure a proper cook, day in, day out.
City Market in Luling. Open since 1958. Sausage: same as they ever was.
Pitmaster Ervin Kolacny of Kolacny's Bar-B-Q in Halletsville checks his meats prior to the days' service. Open only on the weekends, the BBQ quickly sells out in this small town.
Pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick of Stiles Switch BBQ in Austin is quiet by nature, but loud with knowledge and experience.
Pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow's BBQ shoveling hot coals prior to service on a Saturday morning. At 82 years young, the woman is a living legend in Texas barbecue.
The late Pitmaster Richard Smith of Cooper's BBQ in Llano takes a moment to relax during a lull in the action. Mr. Smith passed away in October.
Many Central Texas barbecue places serve their meats market style, by the pound. This is case at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. Pronounced "krites," its English translation is "cross" from German. Along with Czech settlers, German immigrants heavily influenced the regional style, still incorporated today by many well known barbecue restaurants, such as Franklin, Smitty's, Black's, Cooper's and City Market.
Front porch sittin' with pitmaster George Mahathay of Billy's Old Fashion BBQ in Jasper.
In between the post oak stacks behind Smitty's Market in Lockhart. Using an all-wood, no-firebox, brick pit, Smitty's goes through a few cords of wood every week.
Herschel "Hershey" Tomanetz, son of Tootsie, friend to all. January 14, 1966-March 4, 2016. Rest in peace.
Welcome y'all. James from City Meat Market in Giddings always provides a warm greeting into the pit room.
Before there were fire boxes there were floors. And brick. Martin's Place in Bryan has been in business since 1924, in this building since 1939. There are no temperature gauges on the pit, or true doors for that matter. A makeshift wooden cover encloses the pit, opened by a rope tied to a pulley above.
The aftermath of a Louie Mueller Barbecue beef plate short rib experience. It needs to be on every barbecue bucket list.