Texas is well-known for a number of things: wide-open spaces, bluebonnets, cowboy boots, oil and gas, rodeo … and lip-smackin’ barbecue.
Great debates are raised over which state in the U.S. has the best smoked meats and sides.
According to some, however, the best barbecue in the country is right here in the good ol’ Lone Star State — and some of the best places to get a plate of that sweet, smoky, tangy, mouth-watering goodness are right here in central Texas.
Weekend barbecue road trip, anyone?
A good place to start this finger-lickin’ excursion is just down south in Austin, at Franklin Barbecue, one of the most popular spots in the state and regarded as one of the top spots in the country. People have been known to line up for hours to try some of Aaron Franklin’s legendary smoked brisket. Pulled pork, pork ribs, chopped beef and sausage are also on the menu, along with take-home bottles of sweet and peppery Texas BBQ Sauce, Espresso BBQ Sauce and vinegary Carolina-style Pork BBQ Sauce.
Right now, the dining room at 900 E. 11th Street remains closed, but on-line ordering and curbside pickup service is available. Go to franklinbbq.com for more information.
About 30 minutes southwest of Austin is The Salt Lick, a cash-only barbecue joint established in 1967. With recipes dating back to the 1800s, the meat here is smoked over a live oak fire, with briskets cooked for 20-24 hours. First item on the menu is all-you-can-eat beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw and beans (bread, pickles, onions on request) for $28.95 per person. They also serve regular plates, small plates, sandwiches, meat by the pound, a variety of sides, desserts like blackberry or peach cobbler, pecan pie and chocolate pecan pie.
Indoor dining rooms are now open and guests are also welcome to use the outdoor dining areas. The Salt Lick is located at 18300 FM 1826 in Driftwood. See saltlickbbq.com for more information.
Meanwhile, four of the state’s most acclaimed barbecue restaurants can be found a half-hour southeast of Austin along State Highway 183 in the small town of Lockhart, known as the Barbecue Capital of Texas.
Along with the original Black’s Barbecue, one of the oldest family-owned ‘cue restaurants in the Lone Star state, Chisholm Trail Barbecue features a cafeteria-style serving line that has earned it a spot on Texas Monthly magazine’s list of best barbecue restaurants. Smitty’s Market has also made that coveted list, and Kreuz Market is the first place visitors will likely see entering town along 183.
Down in Llano, an hour-and-a-half southwest of Fort Hood near Lake Buchanan, is the famed Cooper’s Old-Time Pit Barbecue, another spot where hungry folks drive from miles around and sometimes stand in long lines for their turn to choose servings of beef ribs, brisket, cabrito, chicken, rib eye, two-inch thick pork chops, pork loin, prime rib, sausage, sirloin and turkey right off the barbecue pit.
The dining room at Cooper’s, established in Llano in 1962, is now open, and on-line ordering and shipping is also available. Go to coopersbbqllano.com for details.
About an hour south of Austin, another highly rated spot that boasts “world-famous” barbecue is the Original City Market BBQ, 633 E. Davis Street in the heart of downtown Luling.
Finally, and last but certainly not least, there is Louie Mueller Barbecue in downtown Taylor, about an hour’s drive south of Killeen-Fort Hood. This self-described “cathedral of smoke” dates back to 1949 and has been in the Mueller family ever since.
Such items as sliced and chopped smoked brisket, sausage and jalapeño sausage, smoked turkey breast, beef ribs and pork tenderloin are on the menu, and on-line ordering and shipping is available at www.louiemuellerbarbecue.com.
So, skip breakfast or at least save plenty of room, saddle up and head on out soon for a lip-smackin’ taste of Texas.
Meanwhile, back home in Killeen-Fort Hood, BLORA (Belton Lake Outdoor and Recreation Area), at the intersection of North Nolan Road and Cottage Road, offers a number of family activities, including camping sites, picnic pavilions, hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, paintball, a 53-foot outdoor climbing wall and an archery range. Admission for military patrons is $3 per car; all others are $10 per vehicle.
The Recreation Equipment Checkout Center, located within the garrison 14 miles southwest of BLORA, is available to authorized Family and MWR patrons, and offers such equipment rentals as kayaks, canoes, wakeboards, skis, knee boards, tubes, camping equipment, pop-ups/travel trailers, accessories and more. Go to hood.armymwr.com for more information.
Fort Hood’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday for those interested in do-it-yourself projects, including picture frames, ceramics and ceramics birthday parties for kids. Also offered at the center, 761st Tank Battalion and 62nd Street, Building 2337, is screen-printing, embroidery and a wood shop.
The center has a Resiliency through Art program that offers a quiet area with art materials for soldiers to create “whatever comes to mind.” It is available free of charge to all active-duty soldiers during the week until 5 p.m. Soldiers may take their work with them or leave it at the center to be displayed for others to see. For more information, contact MWR.