I Have Seen Heaven – It’s In Texas

by Venomous Kate

There is a place in Central Texas where class and age and race have no meaning, where strangers gladly rub elbows with one another, and where Heaven and Hell themselves join together to glorify the cloven hoofed pig. That place, my friends, is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas.

From the moment I entered a cloud of fragrant black smoke enveloped me. Not that I could see it, mind you. If there’s one thing darker than the cast iron stoves perched to either side of the meat counter it’s the confines of the pit room itself. Layers upon layers of creosote coat the pit room’s walls and ceiling, a grime so deep and black it seems to suck up the light from the twin roaring fires.

I turned to my brother, certain we’d stumbled into a back room not meant to be seen by civilized (and heat intolerant) customers. His only response was to point out the menu to me, a chalkboard bearing the honor roll of a good BBQ joint: hand-made sausages (spicy and regular), ribs (by the pound or by the slab) and brisket (full fat and lean). I would have salivated, but so fierce was the heat in that small, dark room that my saliva had instantly dried up, along with my contact lenses.

Smitty's BBQ pit roomA woman stepped through the murky haze of billowing smoke, and there in that hellishly hot room I was not in the least surprised to find her clad in red and wielding a trident-sized fork from which hung a slab of beautifully crusted, blackened meat. “Help you?” she asked as the juices dripped from that tender smoked flesh she had speared. I was giddy. Too giddy, in fact, to order and fortunately my brother handled that for me.

Just as fast as he could utter the glorious words “Full slab of ribs, six regular sausages and two pounds lean brisket” the meat appeared before us. The fork-bearing woman whipped out a knife and began slicing and sliding the meat onto sheets of brown paper, the kind they used to wrap packages in for mailing. Our packages didn’t have far to travel, however: once the meat was paid for we stepped through a pair of glass doors I hadn’t previously noticed and entered a dining room out of the 1950s.

At Smitty’s you don’t order your sides along with your meat. You also don’t ask for sauce. I suppose you could — if you wanted to look like a fool — but you wouldn’t need it. You do, however, need side items if only to cleanse the palate between sausages and ribs. Side dishes are served in the dining room behind a long wooden bar overlooked by old-fashioned Coca Cola signs. Here the temperatures are cooler and if the walls aren’t perfectly white they nevertheless look pristine in comparison with the pit room. Whether it’s potato salad you’re after or, incongruously, a whole avocado, they’ve got it… but don’t expect to eat it with a fork. Just as they don’t offer sauce at Smitty’s they also don’t bother with forks. Never have.

By the time I’d ordered Texas-style pinto beans (my personal favorite) and a Big Red soda the rest of my family had already seated themselves on folding chairs pulled up to one of the six long wooden trestle tables in the room. In this palace of all things pork-related there’s no such thing as private seating: you eat alongside everyone else, crowding closer and closer together as business picks up. But lest you worry what some stranger might think of you tearing into a rib and licking your fingers, it’s really no problem: everyone licks their fingers at Smitty’s. Sometimes they even lick the sheets of brown paper that serve as plates. It’s that good.

Now, having lived for the majority of the past 20 years in the Kansas City area — a place that’s been known to make some damn fine BBQ — I like to think of myself as a bit of an aficionado. I know, for instance, that the crap Chicago calls BBQ is a travesty, and that Memphis might think they know what they’re doing but their sauce all tastes like vinegar to me. And don’t get me started on the putrescence of South Carolina’s mustard-based sauces.

So you can imagine my surprise when, juices streaming down my chin, I found myself eating the very best BBQ I’d ever tasted. A BBQ with no sauce. A BBQ consisting solely of meat lovingly and carefully smoked, basted with its own liquids and worth every drop of sweat expired in pursuit of its fleshy perfection. I cannot tell you how the pinto beans were, nor whether Smitty’s potato salad is creamy or tart. I can’t because after that first bite of meat I lost all interest in everything else; the world dwindled down to me and a big pile of steaming meat, and for thirty-five solid minutes it was the most intense, heady relationship of my life.

Alas, all good things must end and after two sausages, six ribs and a massive pile of lean brisket, I had to bid adieu to Smitty’s. If ever in my life there was a moment when I toyed with the idea of becoming bullimic it was there at the center table in Smitty’s as I gazed longingly toward the glass doors leading back to that dark, sweltering pit room where, I knew, there waited a seemingly endless stream of meat. Ultimately, however, like Adam and Eve shuffling away from the Garden of Eden, my brother and I had to leave the paradise of pork behind, too.

Stepping out into the blinding rock-lined parking lot, I turned to my brother and said, “You know, I think I’ve figured out why the Islamic extremists hate us. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you’d been forbidden to eat food like that?” And there in the heart of the Lone Star state, our bellies bulging as we sood beneath a searing sun, we agreed that the key to world peace might very well lie within the unassuming brick structure wherein Smitty’s is housed. Yeah, their BBQ is that good.

28 Responses to “I Have Seen Heaven – It’s In Texas”

  1. Now I may just have to attend the American Dental Association Convention in San Antonio this October.

    The BBQ is definitely an allure!

  2. So, I gather from this post that you liked the BBQ at Smitty’s. Pity you couldn’t have been a little more, you know… um, enthusiastic in your praise. 🙂

    Donna B.s last blog post..A Meme Of Seven

  3. That was the most finely crafted foodgasm I’ve ever read. I’m actually salivating. I must have this BBQ.

    wgs last blog post..‘Nudder baby update, and Overheard

  4. Well, you know me, Donna. I’m all about the subtlety.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  5. Thanks, WG. I’m all the more flattered knowing that you’re writing it while waiting at the hospital for your son’s birth!

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  6. Got sent home late this morning, actually, after being there for about four hours. They decided she wasn’t far enough along, despite this being baby #4 and Red having a well-documented history of going from “I’m fine” to “Oh, look, there’s a person coming out of me” in fairly short order.

    With her first one, she walked around for a week dilated at 4, if that tells you anything. I really hope the little guy comes soon, she and I are both really tired.

    wgs last blog post..‘Nudder baby update, and Overheard

  7. I can imagine. Well, you know what they recommend as the best way to induce labor: pretty much the same thing that got you pregnant in the first place.

    Step away from the computer, WG, and have at it, man!

  8. I went to college in Houston, and I must say that there was little, if any, good food in Houston. (Well, there was a restaurant near the Bay which served unlimited shrimp, oysters, and chicken; but it has gone out of business.)

    And on my once visit to Houston in the summer, the only thing I got was a severe allergic reaction to some summer insects.

    I have often been invited to Central Texas, and, thanks to your description of the BBQ, I will have to accept soon.

  9. Damn, that description made me incredibly hungry.

    Jacks last blog post..Feedback From The Shmata Queen

  10. That sounds absolutely delicious! My husband was born and raised in KC and we know how hard it is to find good and true bbq. We’ll be in the Austin area the end of July, maybe you can send me more specifics of how to find Smitty’s, please?

    Now, to go wipe the drool off my keyboard…

    Lynnes last blog post..Paypal Widget Causing Trouble

  11. Hey, I’m all for it, but it takes two. I think even the mention of it…well, let’s just say I like my dangly bits attached.

    wgs last blog post..‘Nudder baby update, and Overheard

  12. And think, on Saturdays they serve smoked prime rib!

    Taris last blog post..The Professionals

  13. I ate at Gates today, and now I feel, um, unfulfilled. 🙂

    CGHills last blog post..Stretching out a bit

  14. Now Im really hungry,those Muslims dont know what they are missing out on lol

  15. It’s worth putting up with the Texas heat for that BBQ.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  16. I’m hungry again, too!

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  17. Check your email – I just sent the directions. It’s a simple 36 minute drive and definitely worth it. And even if you’re not a fan of sausage you’ve got to try theirs. They’re a food group unto themselves!

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  18. My brother says the best sandwich in the world is simply a slab of their prime rib between two pieces of bread. Fortunately, they provide the bread, too: when you order they hand you a big pile of it. With so many in our group, they simply tossed us a loaf. Not that we ate the bread, mind you: that would’ve left less room for the BBQ!

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  19. Okay, go for spicy food then. Not nearly as fun, but also effective.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  20. Gates is okay. Try Arthur Bryant’s, preferably at their original location. There used to be a place called “Amazing Grace’s Soul Food” attached to the Grand Emporium in downtown KC. Now that’s where you’d find some absolutely awesome KC-style BBQ. Unfortunately it’s no longer there, and the city’s poorer for it.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  21. I’ve decided one reason God declared pigs as “unclean” is because He wanted to keep the good stuff to Himself.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Sweating With The Oldies

  22. Ah, Smitty’s… the bond of obedience has been successfully consecrated. Now we send you to West Texas. Alpine, to be specific. Michelin dining in Alpine, it’s true. And then go play in the Davis Mountains, check out the observatory, and renew your vigor for everything…

    Jeffs last blog post..Sports: Do You Care?

  23. Jeff, you do realize that my family’s roots in Texas pre-date the Republic, don’t you? We have two ancestors who fought at the Alamo (though we may be the only ones in the state who aren’t related to Davy Crockett).

    So it’s not like I haven’t visited the place. I just prefer to live somewhere that’s less hellishly hot.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Travails of the Traveling Stomach

  24. I assume when you’re in Chicago you eat at Carson’s or Tony Romas? That’s mob style BBQ…can’t trust either one.

    I prefer the hole in the wall joints on the South Side like Lem’s or Uncle Bob’s out in the SW suburbs.

  25. I did not know that…

    Another reason to like you, though!

    Jeffs last blog post..A Guide For Questions

  26. That was kind of the neat part about our trip. Being adopted, I’d grown up thinking of my family’s roots as being not really mine.

    Now that I’m a mom, though, I realize it’s my responsibility to give my kids a sense of their larger family, and that’s what finally made me realize that I really do have only one family: the bunch of Texans I grew up with.

    Was truly neat seeing Texas in that light. I’ll be sharing pictures of my grandfather’s homestead and my great-grandmother’s place in the future.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Travails of the Traveling Stomach

  27. Actually, we ate at Fat Willy’s. Good, but still not Smitty’s (or KC-style, for that matter). My son loved their macaroni and cheese, though.

    Venomous Kates last blog post..Travails of the Traveling Stomach

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