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EDITOR’S CORNER: Don’t let BBQ critic send you into pit of despair

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(Opinion by Miles Smith, LPR Editor. Published in the 8/2 Lockhart Post-Register)

There’s an old saying that goes “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
That’s usually applicable to most situations, but in the case of Austin American-Statesman food critic Matthew Odam’s piece titled “Up in Smoke: Legendary Lockhart barbecue is overrated,” it isn’t. Odom’s nostalgic tour of briskets in the Caldwell County seat is likely to burn out in the court of public opinion faster than damp charcoal briquettes in a community park grill.
But before I get to why that is, let’s focus on three places where Odam – who says in his column he’s a fifth-generation Texan who enjoyed pilgrimages to Lockhart when he was younger – went wrong on his trip down memory lane.

1. He went to all four restaurants in one day
Most of us go into a meat coma after a serving or two of any portion at Black’s, Kreuz, Lockhart Chisholm Trail or Smitty’s on our lunch hour. Indeed, if I visit one of the four for lunch and push through what should be a snack for later, I’m definitely going to stop tasting it as my belly fills and my appetite wanes. Eating at four restaurants in an afternoon definitely prevents you from eating barbecue when it tastes best – when you’re actually hungry. Chances are competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi can’t tell you how good that 63rd hot dog was.

2. He ate only brisket at each one
Yes, I’ve got to hand it to him here. Brisket is good at a lot of places throughout Texas now, not just in Lockhart. Austin’s got some killer offerings … Franklin is delicious, as is La Barbecue and, of course, Opie’s out in Spicewood. Even the H-E-B in the Mueller neighborhood is decent. Any one of these places puts out a moist brisket on a given day that will sate your needs for one of Texas’s most famous dishes. And I understand why he decided he needed to compare apples to apples. But the thing is, Lockhart’s restaurants are famous for perfecting items you won’t see on the average barbecue menu, and that makes it really hard to write them off even if you’re an Austinite buying brisket around the corner.
Handmade sausages? Thick pork chops? Smoky, juicy prime rib? Beef ribs the size of your head? Two-meat barbecue sandwiches piled high with sausage and brisket? You won’t find these things on a lot of Austin-area menus, but they’re daily staples at Lockhart’s four, and great reasons for any barbecue aficionado to make the drive. Which leads me to …

3. Who goes to a barbecue
restaurant and just eats brisket?
This thought doesn’t really require much development. All brisket and no sausage or ribs makes Jack a dull boy. Most of us have grown out of the phase where we want chicken tenders for every meal. And I haven’t dined with many people who fixate on just brisket on my numerous trips to barbecue restaurants.

But I’ll grant him this …
All that being said, I think he gets a pass on a few things. Nothing is ever as good as you remember it being when you were a kid. You first experience things when your taste buds are hypersensitive, and almost anything loses its luster after you’ve gotten used to it. He also says nice things about what he felt the restaurants do well. He pointed to Black’s beef ribs, Smitty’s pork chops, Kreuz’s solid brisket and impressive atmosphere. and Chisholm Trail’s all-around value and affordability. At the end of the day, he gets paid to critique, and few critics offer opinions that are 100 percent positive when assigned a story.

Why none of it matters
At the end of the day, Odam’s piece is pretty much like everything else on the Internet. Someone has an opinion, and it differs from yours or mine. It has all the elements of an online posting: a clickbait headline, a polarizing opinion, some quips, and a hastily reached conclusion.
Sort of like this column, really.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Kreuz and Black’s have been in Lockhart forever, and from them, Smitty’s and Lockhart Chisholm Trail were born and the tradition spread. From the Lockhart nucleus, many more have sprouted up throughout Central Texas, and I think one could really argue that they helped set the gold standard for the greater Austin area and beyond.
They’ve been drawing tourists and aficionados for years, and they will continue to do so long after we’ve all left this Earth.
Pages like this and that which Odam’s article was printed on have a great role to play in the world of food, too, though.
They come in really handy at fish markets.

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