Both cities are tucked away in highway stretches of the deep South with less than 25,000 inhabitants each, but both have been named barbecue capitals of their respective states. One takes sauce (or, as the locals call it, "dip") with everything, including the coleslaw; the other considers asking for sauce almost an insult to the integrity of the finely cooked meat. Even if one were to combine the 15 barbecue joints in Lexington, North Carolina, and the mere four in Lockhart, Texas, the sheer numbers wouldn't stand up to Brooklyn. But, guaranteed, the four in Lockhart are better than anything those hipster Northerners could ever dream of; the same goes for Lexington. They're the two Barbecue towns that could, and did, literally 100 years before anyone else did, and inspired the noble art in their respective states.
Truth be told, something like "BBQ Wars" should be beneath them, simply because it's impossible to transcend what has already been uniquely perfect, leaving anything more all up to individual taste. But just for fun, and just because America's love of being #1 has been genetically bequeathed to its smaller moving parts, let's have it out right here: Lexington, North Carolina. Lockhart, Texas. Y'all are up.
Origins: Officially named the Barbecue Capital of Texas by the State Senate in the fall of 2003, Lockhart, located one hour out of Austin, is an anomaly in a world of gourmet cities: there's less than 15,000 people living in Lockhart, but their four major barbecue restaurants are estimated to serve about a quarter of a million people a year.
Signature style: In Lockhart, people don't talk about the sauce or the sides. There's no Meat and Threes, no debate over sauces made with molasses or ketchup; the conversation revolves exclusively around the quality cut and the expertise of the grilling. Tracing roots back to when the Germans settled Lockhart and certain surrounding cities, Lockhart-style barbecue is typically served up in a German meat market style, with nothing but a tray, a large room and meat sold by the pound.
Notable dish: Visitors have to try the brisket first to understand where Lockhart's devotion to flavorful meat without all the embellishment comes from. Another Lockhart favorite is the sausage, which is a controversial choice because there is literally nowhere else in the States that takes pride in their sausages, but this Central Texan classic is a hat-tip to its German ancestry with a charred casing and little bits of cheese and jalapenos embedded into the smoked meat. G'on now. Take a bite of Lockhart's sausage.
And the best BBQ restaurants in Lockhart are:
Something special: A native son of Texas, President Lyndon Johnson had sausages from Black's Barbecue in Lockhart flown into Washington for an event at the Smithsonian Institute. Members of the Secret Service and Department of Agriculture overlooked the preparations and delivery.
Origins: The South has been roasting pig over open pits since the Spanish explorer DeSoto introduced the noble beasts to Florida and Alabama around 1540, but as legend has it, it was first two entrepreneurs in Lexington who started firing up a few pigs in the town square on Saturdays and selling it to the bystanders. Soon, barbecue tents cropped up, and thus the commercial barbecue industry was fired up!
Signature style: Probably the most overtly unique style of barbecue in the United States, Lexington's style revolves primarily around pork shoulder cooked slowly over a hickory fire, based in "dip", and then chopped – never pulled. The dip is entirely the pit master's secret to keep, but invariably it consists of vinegar, ketchup, salt, water and other spices. "Red Slaw" is typically served on the side, which is similar to regular coleslaw except colored with ketchup and vinegar (often the same dip used to coat the meat) rather than mayo.
Notable dish: The Lexington BBQ Sandwich has the signature chopped BBQ (those in the know ask for "extra brown", which means the charred and cooked meats from the edges of the shoulder) in a bun with healthy scoop of slaw. Places will serve hush puppies or fries on the side – it is recommended that the dip is used for those as well.
And the best BBQ restaurants in Lexington are:
Something special: Every year in October, the streets of Lexington fill with the aroma of grilled meats – some 160,000 visitors flood the city after that whiff for their annual Lexington Barbecue Festival, which hosts hundreds of restaurants and vendors from town and around the world.
Barbecue seekers looking for stripped down, quality brisket with none of the fancy stuff from a 100-year-old establishment need only drive an hour out of Austin to find it. Those who make a trip for a spectacle can follow the tendrils of smoke to the sopping red-soaked and meaty sandwiches. One thing is for certain: both cities are at the top of their game, and uniquely specialized in nothing but slow-cooked, charred pigs and cows, and it's a beautiful thing that engages all of the senses. On the southern barbecue trail, neither of them are to be missed.
But, for the sake of America, let's get right down to the bone, the pure, unadulterated art of pure, hot-off-the-grill, unembellished meat and the difficult and hard-won accomplishment of mastering the sausage. Congratulations, Lockhart, you have proven yourself not only the barbecue capital of Texas, but also of our hearts.