633 Davis St.
Luling, TX 78648
Open Mon-Sat 7-7
Update: There are many folks around the country that may have just been introduced to the existence of City Market in Luling, Texas earlier this year when Newsweek published their list of the "101 Best Places to Eat" around the world. I myself have joked at the dubious nature of most lists like this one, but as one of only fourteen restaurants in North America to make the list alongside such names as Husk, Daniel and Momofuku, City Market was in good company. I too had sang the praises of this temple of Central Texas style barbecue to anyone that would listen. 'No barbecue trip to Lockhart is complete without a stop in Luling' was my normal line to smoked meat novices on a virgin Central Texas BBQ tour. It's only a fifteen minute drive after all. My first visit was after an early morning drive from San Antonio where a religious experience was had with a breakfast of beef brisket smoked simply over post oak and a link of homemade sausage baptized in a golden sauce. I thought it would always be that good, but it is no longer. One of the mighty in Texas has fallen off a bit, and that sweet memory from years ago was strong enough to cloud my better judgment for a few years.
|Over-trimmed and Under-cooked Brisket|
A visit here earlier this year was when the sad realization manifested itself. The brisket was tough, dry and lacking in smoke and flavor. The ribs took too much effort to clean, and my jaw got quite a workout. The excellent beef link has never wavered, but the pleasure I took in eating the sausage occasionally dipped in sauce heightened the flaws of the other cuts (there are only three smoked meat menu items here). I was eating with my photographer Nick that day who also agreed that this place just wasn't living up to the best we'd been enjoying on the road. I scanned my meat memory bank to recall that two previous visits had also been lackluster, but this was still one of my favorite places (not just barbecue joints) to eat in all of Texas, so I needed to be sure.
|Joe Capello and the Steel Pit|
|Southern Pride on the right just inside the door. Photo by Nicholas McWhirter.|
|Texas Trinity from City Market|
We sat at a table in the side room near the window to let the light in. I wanted it to be good, no, great. I wanted the brisket to sing, but instead it was George Strait on the speakers that cut through the silence of the empty dining room with 'He's got a fool hearted memory." George was right. It was great only in my memory. Tough slices of brisket and tougher ribs were several hours from being done. The brisket slices could not easily be pulled apart, and the visibly unrendered fat along the edges was tough to chew through. They both had the smoke and the ribs got a flavor boost from a restrained sweet glaze. Mind you, this was still good tasting barbecue, but I've come to expect some of the best in the state from this joint. It wasn't.
|Dry Meat and Unrendered Fat|
Leaving a painful amount of meat on the butcher paper, we polished off the links of sausage and purchased a container of the best sauce in Texas. Maybe next time it will be perfect again and all will be right with the Central Texas barbecue world, but probably not.
2010: Showing this joint to a friend for the first time is always fun, but the huge line can be daunting. Luckily we were stuffed, so waiting for a half hour or so wasn't the worst that could have happened.
Once inside the smoking room we were mesmerized by the smell and the view of these huge smokers. One of them was completely full of the popular beef links which helped to create some room in our stomachs. We opted for the minimum order of a link, two slices of brisket and two ribs, then we headed for the hood of our truck.
Not much more can be said about how great the meats are here in Luling. The brisket was perfectly smoky, tender and moist with a great crust and impressive smokering. The ribs had a bit of chewiness, but the flavor was perfect. Seasoning and smoke worked together to bring the best out of these simple spare ribs. The links were juicy with great snap, and plenty of black pepper kick to go with that beefiness. There's a reason I go back to Luling whenever I'm within about an hour of it.
2009: No joint on this blog has been able to capture the coveted sixth star. This requires independent verification from both BBQ Snob and Smokemasterone on consecutive visits that each meat is flawless. Based on my previous visits, I was hoping this might be the first.
Our journey earlier in the day commenced at Snow's in Lexington where we noticed a large group of guys enjoying breakfast alongside our table. When we exited our car outside of City Market, we noticed the same group, so we stopped to talk. It turns out they write for a blog called BBQ Pilgrimage, and they were enjoying a Saturday 'cue tour as well. They were just leaving the joint, and mentioned their slight disappointment at the meat today. Could we be in for disappointment as well?
A huge line at 3:30 heightened the anticipation. I was excited to get back to my table with a pile of brisket, ribs and sausage. The brisket was as good as always. It could have been more tender, but the smoke, flavor, and moistness were excellent. The fatty beef sausage also gave a strong showing. The no-so-moist ribs were the six star downfall. They had been basted too soon before slicing hindering the basting sauce to meld with the meat. A layer of unrendered fat was also present, and the texture was a bit tough. As always, I look forward to finding that true six star joint, and I'd love to bestow it to a place like City Market, but they just didn't have it on this day.
2008: Not to be confused with "Luling City Market" in Houston, this place goes only by "City Market", and it's one-of-a-kind. I've been here twice, so I can verify that the heaps of praise piled on City Market is warranted. My first visit was the finest breakfast I've ever eaten...a ring of sausage, a couple slices of brisket and two ribs. The sausage had good smoky flavor and a nice snap, but it was loosely packed and was heavy on the fat, so the second time, while visiting for the annual Watermelon Thump, I ordered only brisket and ribs. The ribs here are large and meaty with a beautiful crust from the rub that had a touch of black pepper. The fat is well rendered and the flavor was smoky and delicious. I was unable to detect anything to be critical of in these ribs. On the other hand, the brisket was only nearly perfect. There was a great crust with salt and pepper, and the smoke line was generous. The smoke flavor went throughout the meat, and the flavor was excellent. The fat was well rendered, and the fat that was on the few slices I ate was nearly as good as the meat. The only negative, although slight, is that it could have been more tender. I can't wait to go back.
One note about visiting...plan to smell like that sweet smoke all day after you visit. You must traverse through a smoke stained swinging door that separates the dining room from the smokehouse. This is where your order is placed and paid for.