Lockhart is synonymous with barbecue, so much so that it’s been dubbed the Barbecue Capital of Texas. As a result, every year, people make a pilgrimage to indulge in the holy trinity of meat perfection, otherwise known as Black’s, Smitty’s, and Kreuz.
This small Texas town of 12,000, located just 30 minutes south of Austin in Caldwell County, has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a cowboy town along the Chisholm Trail. Lockhart is even starting to expand past its reputation as The Lone Star State’s ultimate barbecue destination–though that reputation is still firmly in place.
The “city with a vision” has become a home for breweries, musicians looking to escape Austin’s skyrocketing prices, and big city-esque establishments. You should expect to linger longer when you explore downtown because there’s much more than barbecue waiting to be discovered.
Thank you to Ellison House and various other businesses featured in this article for hosting me at no charge. All opinions are my own.
What to See in Lockhart
Indulge in the great outdoors, shopping, and Caldwell County’s rich history by visiting the points of interest below.
Caldwell County Courthouse
“Lockhart was an old cowboy town—a rough cowboy town,” Taylor Burge, co-owner of Chaparral Coffee, told me over lunch. Take a glance at the town’s history and you’ll agree.
While assistant surveyor Byrd Lockhart was the first to step on Lockhart soil, Caldwell County was founded in 1848 and named for Indian fightin’ and Texas Declaration of Independence signin’ Mathew Caldwell.
Throughout the years, both Lockhart and the surrounding county have weathered Comanche raids and cattle drives, housed Confederate soldiers, and formed part of the Independence and Chisholm trails.
There’s no doubt that if the beautiful red Pecos sandstone-trimmed walls of the courthouse could talk, they’d have a lot to say. So when you’re in town, don’t miss the opportunity to stroll the courthouse’s gorgeous grounds and pop inside to marvel at the architecture.
You may even catch a glimpse of the bullet holes on the second floor where Sheriff John Henry Franks and Lockhart City Marshall John L. Smith had their infamous shootout on Feb. 19, 1915.
110 S. Main St. – Website
Caldwell County Jail Museum
On East Market Street, there’s a towering five-story red brick building that was built in 1908. No, the Norman style castellated building didn’t house any wealthy residents, only the area’s inmates until 1983.
Today, the historical jail has been turned into a museum. Visitors can see the cells on the second, third, and fourth floors, as well as donated artifacts representing the county’s history.
314 E. Market St. – Website
Dr. Eugene Clark Library
While you’re in town, don’t miss seeing the oldest operating library in Texas. Built in 1899, Lockhart’s library was funded by Eugene Clark, a doctor native to New Orleans. Dr. Clark practiced in Lockhart for 13 years before moving to San Antonio and becoming ill. On his deathbed, he left $10,000 to the city of Lockhart to construct the library.
Walk through the doors to gawk at the breathtaking floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows; browse the books; or climb the red spiral staircase to catch a glimpse of Irving Club, the second oldest Women’s Federated Club in Texas (staff permitting). The club was founded in 1886 as a place for woman writers to meet regularly. Some of the original furnishings from Feb. 20, 1900, still occupy the room today.
217 S. Main St. – Website
Lockhart State Park
Swim, golf, hike, or camp at this 263.7-acre state park on the outskirts of town that was created in the 1930s. Clear Fork Creek snakes along several of the park’s hiking trails, allowing visitors to take in scenic views as well as wildlife.
2012 State Park Road – Website
Where to Shop in Lockhart
In addition to numerous antique and upscale vintage stores, you’ll find several boutiques and clothing stores on the square. While you make your own discoveries, don’t miss the following local businesses.
- Inta Mint Lockhart: Are you into the color mint, or just want to shop intimate apparel? Follow the green-hued staircase down to shop for loungewear and more.
- Take Care Apothecary: This purveyor of natural and organic soaps, incense, and home goods has everything for taking care of number one. Stop in to see for yourself.
- Rollfast Ranchwear: Ben Sparks (of Western Swing band The Rollfast Ramblers) and his wife Jen are selling Made in the U.S.A. western- and vintage-inspired clothing. Their funky little shop has a 1940s feel.
Where to Eat and Drink in Lockhart
You can’t visit the Barbecue Capital of Texas without indulging, so look to the places below to get your carnivorous fix. But while you’re at it, don’t miss the opportunity to dine at the other culinary gems in town.
The Original Black’s Barbecue
Although there’s now a location in Austin off the Drag, The Original Black’s Barbecue has called Lockhart home since 1932. Ownership has spanned four generations, making this barbecue joint the oldest in Texas owned by the same family.
Black’s offers nine different types of meat, including brisket, pork spare ribs, smoked turkey breast, chopped brisket, beef and pork ribs, chicken, and chopped pork. The restaurant also offers a plethora of tasty sides to accompany the meat of your choosing. In my opinion, the sides are what distinguish this barbecue purveyor from the competition, so don’t skip ’em.
215 N. Main St. – Website
Over a cocktail, I was told the coals in Smitty’s barbecue pit have been burning for 100 years. But Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt’s grandson, John Fullilove, was quick to put that fire out. “That’s my competition’s claim,” he told Williams Sonoma, referring t0 Kreuz Market. But the truth is still impressive. Fullilove says Smitty’s coals have been “burning for 20 to 30 years for sure without relighting.”
Barbecue has been smoked and sold under the Smitty name since 1948. Head into the smoky, expansive building on the square to get your hands on brisket, prime rib, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and some of the best sausages in town. Texas Monthly has called this place one of the Top Barbecue Restaurants in Texas.
208 S. Commerce St. – Website
At Kreuz Market, ribs and sausages are served on butcher paper with “no sauce and no forks.” And you will be reminded of this many times as you make your way through the line, so consider this your forewarning and don’t ask. Eating by hand was the way Charles Kreuz Sr. did things back in 1900 when he opened his grocery store and market. His successors intend to keep the tradition going.
And that’s not the only one of his grandfather’s traditions that Keith Schmidt is keeping alive. As you may recall from above, Kreuz claims on its website: “the building’s new but the fire in the brick pits is the same that’s been burnin’ for 100 years. Pit Master Roy Perez and Lehman Schmidt drug the burning coals a quarter mile from the original location to make sure of it.”
Chew that one over, as you savor ribs, turkey, brisket, and pork. And don’t forget to try the German-inspired sides like potato salad and sauerkraut—you won’t find them anywhere else.
619 N. Colorado St. – Website
Lockhart only has one coffee shop. Fortunately, Chaparral is doing things so right that I can’t imagine needing another one.
Husband and wife duo, Austin and Taylor Burge, are serving coffee, tea, beer, and wine with a smile. Did I mention the out-of-this-world Love & Lattice homemade pop tarts? Stop in, grab a drink, and indulge in said pastries as you take in a picturesque view of the courthouse.
106 E. Market St. – Website
Loop & Lil’s Pizza
“Oldest best friend owned pizzeria in Lockhart, Tx” is what Loop & Lil’s website comically boasts. That’s because a group of pals from Austin (Chris Hoyt, Layne Tanner, Richard and Miranda Platt) got together and opened the family-style pizzeria in June 2015.
Since then, the quartet has been slinging pies with freshly-made dough and carefully-selected cheeses. Platt is a former Whole Foods employee and takes ingredient quality seriously.
This pizzeria also serves hot sandwiches, desserts, and fresh salads, along with a rotating selection of Texas craft beer on draft.
107 N. Main St. – Website
For 78 years, there has been a bar in the 122-year-old building The Pearl now occupies, making it the oldest bar in Lockhart. The Pearl, whose name was inspired by the owner’s father who worked at The Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, opened its doors in 2016 as a place to “enjoy cold beer, spirits, and lively conversation.” Since then, it has gone on to be voted Best Bar in Lockhart for two consecutive years. It also won Best Cocktails and Best Bartender in 2018.
Fill a seat and order a beer, glass of wine, or expertly-crafted cocktail such as the Franks Manhattan that was named after the same Sheriff John Henry Franks who met his demise at the courthouse.
619 N. Colorado St. – Website
Extend Your Stay at Ellison House
Didn’t get enough of Lockhart’s exquisite cuisine and small town charm? Then turn your day trip into a weekend thing by booking the Ellison House. This picturesque boutique boarding house, only blocks away from historical downtown Lockhart, is the perfect choice whether you’re looking for a single room or whole house rental option.
Ellison House was originally built in the 1860s by James F. Ellison for his family, and went on to house several well-to-do families throughout the decades. It’s been restored to all of its former glory, exuding a modern farmhouse vibe that can only be described as a 360-degree visually stunning experience.
Guests looking for a unique lodging arrangement can choose from four spacious rooms: The Colonel’s Retreat, The Temple Room, Ellison’s Library, or The Proprietor’s Quarter. Each room has a keyless entry system and includes access to a shared living room and giant kitchen, plus secluded porches and patios. With such beautiful and tranquil accommodations, Ellison House might make you consider a permanent switch to small town life.
434 N. Blanco St. – Website
Here are a few other attractions and places you may find interesting while you’re in Lockhart.
- Chisholm Trail Roundup: Every second weekend in June, Lockhart celebrates its Chisholm Trail history with a rodeo and music festival. It’s fun for the whole family.
- First Friday: Every first Friday of the month is an opportunity to support local business. Participating merchants are open from 5-8 p.m. for your shopping pleasure.
- Sip and Stroll: Drink, chow, wander, and trailblaze at this annual mini-festival hosted by the Downtown Business Association. One ticket entitles you to a total of 10 beer and wine tastings at participating businesses stationed throughout town. Tickets raise funds to promote and beautify the community.
- Lockhart Bistro: Don your fancy pants to dine at this upscale diner that offers appetizers, main courses, and 20 craft beers on tap.
- Arts & Craft: Take a class, enjoy a game night, or browse the photo gallery while sipping your favorite adult beverage. This business is a bar, art studio, and community center all in one.
@dollarsaenz wants to know:
What’s your favorite thing to do in Lockhart, Texas?
The original version of this article was published Aug. 16, 2016.