Considered by most to be the wellspring of the art, Lockhart looks like a set piece for a movie about small town life in the 50’s. Everything wraps around a town square which is filled with a western gothic county courthouse. Dress shops, cafes, western wear, hardware store, all locked up tight while owners enjoy salvation and chicken dinners. A quick left turn and we have arrived at the gates of our smoky Xanadu.
Like any true BBQ joint, Smitty’s is really a meat market that has grudgingly installed some picnic tables in an unused room. A two story brick building, the façade does little to herald the savory temptations within; above the porched-over sidewalk a simple, red & white plywood sign dangles from a rusting iron pole stating simply: SMITTY’S barbeque-hot sausages-fresh choice meats.
Once through the front doors the interior provides little guidance to the novice. The rooms are cavernous, their high ceilings lost in the inky darkness of economic lighting and a century of hickory smoke. It is a warren of doors and stairs and hallways leaving us to adhere to the old BBQ adage of “just follow your nose”. Deeper into the belly of the beast and, once away from the front windows, the ambient lighting diminishes even more. Wandering through the makeshift dining room we push open a set of double swinging doors and find ourselves in the sanctum sanctorum, confronted with two lines of shuffling pilgrims moving, inexorably toward the central butcher-block alter.
Divide and conquer. I take my place at the butt end of the line while the others head back into the dining room to choose our “sides”. I find myself one room away from my destination with time to cast an eye around me. The walls harbor long brick boxes, maybe 40 inches high and 20 feet long, with heavy, hinged iron covers flat upon the top. At both ends (and at times uncomfortably close to the line I’m in…) is a very large, very hot bed of coals sending heat and smoke up into the brickwork. Periodically someone in a smoke streaked apron would come by, toss on another large chunk of seasoned hickory in a flurry of sparks and smoke and then, lifting each of the iron lids in turn, poke and prod truly gigantic slabs of meat as they slow cooked in their own succulent juices.
The line breaks as we approach the searing fires; each waiting until space is clear beyond the hotbox but each of us driven now, mesmerized by the redolent splendor. As I draw closer to the source of all that is good I have time to peruse the bare-bones menu board. Everything is sold by the pound (this is, you will recall, a meat market…) Brisket, Fat Pork, Ribs, Bacon or Sausages. Thems your choices.
Finally I arrive at the head of the line; a humble supplicant before the high priestess at the scales. She intones those timeless words, “How ya’ll doin’ today?” and I’m off and running. I want, of course, piles of everything but logic and a recent breakfast prevail and I settle on two pounds of brisket and a pound of pork ribs. She calls my order over her shoulder and an army of drones delve into the finishing smokers that line the room and deftly cleave off my order working glinting knives on a gargantuan chopping block. Using a pair of stainless steel lifters she sweeps up my meatie bits and deposits them on the scale. She feeds the information to the cashier standing next to her (“How ya’ll doin’ today?”) and, as I fork over my money (cash only, no checks or plastic thank you) she quickly wraps all my food in a two foot portion of what must surely be and endless roll of brown butcher paper, and is already focused on the next eager soul.
We take our smoky delights and our sides, stopping briefly at the market for a six-pack of Lone Star, and we hunker down at a picnic table in the city park and make gluttonous fools of ourselves.