Grilled Half Cornish Hen
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What: These big ol’ rings of sausage, generally beef or a beef-pork mix and ideally homemade, are often served whole with the string still tied to their ends, from when they dangled above the pit. Sometimes you’ll see flavors added, like cheese and jalapeño, but traditionally this is nothing but snappy, juicy meat.
A note about Central Texas BBQ: This variety of ’cue is attributed to the German and Czech settlers who brought European meat-smoking traditions to the area—primarily to the towns of Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor, each within about an hour’s drive from Austin—in the mid 19th century. The holy trinity of this brand of BBQ is smoked brisket, sausage, and pork ribs; these meats (among others) will be offered everywhere. Only a local—or someone else with frequent and easy access—is likely to go from joint to joint and not giddily order all three of these meats. (Thankfully, meat is sold by the pound here, so you can ask for as much or as little as you want, making it ideal for grazing at multiple places.) Rather than lump these meats all together, we are listing them individually so that we may spread the love among multiple worthy BBQ spots.
Where: One of the Lockhart favorites—30 miles south of Austin—Smitty’s Market (208 S. Commerce St. map) has earned a reputation for its awesome sausage, among other fine meats. Enter through the back door; order in the big, smoky, log-burning brick pits; and carry your butcher-paper-covered tray into the brightly lit dining room, where you can pick up drinks, accompaniments, and side dishes (cheese, pickles, avocado, beans, cole slaw, potato salad, etc.) before finding space at one of the long communal tables. Sauce is available on the side, and no forks are provided—only knives and spoons.
When: Mon-Fri, 7am-6pm; Sat, 7am-6:30pm; Sun, 9am-3pm. Cash only.
Order: A couple of spectacularly juicy “hot rings” ($1.95 each), which are an 85-15 beef-pork mix. The plump links, glistening with oil on the outside, have a snappy casing and meaty, somewhat peppery flavor. The standard accompaniment of white bread and pickles makes for a deliciously oil-soaking sandwich with this sausage, if that’s your thing; you might also throw on some cheddar cheese and jalapeño. And you might as well get some fatty brisket and pork ribs (the latter are available here weekends only). You are in Lockhart, after all.
Alternatively: Nearby Kreuz Market (619 N. Colorado St., map) also does great homemade beef-and-pork sausages, including a popular jalapeño-cheese variety; jalapeño (beef) sausage is likewise a big draw at Louie Mueller Barbecue (206 W. 2nd St., map) in Taylor, about 38 miles northeast of Austin, should you be headed in that direction. Or, from Lockhart, drive another 15 miles south to Luling for a taste of the succulent, coarse-ground homemade beef sausage rings at City Market (830-875-9019; 633 E. Davis St., map), where, despite what purists may say, you’ll want to use some of the delicious house BBQ sauce provided on the tables.
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