Matthew Odam is the food critic for the Austin American-Statesman. His focus is usually on Austin proper, but he is known to venture out for some restaurant exploration, especially for barbecue.
Odam recently published a piece titled “Up in smoke: Legendary Lockhart barbecue is overrated,” which has understandably made a few waves since it went up last month.
Odam claims he didn’t know the kind of hornet’s nest he was getting into in Lockhart, the barbecue capital of Texas, when he called out the local barbecue joints. The aim of the trip had been to rank the brisket at the four barbecue joints in town, but he was struck by how poorly he thought the smoked beef compared to what he was used to in Austin. I think his first mistake was not explaining that Lockhart cooks a different style of barbecue than Austin, not to mention that I’d give Lockhart’s barbecue prize to the smoked beef sausages hand-tied at each joint.
After the article went live, the Lockhart mayor and the chamber of commerce both sent letters, and the local paper even dedicated a surprisingly conciliatory editorial to Odam’s brisket opinions. Roy Perez, pitmaster at Lockhart’s Kreuz Market and a Texas barbecue icon, shared his opinion as well:
For 31 years I’ve been manning these pits and for 31 years the line on weekends has been out the door and still continues to do so. When the time comes and that line is no longer there I’ll be the first one to hang my apron bury my knives in the ground and walk into the sunset with my head held high for the work WE’VE done for this bbq world.
I sat down with Matthew Odam at the Texas Monthly studios to discuss why he thinks Lockhart’s brisket is “overrated,” as the story’s headline reads; what innovations (sauce and forks, anyone?) would mean for these historic Texas barbecue joints; and what other reactions Odam has seen since the piece published.