Central Texas barbecue became established in the 19th century in central Texas towns such as Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor. These towns were established by Germans and other European groups. In their early periods, the towns had meat markets that served cooked meat on red butcher paper. The tradition continues in many central Texas towns to this day. Griffin Smith, Jr. of Texas Monthly described the name “Central Texas barbecue” as underestimating the territorial extent of the cuisine type. Many barbecue events are held on Saturday, and many establishments are closed on Sunday. Noon is the time when many barbecues are held.
At a central Texas barbecue restaurant, the customer takes a tray. One staff member serves the customer the meat and often also carves it, while another server provides side dishes. Slices of packaged white bread are often included with the barbecue. Barbecue, sold by the pound, often includes beef ribs, brisket, chicken, pork ribs, and sausage. Some establishments serve clod (beef shoulder). The emphasis of the barbecue style is on the meat. If sauce is available, it usually is a side dip. Calvin Trillin, writing in The New Yorker, said that people who discuss central Texas barbecue do not talk about the piquancy of the sauces or the tastes of side dishes such as beans; the discussions tend to center around the quality of the meat. In many restaurants barbecue sandwiches are not served. The customer may take a piece of bread and roll it around the meat or the customer may not use bread and instead use his or her fingers to eat the meat. Some orders may include saltine crackers, onions, jalapeños, and pickles.
Smith explained that a theory of how Central Texas barbecue formed is that the noon meat markets were dominated by the upper classes, who could choose among the highest quality cuts of meat. Because of this they did not have an interest in the sauces. Smith described many sauces in Central Texas barbecue as “bland” compared to the flavor of the meats themselves. The sauce is typically thinner and less sweet that other barbecue sauce, such as the sauce made in the South Texas or Kansas City style which rely heavily on molasses, sugar, and corn syrup to provide thickness and sweetness.
Central Texas was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid 19th century, and they brought with them European-style meat markets, which would smoke leftover cuts of pork and beef, often with high heat, using primarily native oak and pecan. The European settlers did not think of this meat as barbecue, but the Anglo farm workers who bought it started calling it such, and the name stuck. This style is found in the Barbecue Belt southeast of Austin, with Lockhart as its capital.[page needed]
Jayne Clark of the USA Today said in 2010 that the “Texas Barbecue Trail” is a “semi-loop” including Elgin, Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor. All of the communities are within one hours of a drive from Austin from the northeast to the southeast.