Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse
2202 Inwood Rd.
By Matt Norris
There is a certain school of barbeque philosophy that states good barbeque can’t be too comfortable.
After all, any self-respecting pit master is going to have to toil in triple-digit Texas heat, hovering for hours (or days) over a smoldering fire, in a dark carcinogen-filled smokehouse.
Even more so, some of the most famous Texas BBQ joints down around Lockhart, TX don’t even offer utensils. Customers sit at a picnic table with strangers and eat their brisket off a piece of wax paper the way God intended – with their fingers.
And so this “discomfort = great barbeque” school of thought finds it’s mecca in Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse.
With its ancestry dating back 101 years, Sonny Bryan’s is considered something of a tourist destination in a city that otherwise has none.
In its half-century old “dining room,” Sonny Bryan’s takes barbeque discomfort to a new level. This tiny, dusty old room is lined with tiny one-armed junior high school desks for your table.
The regulars, who know exactly how to get in and out of these wretched contraptions without smearing BBQ sauce all over their butts, enjoy the entertainment of watching the tourists fail to do so.
After you place your order at the counter, they call out your initials and serve your meal on a round metal pizza pan. So I grabbed my tray and a used Corona bottle filled with Sonny Bryan’s famous sweet sauce, and proceeded to search for an empty desk. Tray in hand, it felt like my first day at a new school. Uncomfortable.
Then, when I found a seat and put my big round tray on the arm of the desk, I realized there’s no room to squeeze my butt between the sauce-laden food and the shoulder of the rough-looking cowboy sitting next to me.
I studied the situation for a moment and decided to ditch the tray to give myself a few extra inches. I precariously placed my plate of BBQ, sauce bottle, and beer on the tiny arm of the desk before attempting to maneuver my butt into the seat.
The regulars all snickered.
It’s been a couple decades since I’ve attempted to eat at one of these things. Let me tell you, not easy and not pretty. Either these desks are too small or my arms are too long.
One or the other.
After apologizing a few times for accidentally elbowing Wyatt Earp sitting next to me, I said a quick prayer of thanks to God for making me right-handed. I have no clue how a lefty could even contemplate this maneuver.
But I’m happy to report that there is a reason why so many locals and out-of-towners stand in line, under a scorching Texas sun, to endure such indignity.
The barbeque here is the real deal.
Obviously when in Texas, you order brisket.
I like my barbeque tender. So when given the choice between sliced or chopped, I always opt for the latter.
But not in Texas.
Done right – as in slow-smoked for a day or two over hard wood – sliced Texas brisket is as tender as melted butter. There’s no need to get it chopped up.
Now, down around Lockhart, BBQ sauce is as frowned upon as forks and plates. You just don’t need it.
But the warm, aromatic sauce is part of what makes Sonny Bryan’s a Texas legend. So I happily poured a good third of the bottle over my pile of tender sliced cow before I squeezed the two soft buns together and took my first bite.
That’s the best way to describe sinking my teeth through this soft as a pillow, flavor-packed sandwich. BBQ heaven.
Almost as famous as their sauce and brisket, Sonny Bryan’s giant buttermilk onion rings are on practically every customer’s tray. Big, sweet, and juicy, these are among the best rings you’ll ever find.
The ranch style baked beans were decent too, though more savory than sweet.
As I washed it all down with a local Fireman’s #4 Blonde Ale, I decided that a little discomfort and higher dry cleaning bill is a small price to pay to experience one of the true legends of Texas.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt—But My Arms Were Too Long