best barbecue in Texas (and therefore the world some would say) is done
up daily by Rick Schmidt '69. But don't dare ask for sauce.
David Van Meter
JUST OFF THE MAIN stretch through Lockhart, a wide spot southwest of Austin,
dawn spills bright on an ancient soot-stained chimney with the letters
KREUZ descending down the bricks.
often mistake the place for a radio station, but for those who have been
moseying in to Kreuz Market (pronounced "krites") for the past 98 years
and waddling out nursing a toothpick, the only golden oldie here is barbecue.
Schmidt '69 explains his just-meat menu best through one patron who was
dismayed to receive his smoked beef on simple butcher paper, its edges
twisted to serve as handles.
for a plate, and we told him we didn't have plates," Schmidt said. Then
the customer discovered Kreuz Market didn't offer forks or knives, either.
And no blasted potato salad or beans.
up to me and said, 'How can you serve barbecue without potato salad and
beans?' I told him, 'Well, we don't serve potato salad and beans because
we don't have any knives or forks to eat 'em with.' "That's the running
joke around Kreuz Market, but it's also the truth. And side dishes aside,
The New York Times and Texas Monthly still say the place consistently
puts out the best smoked beef anywhere. And the other truth is, long before
the first customer pulls into the market's gravel parking lot, Schmidt
is making sure that his customers -- once they understand they've been
eating barbecue wrong their entire lives -- will gladly dine with their
bare hands, with only a slice of bread or crackers and slices of tomato,
onion or avocado to go with their main course.
even know how to make barbecue sauce," admits Schmidt, a former TCU baseball
pitcher, "so when they ask for it, we tell them we don't serve sauce because
we don't have anything to hide."
hasn't hid much because it hasn't changed much, at least not during the
50 years it has been in the Schmidt family. Rick's father "Smitty" first
bought the place in 1948 after working there for 13 years; then, it was
a full-service grocery and meat market that smoked meat only because tough
cuts like brisket wouldn't sell otherwise. Young Rick helped his father
behind the counter.
was a wilder place back then," recalled Rick; his first task on Monday
mornings was to throw a bucket of water over dried blood on the sidewalk
in front of the market, where Saturday night fisticuffs were common. And
the "For Whites Only" sign that governed all but one table came down long
ago. But the dusty, decades-old Pearl beer bottles still sit on the shelves,
the upper walls and ceiling have turned a comfortable, prop-your-feet-up-and-stay-a-while
abandoned the grocery operation in the '60s and later sold the market
to Rick (formerly an institutional food salesman) and his brother Don
'62 in 1984. Don retired last January and Rick's two sons and coworkers,
Keith (a marine biologist grad) and Leeman (computer science grad), will
likely take over when Dad hangs up his carving knife to enjoy his golden
years with his wife Evelyn.
But at 51,
Schmidt doesn't plan on retiring any time soon. In a clean white shirt,
starched khakis and boots blackened by beef juice and 10-hour workdays
six days a week, Schmidt gently kicks a log on the smoldering post oak
fire that feeds the market's ancient L-shaped brick pit smoker. A few
wayward embers skitter across the concrete floor as a rejuvenated column
of oak smoke is sucked into the smoker by natural air flow, merely the
first requirement for great barbecue.
use mesquite," Schmidt said, "but to me, it makes the barbecue taste like
burned tires or something." The best beef you can buy is another must.
Rubbed with salt and pepper. And time to cook, the meat watched by eye
and turned by hand. Kreuz Market, surprisingly, smokes its beef shoulder
in about four hours. Two other restaurants in town, Black's and Chisholm
Trail, take 24 and 10 hours, respectively.
are worth mentioning: along with Kreuz, the three are known as the "Lockhart
Three," amiably competing for the town's and state's barbecue title. Kreuz
is the only one that doesn't serve side items. And it probably never will,
if only because it never has.
Schmidt the barbecue sage figures, all old tables become antiques at some
were after my dad all the time back in the '50s and '60s to remodel this
or that. And sometimes I think about changing things or adding things
to the menu, but in the morning I always change my mind. "We just do the
only thing we know how to do. . . and that's quality barbecue."