Spring 1998
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TCU Magazine "AlumNews"


The 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.

By 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.

Newcomers 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.

And barbecue only.

Owner Rick 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.

"He asked 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.

"He came 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.

"We don't 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."

Kreuz Market 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.

"Lockhart 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 brown.

Rick's father 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.

"Some people 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.

Those restaurants 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.

The way Schmidt the barbecue sage figures, all old tables become antiques at some point.

"People 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."