The Soul of a Pitmaster

For a quarter century, Roy Perez has been tending the fires and smoking the meats at Kreuz Market, without ever taking a single vacation. His distinctive look has made him an icon of Texas barbecue, the subject of many thousands of photos with fans and customers. So who is the man behind the muttonchops?
Photograph by Leann Mueller

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Kreuz Market is the most famous name in the most famous barbecue city in Texas.  

Founded in 1900, it has for decades been an exemplar of the classic German meat-market style of Texas barbecue and one of the first places mentioned in any list of the state’s best joints. Since 1987, its legendary pits have been watched over by Roy Perez, a Lockhart native who has become perhaps the most recognizable face in Texas barbecue. With his signature muttonchops, rolled-up sleeves, and customary scowl, Perez has been the subject of thousands of photographs over the years.

Much of that has to do with the history of the fires he tends, the coals of which have been burning, according to Kreuz, for more than a century. In 1999 the restaurant’s owner, Rick Schmidt, was forced to move the business from its longtime home near the courthouse. He built a brand-new restaurant on an empty lot half a mile north, but rather than start a fire from scratch at the new Kreuz, Perez and Rick’s sons Keith and Leeman took a bucket filled with coals from the original pits. That fire is going strong fourteen years later. Keith now owns the place, and Roy is still happily posing for his adoring fans.

The barbecue methods haven’t changed much at Kreuz either. Although low-and-slow is de rigueur among the younger pitmasters of the blossoming barbecue scene in nearby Austin, Kreuz has always cooked it hot. Really hot. Perez’s fires routinely get into

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