The old Kreuz Market was like a one-room chapel. The humble brick building off the courthouse square in Lockhart had turned out divine smoked meat since 1900. But just as churchgoers nowadays worship in larger halls, so too does the visitor to the new Kreuz Market, which opened in 1999 in a gigantic building at the edge of town. (The old building now houses Smitty’s.)
Kreuz (pronounced “Krites”) does 45 percent of its business on Saturday. The rest of the week it feels like some kind of meat monastery. You enter, footsteps ringing out in the vast, vacant space, and head down a long hall to the pit room, over which a thin haze of smoke perpetually hangs. Roy Perez, the pitmaster, who has not taken a day of vacation in 21 years, is likely to be tending the fires. The counterwomen are friendly, but solemnity pervades the transaction. The atmosphere is not convivial—you sit alone in a room, capacity 560, bent quietly over an array of absolutely beautiful meat, with no fork, sauce, or plate to disrupt the communion.
“We do things the hard way,” explained owner Rick Schmidt, who samples his fare at least once a day, usually for breakfast. “We don’t use these auto pits, where you load some sticks in, set your thermometer, and come back in eight or nine hours. What we do takes attention. You’re constantly working the fire, and you need to know how the meat’s supposed to look and smell and sizzle. It’s all feel and sight. We don’t even have a thermometer.”
The product is simple and potent. The brisket’s so smoky you can imagine the tree. Swoon-inducing pork ribs are encrusted with huge chunks of black pepper. The pork chop is submissive and the jalapeño-cheese sausage addictive. A pleasant surprise is the sauerkraut, which goes so well with brisket it ought to be more of a barbecue standby. My only complaint was with the regular sausage, the filling of which was ground so fine it slid out of the casing without much encouragement.
What sets Kreuz Market apart is its maniacal devotion to tradition. Noting the rise in the use of commercial smokers in Texas barbecue, Schmidt told me, “I call those things ‘no-brainer pits.’ What they do is give you consistent mediocrity. It’s easier. But as long as we can find people that want to learn, we’ll keep our way going.”