For over a century, visitors to Kreuz Market in Lockhart knew where the legendary barbecue joint stood on sauce. Open since 1900, the set-in-its-ways Kreuz Market made its “No Forks, No Sauce” message a big part of their image, including a sign that hung under the wall-mounted menu:
No Barbecue Sauce (Nothing to Hide)
No Forks (They are at the End of Your Arm)
No Kidding (See Owner’s Face)
That changed last October in a move so quiet, I just heard about it last week.
When non-Texans try to explain our sauce-reluctant barbecue tradition, they often offer a phrase of clarification: “Some barbecue joints in Texas don’t even offer sauce.” The now-defunct BrisketTown in Brooklyn even used their lack of sauce as a marketing tool that supposedly proved their Texas-style authenticity. The truth is, Texans have had the freedom to be awash in sauce at every barbecue joint in Texas, except for one single hold out—Kreuz Market. Now there’s not even one.
Keith Schmidt, the owner of Kreuz Market, hadn’t anticipated a need for sauce. But when he opened a second location in Bryan in 2015, he learned that diners outside of Lockhart expected sauce (and forks). Within two months of opening the joint in Bryan, they provided plastic forks alongside the knives and spoons, and offered a barbecue sauce made from an old family recipe. But even then, the Kreuz team promised that Lockhart would never offer sauce and forks.
That all changed in October 2017, when the original Kreuz in Lockhart started offering forks and sauce as well. The shift was sparked by the complaints of indignant newcomers. The huge popularity of Texas barbecue brings barbecue fans into Lockhart from all over the world, but some of them don’t understand or much care about our barbecue traditions, including the forkless policy at Kreuz Market. “There were people that had to be asked to leave because they got so irate over not having forks,” Schmidt said. “‘I am not an animal. I am not eating with my hands!’ they’d yell at my staff.” When a vendor showed him a new plastic utensil carousel, with slots for knives, spoons, and forks, he bought a few. “We’re talking about a piece of plastic,” Schmidt said, dismissing the groans of a few regulars who have complained about the new tined utensils.
With the cutlery change, Schmidt had to stop offering the cups and shirts emblazoned with “No Forks, No Sauce,” so he figured he might as well start offering the same barbecue sauce that they’d been serving in Bryan. (Schmidt no longer operates the Kreuz Market location in Bryan, which has an ownership separate from Lockhart.) The old recipe, which came from Schmidt’s grandmother, doesn’t have much sweetness, and contains more Worcestershire sauce and vinegar than ketchup. And it’s not bad—when I covered a pile of sliced brisket with the sauce for a photo-op, I found myself going in for a fourth and fifth bite (fork in hand, of course).
Although Schmidt recognizes the break with tradition, he still takes his stewardship of the Kreuz Market tradition very seriously. The venerable institution has gotten heat recently, when Austin-American Statesman food critic Matthew Odam wrote that Lockhart brisket was overrated and couldn’t compete with the best barbecue joints in Austin. Schmidt said he recognizes the difference in brisket styles between the two cities, but reminded me that “these new places can come in and do whatever they want.” Even if he did prefer Austin’s ultra-tender, slow-smoked brisket to his own hot-and-fast version, he wouldn’t feel comfortable changing how Kreuz cooks a brisket. Regulars get upset about forks and sauce finding their way into the restaurant—imagine if Kreuz Market starting experimenting with their signature smoking methods.
Schmidt maintains that the sauce presence shouldn’t be threatening to any Kreuz Market fundamentalists, as it hasn’t affected the barbecue cooking process. “You don’t have to use it, but it’s there,” he said. Using the sauce is like a protestant attending a Catholic mass: Everyone in the building is at church, but when it comes time to receive the sacraments, the uninitiated can be easily spotted.
The “no sauce, no forks” policy was an important part of the Kreuz Market identity as a meat-market-style barbecue joint, and abandoning those traditions shouldn’t be done lightly. Schmidt has thought carefully about the changes, but for those outside Texas who’ve tried to distill our barbecue style down to a single image, it still might look like for the first 117 years of its 118-year history, Kreuz Market served its traditional barbecue: slices of smoked meat and sausage weighed and stacked on butcher paper, served with pickles and onions, without even a sprinkling of barbecue sauce. Thankfully, there are no credible rumors about plates coming to Kreuz Market anytime soon. If you want that sauce on your barbecue, it’ll soak right through the butcher paper.