It’s been the same for years. At Kreuz Market in Lockhart, you enter from the dirt parking lot through the hellishly hot pit area in the rear. If the line is long enough—and the line at Kreuz is seldom short—the exposed post-oak-wood fire at the end of the pit may lick at your feet for a few minutes before you move up. You order from a wall menu that lists beef shoulder (95 percent lean), brisket (a little fattier), prime ribs, pork loin, and sausage (85 percent beef and 15 percent pork). The meat is served on butcher paper, with white bread and/or saltines and a plastic knife. No fork. You enter the tall, spartan, smoke-varnished main dining area and get your drink and maybe a condiment or two, such as tomatoes, avocado, jalapeños, pickles, or onions. No sides. No sauce. Then you sit at a long table with everybody else and eat with your fingers.
Some people find this appalling, but many think Kreuz’s tender, deeply smoky barbecue is the best in Texas, and therefore the world. “We like to say we don’t use sauce because we have nothing to hide,” says owner Rick Schmidt, chuckling. “We like the flavor of our meat.”
Schmidt represents only the second family to own this place, which has been in operation at least since 1900. It was launched as a grocery store and meat market by Charles Kreuz (rhymes with “brights”). Like many Czechs and Germans in Central Texas, he slowly smoke-cooked leftover tough cuts (like brisket) on weekends. This not only kept the meat from spoiling but also converted it into something tender and flavorful. His three sons took over when he retired, and in 1948, Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt, Rick’s father, bought it after having worked there for thirteen years. In 1984 he sold the business to his sons Don, who retired last year, and Rick.
“Some people seem disappointed,” Rick concedes. “They say, ‘How can it be barbecue without beans and potato salad and sauce?’ We just tell ’em this place was here before all that came along. We don’t do chicken or ribs because those are only good if you eat ’em right when they’re done; if you have to hold the meat on the pit, that’s when you need barbecue sauce to hide that it’s dried out.” And nothing at Kreuz is dried out. Ever.
Kreuz Market, 208 South Commerce, Lockhart, 512-398-2361. Brisket $6.90 a pound. Beer. Rating: 5. Checks accepted, no credit cards. Open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday till 6:30. JM