Wasn’t it Socrates who once said that Barbeque is the highest art form which a cook can aspire to? Or is that why the Golden Age ended – they lost the secrets of marinating brisket properly? Somehow, passed down from generation to generation and from the old world to the new, the deepest secrets of smoking meat to perfection have been preserved by the Schmidt family and put on display at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas.
Lockhart is the Mecca of Texas Barbeque, largely because of Kreuz Market and its cousin Smitty’s Market. The original Kreuz Market began selling Barbeque out of the back room of the butcher shop and market when the Schmidt family took over the store from the Kreuzes in 1948. Pretty soon their exceptional smoked meats became the main focus of the business. After 99 years in the same location, Kreuz’s ended up moving to a new location on the Austin-Lockhart road because of a family squabble over who would control the market. Part of the family stayed behind and launched Smitty’s Market in the original Kreuz’s location and Rick Schmidt built a literal palace of Barbeque to continue the Kreuz Market tradition.
Both the new Kreuz’s and Smitty’s have the same basic meat recipes and the same general style of presenting their offerings, but they’ve added small variations to their menus since they split up, while keeping the essentials the same. For example you won’t find German Potatoes or Sauerkraut at Smitty’s, but they’re open on Sundays – trying a bit harder since they didn’t get to keep the name – and they’ve made some small changes in how they cook some of the meats. Both are excellent, but there are just enough differences to distinguish them from each other. Look for a full review of Smitty’s soon. The new Kreuz’s is literally a barbeque palace, with enormous pits modeled on the brick monstrosities at the old location but three times the size, and with two dining halls big enough to function as a convention center. There are two cutting blocks and two condiment bars so there’s not much of a problem with lines even at prime times. It’s the biggest barbeque restaurant I’ve ever seen, easily large enough to accomodate 800 diners.
The focus at Kreuz’s is on their exceptional smoked meats. There’s no Barbeque sauce on the meat or on the table – good Barbeque doesn’t need sauce to hide imperfections in the flavor. All they offer to add to the meat is chili sauce and a tasty homemade salt and pepper mix similar to their meat rub. There are no ‘plates’ like you might find in a more common barbeque ‘restaurant’. You buy the meat straight from the cutting block infront of the blazing brick pits and you buy it by the pound, served on butcher paper with squares of butcher paper for plates. It’s a messy experience and you’re expected to eat with your fingers. Fortunately there are plenty of paper towels at every table.
The condiments and drinks are sold at a separate counter and include slabs of cheddar cheese, pickles, avocado, tomato, chips and the recently added sauerkraut and german potatoes. The condiments counter also has drinks (including beer) and also Blue Bell ice cream and cookies for desert. Around the corner you can buy sausage to take away. Unlike Smitty’s they no longer have a full butcher shop.
The selection of meats covers the basics with some unusual items as well. There are three kinds of beef – traditional fatty briskit and leaner shoulder meat plus the much more unusual smoked prime rib. For pork there are ribs, pork chops and boneless ham. And finally there are two types of sausage, their traditional peppery looped links and the newly added jalapeno cheese variant. While I appreciate their desire to innovate, there’s no way on earth I’m going to eat a jalapeno cheese sausage, not even for a review. In addition to selling the hot meats they also offer cooked and uncooked sausage to take home individually or in large packs. They also ship their meats and sausage to barbeque lovers everywhere.
Everything Kreuz’s serves is good, but some items stand out as exceptional. On the whole their beef offerings are quite nice, with a tasty rub and good quality meat. The shoulder is really too lean, and even their brisket is less fatty than most, but has good flavor. Of the three beef selections the prime rib is the one which stands out as better than the rest, but accross the board Kreuz’s beef suffers from being a bit too dry and not terribly tender. It’s good, but it’s not great. Their pork, on the other hand, is simply brilliant. The ham is the weak point, a bit dry and not terribly interesting, but I have to admit to not really being a fan of ham in the first place. The ribs are delicious, tender with a tasty rub and lots of meat. But the real standout of the pork items are the pork chops, huge loin chops with lots of spicy crust and the bone still in to give you something to hold onto. They’re what I would call a Llano chop, because they are in the style of the chops which distinguish the barbeque of that hill country town. Most barbeque joints offer a very dry, relatively flavorless, boneless, trimmed pork loin which really has nothing to recommend it. Kreuz’s chops are the same cut of meat, but presented in a way which preserves flavor and tenderness that’s impossible to resist. Order end chops if they have them available. You get even more of the great peppery crust. And of course, the thing which makes Kreuz’s legendary worldwide is their sausage. It’s what defines the Lockhart style of sausage, a stand-alone link which is looped and tied to itself instead of tied to other sausages. It’s filled with coarse-ground pork and seasonings, especially lots and lots of fresh ground black pepper. There’s no other sausage like this. With black pepper replacing more common flavorings it has a unique taste which is really exceptional.
Kreuz Market offers all their best items by mailorder through their website, including the inevitable commemorative items like hats and shirts. You can order pork chops, ribs, sausage and their beef selections, pre-cooked and shipped overnight ready for reheating. The sausage actually tastes even better reheated a few days later. There’s a reason why Rick Schmidt could afford to give up the old location and build this enormous barbeque palace. Kreuz’s is arguably the best barbeque in the world and they know it, and have seen it confirmed by the success of their mailorder business. Most barbeque places are doing great if they have one item on the menu which can stand on its own without sauce and truly tastes great, or several items which have good, solid taste. Kreuz’s boasts exceptional chops, pork ribs and truly marvelous sausage, and none of their other items is less than good in its own right. If you can’t get to Lockhart, order some Kreuz sausage right now and you won’t be disappointed.
Copyright 2005, Dave Nalle – from his forthcoming book Central Texas Barbeque and BeyondPowered by Sidelines