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TVWB Central Texas Barbecue Crawl:
Where To Go, What To Eat, And Tips For Planning Your Own Trip

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Friday, October 16, 2015
Barbecue Crawl Day 2: Smitty's Market, Black's Barbecue, Kreuz Market, City Market

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Smitty's Market, Black's Barbecue, and Kreuz Market (pronounced "Krites") are some of the oldest and most famous barbecue establishments in Central Texas and are located within a few blocks of one another in Lockhart, Texas, about 35 miles south of Austin. City Market is another 15 miles south of Lockhart in Luling (pronounced "Lou-ling"). So it makes sense to visit all four restaurants in a single trip, but it makes for a challenging day because it's a lot of barbecue to sample.

As we entered Lockhart on US-183, we passed the Barbecue Capital of Texas sign, the towering barn-like Kreuz Market, and several signs for Black's Barbecue on our way to our first stop, Smitty's Market. Smitty's is part of a barbecue tradition dating back to 1900, when Charles Kreuz Sr. opened Kreuz Market, a grocery store and meat market that sold barbecued meats and sausage smoked in brick pits. It was located in a building that no longer exists on the current property. By 1924, Kreuz and his brother sold a share of the business to a relative and together the three built the building we know today so that people could dine indoors.

In 1948, Kreuz sold the business to Edgar A. "Smitty" Schmidt, an employee working for Kreuz since 1936. Schmidt continued to operate the business as Kreuz Market, but eventually closed the grocery store in the 1960s as modern supermarkets came on the scene and focused his attention on just the barbecue business.

In 1984, Schmidt sold the business to his sons Rick and Don but leased the building to them. Rick assumed he and his brother would be negotiating future leases with their father, but in 1990 Edgar died and left the building in his will to daughter Nina Sells (pronounced "Nine-uh"). Co-owner Don retired in 1997, leaving Rick as the sole owner of the business and Nina owning the building.

Over the next two years, what was characterized in the local media as a family feud broke out between Rick and Nina over the future terms of the building lease. In 1999, the family disagreement culminated with the brother and sister parting ways. Nina kept the building and started a new barbecue business called Smitty's Market, named after her father. Rick took the Kreuz Market brand and business a few blocks north to a new, modern facility built to look old and featuring the same type of brick pits, but with much greater seating capacity. Rick also took legendary pitmaster Roy Perez with him. There are some interesting photos of Roy Perez, Lehman Schmidt and Keith Schmidt (Rick's sons) dragging a wash tub of hot coals down the street from the old downtown location to light the pits at the new restaurant. Here's one of them:

Roy Perez and Lehman Schmidt dragging hot coals to the new Kreuz Market - August 30, 1999
Roy Perez and Lehman Schmidt dragging hot coals to the new Kreuz Market,
August 30, 1999

What To Expect At Smitty's Market

Smitty's Market sign and parking log
Photo 1
View of Smitty's Market from parking lot
Photo 2
Back entrance to Smitty's Market
Photo 3
Pit room with wood fire burning on floor next to pit
Photo 4
View of the pit room and meat cutter
Photo 5
View of the pit room and butcher block
Photo 6
Open fire at end of pit and sawdust covered floors
Photo 7
Working one of the pits in the back room
Photo 8
Spareribs going into the pit
Photo 9
View of the main dining room
Photo 10
View of the sides and drink counter
Photo 11
View from behind the sides and drinks counter
Photo 12
     

At the time of writing, Smitty's Market is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm, and Sunday from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. While the dining room faces onto S. Commerce St., many customers park in the gravel parking lot behind the building on S. Colorado St. (US-183) and enter the pit room through the back door. Smitty's accepts cash only and an ATM is available.

Arrive on a weekday for lunch at 11:00 am and the line may start just outside the back door, but it moves quickly and you'll be placing your order within 10-15 minutes. Step through the back door into the narrow hallway and you'll feel the heat radiating from the pit room...you're stepping back in time to a barbecue experience the likes of which you've never seen before.

When the line reaches the pit room, you'll enter a large space with high ceilings, the walls stained black, with some areas covered with a thick layer of soot and dust built-up after decades of live fire. You'll feel the intense heat of an open wood fire on the floor to your right, the heat being drawn into one of several brick pits in the room.

The line terminates at a cash register where you place and pay for your meat order. The meat cutter stands at a massive carving table behind the register, the concrete floor covered with a thin layer of sawdust. He cuts your meat to order, places it on butcher paper, and passes it to the cashier who adds a portion of saltine crackers and/or white bread and twists the ends of the paper to make a neat bundle.

With meat paid for, you'll move into the separate air-conditioned dining room where you purchase side dishes, dessert, and drinks. Sides include house-made beans, cole slaw and potato salad. Make sure to grab some pickles, onions, and maybe a tomato, an avocado, or a chunk of mild cheddar cheese (these are a throwback to Smitty's grocery store tradition). The soft drinks of choice are RC Cola and Big Red; iced tea, lemonade, and a selection of domestic and premium beers are also available.

Seating is metal folding chairs at long shared tables, and a new room adjacent to the original dining room is available for overflow dining on the busiest days. Smitty's does not provide forks, but does offer plastic spoons for the sides and plastic knives to cut the meat. You're expected to eat with your hands, so just grab a stack of napkins and go for it. A barbecue sauce is available, just ask for it at the counter where you order the sides. Texas Pete brand hot sauce and a salt/pepper/cayenne dry spice mix are available at the table.

What To Eat At Smitty's Market

Our bundle of meat, bread and crackers wrapped in butcher paper
Photo 13
Our order of brisket, beef shoulder, sausage and pork spareribs
Photo 14
Pork sparerib at Smitty's Market
Photo 15

Smitty's sells lean beef shoulder and fatty brisket. You'll want to try some of each, but we found the shoulder dry and the brisket to be the better choice. Buy one of the original or jalapeño beef sausages, depending on your taste. It's quite greasy but pretty tasty, a coarse grind seasoned with only salt, black pepper, and red pepper.

We tried a couple of pork spareribs and liked the flavor, but they were a bit dry. Some of that barbecue sauce available at the counter might have helped, but we neglected to ask for some. Other meats include pork chops, prime rib, and turkey breast, but we didn't try these because we had to pace ourselves for the remaining three stops on our agenda.

In retrospect, Smitty's had the least impressive barbecue of our Central Texas barbecue crawl. This is borne out by the fact that the restaurant dropped off the 2013 Texas Monthly 50 Best BBQ Joints list while it had previously been on the 2008 list. But no trip to Lockhart would be complete without a visit to Smitty's Market because of the history and tradition of the place, and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Touring Smitty's And Nearby Courthouse

Chris Allingham with Smitty's Market owner Nina Sells
Photo 16
Talking with Nina in the back hallway
Photo 17
Smitty's office door
Photo 18
Office sign on door
Photo 19
Nina Sells sitting in back hallway
Photo 20
Smoke stained walls in back hallway
Photo 21
Backroom storage and defunct prep area
Photo 22
Open wood fire drafts into a backroom pit
Photo 23
Display case containing old photos
Photo 24
Behind the counter at Smitty's fresh meat market
Photo 25
Old butcher block table in fresh meat market
Photo 26
Sign and business cards in fresh meat market
Photo 27
Steamy view into sausage prep room
Photo 28
Employee standing next to dedicated sausage pit in backroom
Photo 29
View into dedicated sausage pit in backroom
Photo 30
Closed sign on door of new overflow dining room
Photo 31
Getting a tour of the new overflow dining room
Photo 32
Old wooden floors in overflow dining room
Photo 33
Plaster and exposed brick in overflow dining room
Photo 34
Have a Great Day sign in overflow dining room
Photo 35
Nina Sells leans on counter and tells us about new overflow dining room
Photo 36
View of the Smitty's Market wood pile
Photo 37
Close-up view of wood pile
Photo 38
Stack of empty bottles behind Smitty's Market
Photo 39
 

After we finished sampling the barbecue, we walked around the back areas of the building and spotted owner Nina Sells in her office. I introduced myself and struck up a conversation with her. She was so gracious with her time; she showed us the sausage prep room, the dedicated sausage smoker, and the old fresh meat market and butchering area. She also took us into a building next to the existing dining room that was being remodeled as an overflow dining room. We really got a sense of the history of the place and the pressure she feels to keep the business thriving and the family legacy alive.

Before you leave Smitty's, take a walk around the outside of the building and snap a few photos. Don't miss the humongous wood pile out back!

Historic Caldwell County Courthouse
Photo 40
Historic marker outside courthouse
Photo 41
View inside courtroom
Photo 42
View of the judge's bench and deputy
Photo 43
View from back of courtroom
Photo 44

With our visit to Smitty's over, we drove around the corner for a quick look at the Caldwell County Courthouse. It's a beautiful limestone and sandstone structure built in 1894 and restored in 2000. While most court operations have moved elsewhere, some county business is still conducted in the building.

What was intended to be a short visit got longer and more personal when a sheriff's deputy, sitting at a small table in the lobby and acting as part security guard, part information desk, asked where we were from and offered to take us upstairs for a tour of the old courtroom. We took him up on the offer and enjoyed learning some of the history of the courthouse.

When I told the deputy we had just visited Smitty's and were heading to Black's, he said we should skip Black's altogether! He also divulged that he and Nina Sells had dated in junior high school. Talk about small town news!

What To Expect At Black's Barbecue

Exterior of Black's Barbecue
Photo 45
Black's Barbecue sign
Photo 46
Front porch at Black's Barbecue
Photo 47
Another Black's Barbecue sign
Photo 48
View from Black's entry hallway into dining room
Photo 49
Old Black's sausage sign
Photo 50
Norma Jean and Edgar Black
Photo 51
Steam table full of side dishes
Photo 52
Pit on the left, meat cutting on the right
Photo 53
Meat cutting behind the counter
Photo 54
Meat is cut to order and weighed
Photo 55
       

At the time of writing, Black's Barbecue is open Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, and Friday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 8:30 pm. Parking is available on the streets surrounding the building. Credit cards are accepted.

Black's Barbecue is just 0.2 miles north of Smitty's Market. Founded by Edgar Black in 1932 and operating at its current location since 1936, Black's touts itself as the oldest joint in Texas to be continuously run by the same family. Similar to Smitty's and Kreuz, Black's started as a meat market and grocery store that made barbecue and sausage using unsold meat. While the grocery store eventually faded away, the barbecue business grew and evolved into the joint we know today.

You'll enter Black's through the front door on N. Main Street and wait in line in a hallway leading to a cafeteria-style counter. If you're visiting only to sample barbecue, just grab a tray and wait patiently in line until you reach the meat cutter. You'll pass a wide selection of hot and cold sides including potato salad, cole slaw, pinto beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac & cheese, Mexican rice, green beans, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, and whole pickles. Desserts include banana pudding, cobblers, and ice cream. Fountain and bottled sodas, bottled beers, and sweet and unsweet tea are the beverage selections.

Meat selections include lean and moist (fatty) brisket, chopped brisket, beef short ribs, pork spareribs, pork baby back ribs, pork chops, chicken, turkey breast, and sausage in original, garlic and jalapeño cheddar flavors. A few sandwiches are also available. All meats are cut to order and served on butcher paper.

With food in hand, pick an open table in the air-conditioned dining room. You'll find sliced bread, saltine crackers, pickle chips and white onion at a side table. A barbecue sauce and a habanero pepper sauce are available at the table, and good news—plastic forks and knives are available for your use. After eating, make sure to browse the dining room to see all the historic photos and memorabilia on the walls.

If the dining room is full, there's an outdoor dining area with picnic tables around the side of the building. Even if you don't eat outside, make sure to check-out the collection of old Black's Barbecue signs in the picnic area.

What To Eat At Black's Barbecue

Lean and fatty brisket, baby back rib and sausage
Photo 56
Chopped beef, mashed potatoes & gravy, and mac & cheese
Photo 57
Barbecue sauce and hot sauce bottles
Photo 58
View of pork baby back
Photo 59
View of Black's dining room
Photo 60
View of condiment area
Photo 61
Time to load-up on bread, pickles and onions
Photo 62
Black family photo
Photo 63
Sauces and ball caps for sale
Photo 64
Sign touting Black's as one of the oldest joints in Texas
Photo 65
Another view of Black's dining room
Photo 66
TV on old soda cases
Photo 67
Old high school football team photos adorn the walls
Photo 68
Outdoor dining area behind restaurant
Photo 69
Old Black's sign
Photo 70
Another old Black's sign
Photo 71
Mobile smoker with Black's signs in background
Photo 72
Another view of outdoor dining area
Photo 73
My wife Julie sitting in front of Black's Barbecue
Photo 74
 

You should order some lean and fatty brisket so you can compare it with the other joints on your crawl. Order a sausage link in whatever flavor strikes your fancy. Try either a sparerib or a baby back rib. If you're feeling up to it, sample one of the giant beef short ribs. I think you'll agree that Black's prepares some of the best, if not the best, barbecue in Lockhart.

We ordered lean and fatty brisket, a baby back rib, a sausage, some chopped beef, and a couple of sides. Our favorites were the fatty brisket and the baby back ribs.

What To Expect At Kreuz Market

Wide shot of Kreuz Market
Photo 75
Kreuz Market front facade
Photo 76
Kreuz Market sign
Photo 77
Kreuz Market front porch
Photo 78
Kruez Market front doors
Photo 79
Kreuz Market entry hallway
Photo 80
Old meat market equipment
Photo 81
Outer dining hall
Photo 82
Menu board
Photo 83
No sauce, no forks, no kidding
Photo 84
The owner's private table
Photo 85
Rick Schmidt Round Table
Photo 86
Screened in dining porch
Photo 87
Pit room with live fire on floor
Photo 88
Another view of the pit room
Photo 89
Closed pit in foreground, open pit in background
Photo 90
Stacked split logs near two pits
Photo 91
Dining area adjacent to pit area
Photo 92
Sun shining through open back door
Photo 93
Looking across pits toward the meat cutting area and front counter
Photo 94
The meat cutting area
Photo 95
Butcher block table with knife set
Photo 96
Close-up of knife set
Photo 97
Cowgirl advertisement for daily special
Photo 98
 

At the time of writing, Kreuz Market is open 7 days a week from 10:30 am to 8:00 pm. Parking is available in the huge parking lot surrounding the building. Credit cards are accepted.

We covered the history of Kreuz Market up until 1999 when discussing the history of Smitty's Market earlier in this article. Rick Schmidt and family moved the Kreuz Market brand and business to a new, modern building just 0.4 miles north of Smitty's. It looks like a big barn with a wide wooden porch across the front that continues down the left side of the building. There's also a gigantic wood pile on the right side of the building.

When you step inside, you get a sense of just how cavernous this place really is. The pit room is at the back of the building, there's an enclosed air-conditioned dining room on the right, and on the left there's an even larger seating area with ceiling fans and a screened-in porch with tables running along the side of the building. I can only imagine the crowds that Kreuz must pack into this place on a Saturday during football season.

We left Black's and arrived at Kreuz just before 3:00 pm, and you could have fired a cannonball through the place without hitting anyone. We wandered through the empty dining area, looking at the signs and memorabilia on the walls that document Kreuz history, before finally arriving at the pit room.

The pit room is an amazing sight to behold. It's a huge space with very high ceilings and the same type of brick pits with wood fires on the floor like at Smitty's. I think there were eight pits total, although one could be forgiven for miscounting due to the largeness of the space. At the front of the room are two large counters where you order and pay for meat. Each meat is cut to order on large round butcher tables behind the cashier and served on butcher paper with sliced bread or crackers. And if you love the heat and smokiness of the pit room, there are even a few seats there so you can eat and watch the action!

Kreuz offers lean shoulder clod and fatty brisket, boneless prime rib, pork chops, beef ribs, pork ribs, and original and jalapeño cheese sausage. Smoked ham and turkey are available on certain days of the week. On the day we visited, ham was available and chicken was the Special of the Day.

With your meat order complete, you move into the air-conditioned dining room for "trimmings" and to purchase sides, desserts and drinks. Trimmings include free dill pickle chips and sliced white onion. Sides include beans, German potatoes, mac & cheese, green beans, sauerkraut, and cole slaw. Cheddar cheese, jalapeño cheese, tomatoes, whole dill pickles, avocados, and jalapeño and serrano peppers are available for an additional charge. Dessert consists of cookies, brownies, individual pies, and ice cream. Soft drinks, iced tea, lemonade, and a variety of beers are available.

The dining room at Kreuz replicates some of the elements of Smitty's dining room, like the tin ceiling, but the tables are smaller, the chairs are wooden, and there are a couple of sinks mounted to the wall where you can wash your hands...because just like Smitty's, Kreuz does not offer forks, only plastic knives, so you'll be eating with your bare hands. Kreuz does not serve barbecue sauce but does offer Texas Pete brand hot sauce and a salt/pepper/cayenne dry spice mix at the table.

What To Eat At Kreuz Market

View of air conditioned dining room
Photo 99
Our order bundled in butcher paper
Photo 100
Pork rib, brisket, shoulder clod, and ham
Photo 101
Salt, pepper, cayenne mix at the table
Photo 102
Sides to go with your barbecue
Photo 103
Pies, brownies and other desserts
Photo 104
Kreuz postcards and ball caps
Photo 105
Old Kreuz family photos
Photo 106
Black & white photos of Kreuz staff and owner
Photo 107
 

You'll want to order some shoulder clod and some brisket to see which you like best. We found both to be somewhat dry, but to be fair, we were eating outside of prime lunch hours. Order a pork rib and one of the sausages. We felt the original sausage was better than the rib. If ham or turkey is available on the day of your visit, try one of them. I actually like the smoked ham better than either the shoulder clod or brisket on the day we visited.

What To Expect At City Market

City Market building
Photo 108
Sign says Cash Only at City Market
Photo 109
City Market dining room looking toward pit room
Photo 110
City Market dining room looking toward front door
Photo 111
View approaching the pit room
Photo 112
Enter the pit room to place your order
Photo 113
Another view of the pit room
Photo 114
Large pit along the back wall with lid open
Photo 115
Meat cutting happens right behind the counter
Photo 116
Sausage rings and ribs laid out on butcher block
Photo 117
View from behind the counter
Photo 118
More hot sausage links ready for sale
Photo 119
Smoke stains the walls of the pit room
Photo 120
View of smoke wood pile next to pit
Photo 121
Menu board high on the wall
Photo 122
Handwritten prices for hot rings and cold rings
Photo 123
Pit filled with sausage rings
Photo 124
Close-up view of sausage rings in pit
Photo 125
Slabs of spareribs in pit
Photo 126
Large inventory of butcher paper
Photo 127

At the time of writing, City Market is open Monday through Saturday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Sundays. Parking is available on the street in front of the building. City Market accepts cash only and an ATM is available.

City Market is located 15 miles south of Lockhart on US-183 in Luling (pronounced "Lou-ling"). Park in front of the building and watch the freight trains rumble their way through the center of town. Enter the front door, walk straight to the back of the market, and step inside the small, separate pit room to order and pay for your meat. Meat is cut to order behind the counter and served on butcher paper. Once you've got your meat, head back into the market for sides and drinks.

The list of meats is short: brisket, pork spareribs, and a sausage. Sliced bread or saltine crackers come with the meat, but pickles and onions cost extra. There's no designation of lean or fatty brisket on the menu, but you can ask for one or the other or both. I asked for "a slice of brisket" and got a thick slice that included both point and flat.

Sides include potato salad and pinto beans, but cheddar cheese, chips and other items in the market can be purchased to accompany your barbecue. Big Red and IBC root beer are the popular soft drinks, and a selection of beers is also available. A thin, peppery orange barbecue sauce and salt & pepper are available at the table. And hallelujah, plastic forks and knives are provided!

Seating is spread-out across both the market and an adjoining dining room, consisting of simple tables and folding metal chairs but some booth seating, too.

Don't hesitate to tell the guy in the pit room that you're visiting on a barbecue crawl, he may invite you to step behind the counter to check-out the pits and take some photos.

What To Eat At City Market

Sparerib, brisket and sausage
Photo 128
Thin orange BBQ sauce
Photo 129
     

The sausage is the star of the show at City Market. Juicy and flavorful, good beef flavor, with a nice snappy casing. I think it was the best sausage of our entire barbecue crawl. You'll want to try it, for sure.

Since the menu is so limited, go ahead and order both brisket and spareribs. We were disappointed that both meats were dry. At least the fatty part of the brisket had a fighting chance, but I couldn't make the lean part edible no matter how much of the bright orange sauce I poured on. Disappointing, but like I said when discussing our visit to Kreuz Market, you can't walk into a barbecue joint in the late afternoon—4:30 pm, in this case—and expect to eat the same fresh barbecue you'd get at noon.

Can We Bring Ourselves To Do This Again Tomorrow?

City Market marked our fourth barbecue stop of the day. We had some good barbecue and some not-so-good barbecue over the course of the day, and to be honest, the barbecue at City Market didn't offer the strongest finish to our day. But it was all good...we had some good barbecue, met some really nice people, took a ton of photos, and absorbed all the Central Texas barbecue history and ambience we could.

Still, visiting four joints in one day was a bit much. As we drove back to our hotel in Austin, I felt like I'd eaten enough barbecue over two days and I wasn't sure I wanted a third day of it.

Photo of Roy Perez and Lehman Schmidt: 2014 by TMBBQ.com

Next...The Barbecue Crawl Ends With A Sweet Finish!

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Updated: 10/06/2016

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