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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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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