On the road to Lockhart
Posted on July 2, 2015
Growing up in central Texas, the summer family get together means one thing – Barbecue.
It comes in all varieties, choices of meat and flavors, although in this part of Texas the real standard is measured by just two – brisket and sausage. Depending on where you are in the Hill Country, there are always local favorites, but you may still spend the better part of a Saturday morning out for a drive to get the good stuff, returning home as the hero to family and friends who have gathered to share in the charred and smoked feast.
Many times, that morning sojourn would take us out on TX State Highway 142 towards Caldwell County, about an hour from San Antonio or thirty minutes from Austin. The historic courthouse, which I worked on the restoration of as a young architecture grad, marks the county seat in the historic town square of Lockhart. Designed by Henry E.M. Guidon, an eventual partner of Alfred Giles, it is a local interpretation of the Second Empire style built from local cream colored limestone and Texas red sandstone. It sits at the center of the typical Texas county courthouse square and the surrounding buildings have been famously described by the architectural historian Colin Rowe as a “curiously eloquent” examples of a Victorian post-frontier American town.
But to many, what this little town square really represents is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. The smell of barbecue and wood smoke from the pits permeates the air, and three of the state’s legendary BBQ joints sit within blocks of each other.
The histories of each tell the story of families and pit bosses who have passed their cooking secrets down over generations. The oldest starts with the Kreuz Market, but its history actually tells the tale of two of the three pits. It started as a grocery and meat market by Charles Kreuz Sr. in 1900, and with little or no refrigeration at the time, he built brick pits out behind the store and used the old German style of slow smoking meats and sausages – selling it to his customers on sheets of butcher paper, which is still the tradition to this day. He, his sons and another relative would continue to run the market until 1948, when they would sell to a longtime employee, Edgar Schmidt. He would close the market, but kept the only sides they would serve – crackers, bread, pickles, onions and cheese that were the favorites. As you walk up past cords of post oak stacked high waiting their turn to stoke the pits, the market was famous for its back door entry to the red brick building with its smoke stack standing tall.
Once inside you were immediately hit by a wall of hot air and smoke from the constantly running pits. The consolation to waiting your turn in line was the mouth-watering smells wafting out from under the blackened iron covers of the pit where brisket, sausage and ribs being tended to as they were smoked and slow roasted to the perfect char. Before ordering, the sign on the wall reflected the no nonsense trademark of the pit master – “no sauce, no forks, no kidding”. Stepping up to the counter, you order by choice of meat which will be carved for you by the pit master and his assistants on a large, round wooden cutting block right next to the pit.
Taking your meal wrapped in paper, you pass through a narrow, soot stained hall with built in tables and bench where you can sit and enjoy your meal. Ahead though you can find more seating below a pressed tin ceiling and slow turning fans, where the more genteel crowd can escape the heat.
In the mid ‘80s the market was passed to Edgar’s sons, and in what would become a family feud, Rick Schmidt would move to a new location down the street, with new brick pits, but bring with them the fire that has been continuously burning for 100 years when Pitmaster Roy Perez dragged a bucket of the burning coals a quarter mile from the original location to the new one.
The old Kreuz market, would come back to life in the form of Smitty’s Market, named for Edgar Schmidt by his daughter Nina Sells and run by her son, Pitmaster John Fullilove, continuing to serve great barbecue and develop the tradition along another line of the family tree.
The other family in the barbecue business in Lockhart is the Black Family. It was established in 1932 by Edgar Black Sr. as a meat market and barbecue. When Edgar Jr. returned home after WWII, he began to work with his father, and he and his wife Norma Jean took it over in 1962 after his father passed away. It is the oldest continuously owned and operated family barbecue business in Texas, currently operated by Pitmaster Kent Black, Edgar and Norma Jean’s son. The pits at Black’s are older than the pit master, but the tradition of great barbecue lives on.
What was once a favorite of President Lyndon Johnson, the place still has a bit of the old style charm inside with its simple red and white gingham table clothes and folding chairs, paneled walls filled with pictures scattered between longhorn and deer mounts.
This is just the beginning of the barbecue trail in central Texas, so get out on the road, put a little “Willie” on the stereo, and find your favorite barbecue stops.