Dueling ‘Que: Kreuz vs Smitty’s

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This past Tuesday the Murlocs who dine made the trip to Lockhart, Texas. There are so many great barbecue joints in central Texas and it makes an excellent excuse for a Sunday drive. And Lockhart is officially recognized by the State of Texas – in a House Resolution no less – as the “Barbecue Capital of Texas” and the “buckle of the Barbecue Belt.”

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Germanic influence in the architecture as well as the sausages

For those who aren’t familiar with central Texas barbecue, it’s all about the beef. Brisket, perhaps rubbed with some seasoning, cooked low and slow over a smokey fire fueled with post oak (mesquite is far too strident in taste to be used for the length of time needed for proper brisket). This sign from Kreuz (pronounced “krites”) pretty much sums up the attitude towards such lily-gilding like sauce . . . or forks.

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There’s casual dining and then there’s “don’t even ask for flatware . . .”

In Lockhart we managed to get through two of the three great granddaddies of Texas barbecue located there, Kreuz’ Market and Smitty’s Market. Both are frequently highly placed on “Top Spots for Barbecue” lists.

Smittys and Kreuz share a dynastic line. There was a “barbefeud” that split the line in 1999. The line began as Kreuz’ Market was founded in 1900 by Charles Kreuz. Kreuz began in the building that Smitty’s now occupies. Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt was a longtime pitmaster at Kreuz and bought the place in 1948. In 1984 he sold the business to his sons, Rick and Don. They ran the business together and butted heads with their sister Nina. In 1997 Don retired and in 1999 Rick opened the new location for Kreuz’ Market. With great ceremony he moved the live coals to the new building so that the same fire lit in 1924 burns in the brick pits today. Meanwhile Nina Schmidt Sells kept the “home fires” burning  in the old building, renaming it Smitty’s Market.

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And it’s a free range fire. That’s the front door just behind that wall.

The internicene feud has been patched up with the arrival of Schmidt’s Family Barbecue in Bee Caves, Texas – just south of Austin. Founded by Nina’s ganddaughter Susie. Susie’s husband Chad Franks has received training from the pitmasters of Kreuz and her cousin John Folilove has moved his pit mastery from Smitty’s to Schmidt’s. (That being said, as of 2014 at least, Rick claims to have never eaten at Smitty’s).

TL;DR: There’s a reason why Black’s gets to claim that it’s the longest running single-family owned barbecue.

Whew! Enough gossip for now. I bet you want to check out the meat porn.

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Kreuz’ interior – the interior design equivalent of “no nonfunctional garnish”
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Turn of the century barbecue, turn of the millennium building

It’s no real surprise that the food at Kreuz’ and Smitty’s are very similar. It’s the difference of inches.

Kreuz was up first. We got a sausage and some brisket. With salt, pepper, and red chile pepper being the only flavorings besides smoke, the beefy flavor shone through. I also got the German Potatoes. Pickle juice tarted up the hot, starchy potatoes and little bits of brisket were distributed through. Not quite what I expected and it didn’t really bring much to the party.

Everything was very juicy. The hand-tied ring of sausages had the very nice snap of natural casings. Given the Germanic heritage through much of the area (and a name like Kreuz), it’s no surprise that it’s a very Germanic sausage and a very nice wurst.

Colin and I quickly used the “forks at the ends of our arms” to clear the butcher paper. We are better eaters than food critics. Then we left for Smitty’s.

Smitty’s is closer to the center of town, but less than a mile away from Kreuz. Before our better sense could take hold and remind us that we’d just eaten a lot of fatty brisket, we walked into the dark, smokey pit where Smitty’s does their cooking. It’s been described as “the gates of hell” and I’m not surprised. Ten feet inside the door I passed a brick wall and – Bam! – right there on the floor was their pit fire (see the free-range fire picture above).

At Smitty’s I subbed out pork ribs instead of potato salad, because pig. Kreuz’ offered pork ribs as well but I was trying to be smart and save some room for Smitty’s fare. I shall have to go back and get pork ribs from Kreuz, purely in the name of science.

The meat cutting crew threw in an extra sausage link for us so that was a nice surprise. The pork ribs were tender but toothsome and lightly covered in a slightly sticky glaze. I’m really glad Smitty’s compromised their beef and smoke only policy for these guys.

Smitty’s brisket was a little drier and the sausage slightly more crumbly. If you don’t like a lot of fatty briskey, you may find it preferable. Otherwise it still had that pure smoke-and-beef flavor.

And outside of Smitty’s you can play One of These Things is Not Like the Other.

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Truck, truck, truck, GOOSE . . . . err, PRIUS!

Overall, Colin and I both preferred the moister brisket of Kreuz, but as I said before, it was a difference of inches. But both were supremely good. I absolutely adored the pork ribs and Smitty’s and will have to make a point of trying them at Kreuz as well. If leaner meat is your thing (you strange person you), then Smitty’s might be the better choice. Really, you aren’t going to make a wrong choice.

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