The first member of Lockhart’s Big Three is obvious for anyone who knows this town. It’s the reason most tourists come to Lockhart and what many locals take for granted. Yes, it’s Lockhart Barbeque. Lockhart is well known for its Texas style barbeque with undeniable German roots. To a newcomer I might say, “Lockhart is the Barbeque Capital of Texas, as declared by the Texas Legislature, with four major barbecue joints (Kreuz, Smitty’s, Black’s, Chisholm Trail) in addition to the homemade smoked barbecue and sides (barbeque plates) sold by churches and other groups on weekends as fundraisers.” Many locals will then go on to say which of the four restaurants is their favorite and what they like and don’t like about each. It’s not uncommon for Lockhartigans to recommend one place for brisket, a different place for sausage and still another place for the best sides. I will stick to the politically correct response from a former Lockhart State Park Superintendent, “I think they’re all good.”
You may be surprised to know that the godfather of Lockhart barbeque may be neither a Kreuz nor a Black. The first known place in Lockhart selling barbeque was Jesse Swearingen’s meat market, a metal building which opened in 1875, a time when Lockhart likely had between six and seven hundred residents. The Lockhart Post-Register reported in 1930 that “S. B. Swearingen, son of Jesse Swearingen, was perhaps the first man in Lockhart to begin the regular sale of barbecued meats.” Charles Kreuz Sr. bought the market from Swearingen in 1900 and changed the name to Kreuz Market.
Charles borrowed $200 so that he could purchase Jesse’s market and the Kreuz family, including the children, picked cotton to help pay off the loan. Kreuz Market was well regarded as a grocery store in the area for its variety of goods. Charles used what he had learned from being in a family of German immigrants to smoke beef and pork, including what was then considered less desirable parts of the animal, over the native post oak wood. In 1924, the original metal building was replaced with the brick building you see today on 208 S Commerce, now the home of Smitty’s Market.
Once you move Lockhart barbeque out of its seminal years with the Kreuz family, it’s largely the story of the Edgars, Edgar Schmidt (Kreuz, Smitty’s) and the father and son combo, Edgar Black Sr. and Edgar Black Jr. (Black’s). Edgar Schmidt had been the Kreuz Market butcher since 1936 before buying the market in 1948, transitioning Kreuz Market into a restaurant and finally retiring and selling to his sons in 1984. Black’s also started as a market (Northside Grocery and Market) in 1932 by Edgar Black Sr. and by 1936, Black’s Barbeque moved out of the market and into its own building. Edgar Black Jr. joined his father in business after serving in the Navy during World War II and then obtaining his college degree. Edgar Jr. was by his dad’s side at work until Edgar Sr.’s death in 1962 and then took the helm alongside his wife Norma Jean.
After the Edgars, it gets a little complicated. But frankly, most Lockhartigans are no longer interested in hearing about squabbles in long running family businesses. So I won’t go there except to say that there are many branches extending from Black and Schmidt. Floyd Wilhelm, who previously worked at Black’s, made the incredulous but successful move to open a new Lockhart Barbeque place in 1978 named Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que. We called it “Floyd’s” until it was sold to new owners. According to Texas Monthly, Floyd said it was like “putting a ballpark across from Yankee Stadium.” And more recently Lockhart Barbeque has expanded beyond the city limits. Is Lockhart Barbeque still Lockhart Barbeque once it has left our borders for restaurants in Austin, Dallas, San Marcos, New Braunfels and Bee Cave? I don’t know but I am hopeful that someone who has tried those places will still say, “I think they’re all good.”