Test Bringing Texas Barbecue History to the Table
Mention the word barbecue in Texas and two things are bound to happen. First, people’s hunger juices will start flowing; second, a debate will ensue about the best way to prepare the meat.
According to Robb Walsh, a food writer for the Houston Press, southern African American cooking customs and German meat markets primarily influenced modern Texas barbecue. The term is also tied to the Spanish word barbacoa, a South Texas cooking method in which the meat is wrapped and cooked in a pit of coals.
An order of traditional barbecue at Kreuz Market includes items that would have been offered at the butcher shop a century ago.
The concept of barbecued meats on a lunch plate was likely introduced when African American and Mexican American cotton pickers—familiar with their own traditional pit-style of cooking—ordered sausage and ribs from the German butcher shops in small Central Texas towns.
“These workers weren’t allowed in restaurants at that time (early 1900s), so after they got paid, they’d walk over to the market and get some fresh smoked meat on butcher paper and eat it right there,” Walsh explained. “The workers were calling the meat ‘barbecue.’ It’s not like they were walking in there asking for knockwurst.”
To this day, the traditional German approach continues at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, where the meat is prepared and served almost exactly the same way it was 100 years ago. Keith Schmidt, Kreuz’ general manager, says his family strives to keep things as simple and similar as when they opened as a grocery store and butcher shop in 1900.
Kreuz Market has been serving barbecue since 1900.
Back then, customers would order meat by the pound accompanied by a few side items—typically crackers or bread, and a pickle, onion, or item of produce on the grocery store shelves—and eat the meal with their bare hands. At Kreuz, it hasn’t changed.
“We didn’t have silverware back then and we don’t now,” said Schmidt. “Same thing with sauce. People are flabbergasted we don’t use sauce. Some people think that’s the most important part, but why would you want to mask the flavor of the meat? I could barbecue a skunk and it would taste great with enough sauce on it.”
Not everyone agrees. Many styles across the state, including West Texas open-pit cowboy barbecue and urban and rural African American styles, rely on mops (bastes) and tangy or sweet sauces to enhance or accompany the meats.
Sam's Bar-B-Que owner Sam Mays (2005 photo).
At Sam’s Bar-B-Que, a renowned restaurant in East Austin, the sauce is so vital it has a secret recipe.