Smitty’s Market, in the central Texas town of Lockhart, was the first stop on Williams-Sonoma’s Fire Smoke & Flavor BBQ tour. The location opened around 1900 as Kreuz Market, a German butcher shop that sold fresh meat during the week and smoked the leftovers on the weekend. In 1999, when Kreuz Market moved to a new location, Nina Schmidt Sells and her son John Fullilove reopened the space under its current name, in honor of Fullilove’s grandfather, Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt.
Little has changed since Smitty’s was Kreuz Market. Fullilove repainted the dining room and began to offer sauce (only upon request!), but otherwise, he admits, “We haven’t modernized. Everything is pit-fired, and there’s no gas, no electricity. It’s the real deal. We try to stay 25 years behind the times, it seems to work well.”
Why? Fullilove explains, “To me, we own the place, but it’s not really ours to change. It belongs to the people, the grandparents bringing their kids here because their grandparents brought them here. It’s that kind of place.”
At Smitty’s the day starts at 7 a.m., lighting fires, loading pits and making sausage. The menu consists of barbecued meat and pit-cooked sausage, always served on butcher paper. When Fullilove was a kid, the restaurant’s big sellers were barbecued pork shoulder, pork chops and sausage, but these days barbecue competitions focus on ribs and brisket, so Smitty’s offers those dishes, too. They put the fires out and close down around 6 p.m.
“Smitty’s prices reflect the way our region and our family deal with barbecue,” explains Fullilove. “Our prices are pretty much lower than everyone else in the game.”
There are two entrances at Smitty’s: the front, off the main street, or the back, off the gravel parking lot. Fullilove says, “You sit at communal tables, maybe with people from different countries, different regions, or maybe with people you’ve known all your life. You have dinner, no forks, no silverware.”
An old hallway in the market is the original dining room, with longleaf pine tables from a local woodmill. The dining room used to have communal knives, which patrons would use to slice their own meat as they ate it — no sides, no sauce and even no sweet tea back in the day. Smitty’s also operates a small meat market, but they don’t advertise or try to compete on prices.
According to folklore, the fire in the Smitty’s barbecue pit has been burning for more than 100 years, but Fullilove dismisses the rumor. “That’s my competition’s claim, and it sounded good on TV,” he says. “When I was a kid they put the fire out every night. I save the coals from one day and light the fires with the coals from that day. It’s been burning 20 to 30 years for sure without relighting.”
When it comes to flavor, Fullilove insists simple is best. “We use salt, black pepper and red pepper as our only barbecue rub, and we rub the meats down the day before we cook them and throw them on the fire. No preserves or fillers.”
And the question of sauce is always a hot topic in Texas, where purists eat meat with just the seasonings of the rub. “I personally don’t use barbecue sauce,” says Fullilove. “It’s good on crackers and things such as that, but on the meat, I stay away from it.
“Anything to deal with barbecue in Texas is ‘watch what you say,’ because somebody’s going to disagree with you,” he adds.
Fullilove’s advice, as a barbecue cook for 13 years: “Being simple and consistent is the name of the game. Buy quality meat and put a good, hot fire to it, and don’t let it burn.”