Sausage Shrines

A pilgrimage

Wes Marshall in Luling and Lockhart

City Market

633 Davis St., Luling, 830/875-9019

Monday-Saturday, 7am-6pm

The City Market has been making their all-beef sausages with the same recipe since 1958, when the place first opened. Joe Capello, the market manager, explains the process: "We make it ourselves from scratch. We have a sausage crew that makes the sausage. It's basically a German-style sausage. It's an all-beef sausage with a pork casing. We use bull meat and trimmings, black pepper, red pepper, and salt. They weigh about a third of a pound ($1.70 hot, $1.30 cold). We smoke them with post-oak wood in a rotisserie, gas-fired smoker." The original recipe was from two brothers, Howard Ellis and Lanos Ellis (Lanos was the owner, and Howard was the cook). Buddy Ellis, Lanos' son, now owns it, and he's kept everything just like it was originally, since there's no need to mess with perfection.

The sausages differ from their neighbors' in Lockhart mainly in that they are a little leaner, which lends the Luling sausage a beefier flavor. "We're all pretty similar, yet all the sausages really taste different," Capello says. "I think it's down to the right mixture of pure lean and fat. We shoot for more of a lean sausage. Some are more juicy because they use pork, but we're 100 percent beef and a little leaner." They also use sauce in Luling; City Market's is tomato-based with a mustard kick. Joe thinks the best meal at City Market is a sausage with saltines, a chunk of onion, a piece of cheese, and a Big Red. Cost: $3.50. Quite a bargain for the house specialty.

By the way, if you're a Houston transplant and you're wondering about the place on Richmond called the Luling City Market, it has nothing to do with the real City Market. While they can legally call theirs Luling City Market, since the original is only called City Market, it's a legal – but questionable – piece of business at best. Take your money to the real deal in the town of Luling.

Kreuz Market

619 N. Colorado St., Lockhart, 512/398-2361

Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm; Saturday, 9am-6:30pm

Kreuz Market is the granddaddy of barbecue places in Lockhart, with a history going back 105 years. And while most Central Texans undoubtedly know the story of the family conflict, it bears one more repeating. Kreuz Market is in the new building, and Smitty's is in the original Kreuz Market. This strange occurrence came from a daddy, Edgar Schmidt, selling the business to his sons, Rick and Don, then later leaving the real estate on which the business sat to his daughter, Nina. Somehow, Rick and Nina couldn't come to an agreement, so the Kreuz Market and its employees ended up in a larger headquarters a few blocks away, while the original location retained the equipment and sense of place. Both places claim to use grandaddy's recipes, though Kreuz claims to have them written down, while Smitty's claims that the original equipment lends authentic flavor. Whew!

Both places make great sausage.

Rick's son Keith Schmidt manages Kreuz. He describes their sausage as "my grandfather's recipe, although my dad wrote it down. It's 85% beef and 15% pork, and the only seasoning we use is salt and pepper and cayenne. We put it in hog casings and aim for a one-third-pound size. We like the taste of beef better – that's why we use more beef, where other people use more pork." You can buy the sausage cold ($1.30) and take it home, or buy it off the pit ($1.75). If you buy it off the pit, you can ask for juicy or dry (though, if you've read this far and you ask for dry, go tear up your tickets to the festival). Sauce isn't in the vernacular at Kreuz. Crackers, bread, pickles, onions, and cheese are the sides. Since moving to the new quarters in 1999, they've had a rush of creativity, adding pork spare ribs and jalapeño cheese sausage ($2 hot, $1.70 cold), the first new offerings since the 1960s.

On a good week, Kreuz Market will sell 12,000 sausages. That's two tons, folks. The hallmark of their sausage is that it's so juicy that when you cut into it, the juices run all over your plate. Do not consult your cardiologist before having a Kreuz sausage. As Keith says, "We're not shooting for a dietetic sausage."

Smitty's Market

208 S. Commerce, Lockhart, 512/398-9344

Monday-Friday, 7am-6pm; Saturday, 7am-6:30pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm

Nina Schmidt Sells inherited the land and building that housed Kreuz Market. The original Kreuz Market had been named for founder Charles Kreuz, who opened the place in 1900, but Nina's father, Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt, owned it and ran it from 1948 until 1984, when he sold the business to his boys (see Kreuz Market entry above for more details). When Edgar died, he left the building and property to Nina. She decided to run the business herself and to change the name to honor her dad.

Her son, John Fullilove, is the pitmaster, and he's a feisty traditionalist and stout protector of the family reputation. "We do the sausage the way it was always done," he tells me. "We cook it over wood and instead of sourcing the trim, we buy the meat and cut it ourselves, and make sure the trim is just right. Really, all of us in Lockhart do the same recipe, but what makes mine best is that I use only Texas beef. My production costs are higher. I don't make any money off it; I probably lose money off it. Plus, we're using wood cookers instead of the big rotisserie gas cookers. Our casings might come out a little tougher, but it's the old-fashioned way of doing things. It is exactly like my grandfather used to do it, except he used to have three guys sitting on buckets of water watching for flare-ups, and I've got a system from 1978 that stops the flare-ups. But it's still wood cooking by hand."

Their sausages are about 85% beef and 15% pork, seasoned with salt, black pepper, and red pepper and stuffed in natural pork casings. Each link is hand-tied and hand-cooked; all in about 1Ú3-lb. links for $1.30 cold for takeout or $1.50 hot with all the trimmings.

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