BBQ Texas: Schmidt Family Barbecue

An ongoing series of reports from beyond Austin’s BBQ City Limits.
Schmidt Family Barbecue
12532 FM 2244 at the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Cave. 512-263-4060,
Hours: 11am-9pm Mon-Sat; 11am-8pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.11.14
You should know right out of the gate that Schmidt Family Barbecue has forks and knives and sides and sauce, despite what its Lockhart heritage would suggest. The Hill Country Galleria is a detente project from the famously cold-warring families behind Kreuz Market and Smitty’s in that sauce-free Ring of Fire called Lockhart. But this is the new Bee Cave, and folks don’t play the purist game, even for irony’s sake.
A Lockhart pedigree means a couple of things. It means brisket with an old man’s gift for salt-and-pepper bark and respect for the fat both within and without. It means meat by the pound; no combo plates. It means sausage in gnarled little rings. It means sun-blushed pork ribs in black velvet smoking jackets.
At Schmidt Family, the sausage is a lock, given that they buy it from the Kreuz fatherland ($4.50 per link for regular, $4.75 jalapeño cheese). They gave it enough heat and smoke to awaken the spice and fat and make the cases snap just right. The pork ribs ($7/half-pound) got the sun-and-smoke equation right, but they clung hard and tough to the bone and wore less of an evening coat and more of a professor’s tweed, all tan and bland with just a few patches at the elbow. Schmidt’s also offers beef ribs, but only on Wednesdays and Fridays.
(ABOVE: Just outside the polite, air-conditioned main room at Schmidt Family Barbecue lies the open fire that feeds the brick pit, which incorporates bricks from both Kreuz Market and Smitty’s in Lockhart. AT TOP, clockwise from top left: Spicy mac and cheese, pork ribs, barbecue sauce, sweet pickles, cheddar cheese, prime rib, brisket and burnt ends, pork loin, ham and beans.)
But the brisket ($8/half-pound) is the key to it all, and Schmidt Family got most of the way to the Lockhart standard, missing by just a few body-fat percentage points. Meaning that our pound of fatty brisket wasn’t fatty enough, rendered past its prime fattiness and dry along the edges. The interior, nevertheless, was sleek and supple. Burnt ends, which by the pitmaster’s grace can be ordered on their own for $8 a half-pound, bore out the larger brisket’s Hydroxycut profile: so nice to look at, but too lean for the fatcap-chasers.
I’ve figured out why we like ham so much. It’s a rebel, like we all imagine we are. Put pork loin and ham side by side and it’s abundantly clear. Schmidt Family’s pork loin ($7/half-pound) is lean and elegant, a pearled alabaster aglow with juice under a precise line of tanned and peppered fat. Their ham, available Friday-Sunday only, is shaggy and insolent, a few pounds past its playing weight but still in the game ($7/half-pound). Its varnished outer skin is as ridged and polished as a turtle’s tuxedo shell, sealing in the fat and smoke and salt beneath. The loin and the ham are the white and the dark meat of the Thanksgiving pig, and Schmidt does a Norman Rockwell job on both.
(ABOVE, from left: The ham’s answer to burnt ends; the oak before the smoke; moist brisket and burnt ends, those brisket corners that some people toss in the scrap pile while the rest of us fight over them.)
Speaking of the Rockwellian ideal, we got an unexpected bit of hospitality just by showing up early and looking curious. Either that or co-owner Chad Franks thought my buddy, his son and I were there to steal firewood (I didn’t introduce myself and I wasn’t recognized). He stood by the woodpile and talked to us about the shop’s first three months in Bee Cave, how shoulder clod never caught on, how half his customers still want their brisket as lean as they can get it.
Then he walked us by the pits. First, a hulking black Bewley vault, the self-regulating solenoid of which he’d customized with 10-penny nails to keep the smoke under control. Then a new six-thermometer barrel pit he’ll use for sausage when it’s ready. And finally, the long brick pit, pieced together with bricks from Kreuz and Smitty’s both. There’s a firebox on the floor just like at those places, except that it lies just outside the main wall of the vast feed barn of a shop, because out here people want air conditioning and they don’t want to smell like volunteer firefighters.
I’ll close with a tale of regret: In 2011, I took my Seattle cousin to Kreuz Market. We ordered everything except for prime rib, because we couldn’t justify paying twice as much as brisket for it. He spent the rest of the weekend saying, “I drove from Washington, out to Lockhart, and I was worried about paying a few extra bucks for prime rib?” When he comes back, we’ll drive the six minutes from my house to Schmidt Family, and we’ll pay $23 a pound for prime rib, with its carnivoral bloom of rosy rare at the center and marbled fat along the edges, shimmering with the lifeblood even smoldering oak couldn’t vanquish. This was prime rib as good as I’ve ever had it, tablecloths be damned. It’s only around Friday-Sunday.
On the side: The fact that they have sides at all? Thank the Galleria gods for that one, because people out here expect the full ride. The best of the sides here are spicy campfire beans fortified with brisket and clingy jalapeño mac and cheese. Save the plain cabbage confetti coleslaw and chunky potato salad for dessert. They’re that much too sweet. ($1.99/serving)
Dessert: Schmidt Family outsources dessert, and banana pudding rides the middle of the road in a little styrofoam cup for $3, money best spent mollifying people who like their brisket lean.
Sauce: With waves black pepper, onion and something like a breath of incense, this sweet red sauce is better than it has to be.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
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