“SOME PEOPLE LOVE MY BBQ. SOME DON’T AND THAT’S FINE”
-Pit Master Roy Perez
In 1987 Roy Perez received a phone call that would change his life. The home builder from Lockhart, Texas took a call from his cousin who worked at a local barbecue restaurant called Kreuz Market.
Roy immediately quit his home building gig and started smoking sausages for 4th generation Kreuz owner Rick Schmidt. Roy quickly fell in love with working the pits and he was quickly promoted to manager within three months.
Today he’s the Kreuz Pit Master, armed with mutton chops and a meat cleaver.
Since he started smoking meat 28 years ago, Roy’s reputation for working with smoke has spread and he has become a celebrity in the world of barbecue. The mere mention of his name conjures up images of pit smokers, butcher blocks, and large, sharp knives.
If you haven’t caught on, Texas is a place where barbecue is taken seriously. In fact, Roy can count the sick days he’s taken in 28 years on one hand.
Hint: It’s less than five. Perez has done his time in the pits and he made his BBQ bones years ago.
As a young pit apprentice, Perez learned the time honored Kreuz method of smoking meat low and slow, just like founder Charles Kreuz Sr. did nearly a century earlier.
Kreuz Sr.’s methods came from what he learned in 19th century German meat markets before coming to Texas.
Kreuz first opened its doors in 1900 in Lockhart, Texas. Today, they remain at the top of countless BBQ critic and aficionado lists.
You might think making the best barbecue in Texas requires a relentless pit boss, one who works endless hours to be the best. But, as Roy will tell you, he comes in every day at 8 a.m. and he doesn’t care about the BBQ critics, lists or rankings.
So what is it about barbecue that motivates him to wake up and work the smokers every morning for 28 years?
“Making sure it’s something I’m proud of and making sure it’s great,” Roy said. “People go through great lengths to get here and I want them to leave happy with smiles on their face and a full happy stomach.”
Every morning Roy arrives at Kreuz, grabs some post oak logs to get the fires burning, then checks the journal he’s been keeping since 1987 to decide how much meat he’ll smoke that day.
Next comes a little seasoning rub, then it’s time for brisket and shoulder clod to smoking, followed shortly by ribs and pork chops.
Some know that their brisket is ready when the buzzer dings, or when their thermometer tells them so. Roy knows when his barbecue is ready by sight, smell and feel. No gauges and no room for mistakes.
When you care about barbecue rankings, your most important batch of brisket happens when a food critic comes to town. For Roy, every day is as important because people come in every day from across Texas and the world.
“I’d hate to have someone come all the way from Italy and have them come to me after having eaten and tell me it’s not as good as they’d heard,” Roy said.
Many children who have wandered into Kreuz have admitted to being terrified by the man with the mutton chops, large, steely knives, and dressed in a greasy apron.
As it turns out, the man with the meat cleaver and Elvis-inspired side burns isn’t as intimidating as he looks. Roy just wants to make people happy with good food. And his sideburns aren’t the only thing he shares with the King of Rock and Roll.
“We’re both rebels and don’t care what people think of us. But we respect others. Some people love rock and roll others don’t. Which is fine but don’t talk bad about it,” Roy said.
“Some people love my BBQ some don’t. And that’s fine.”
Resilience is another quality Roy shares with his idol Elvis (see Roy’s “Love Meat Tender” t-shirt). “We both had alcoholic mothers and we both had our mothers die young. His at 45 and mine at the age of 40,” Roy said.
Growing up as the oldest in a family with two alcoholic parents, long before he became pitmaster, Roy got his first job before he grew to be a teenager: raising his 9 brothers and sisters.
Roy’s been called the “King of Texas barbecue” more than once, a title for which he hasn’t campaigned, nor accepted.
“I hate people calling me a legend,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s great to know that people think I’m something special.”
Included among those who think Roy is something special is Kreuz’ 5th generation owner, Keith Schmidt. “I think it’s the Elvis persona that drew attention to him in the first place, but his food that got him all the attention,” Schmidt said.
“He understands what we’ve tried to keep alive here all these years and strives to make it happen.”
After spending his childhood growing up too fast to becoming a legendary pitmaster, or as he likes to term it, “just a person who does a great job barbecuing,” the fact that Roy is something special is undeniable. No matter where you come from, Roy has some advice to help you get where you’d like to go:
“Set goals and never give up. Never. We can all be somebody special. You can be a great grocery cashier who makes people smile everyday and makes them come back just to have you put a smile on their face. Or a doctor or a teacher. We don’t have to be legends to be remembered.”
“He’s made it so I can leave and know it’s in just as good hands as my own,” Schmidt says. “He treats it as his own, not just like a job.”