What is a pitmaster? – In the early days, to barbeque meat besides directly over a fire, you made a pit in the ground filled with hot coals. Indigenous peoples around the world used pit ovens for thousands of years. This method is a way to cook tough meat for a long time to make it tender. Basically, a primitive method of “low and slow” BBQ!
There would be someone who knew how to dig a proper pit, make a fire, prepare and place the meat, cover it, and know when to retrieve the meat. So now in modern times, the term for the activity is still – ‘pitmaster.’ Have you ever been to a BBQ joint that was cooking meat buried in the ground?
The pit evolved to be above ground, often a box made of brick. Now there is a variety of new BBQ smokers from electric to gas to offset smokers made of metal. You won’t see as many brick pits nowadays, but they are out there.
The art and science of low and slow BBQ have been taken to a whole new level. The BBQ cook must be a master of the pit to meet the high standards of BBQ cooking that people have now come to expect.
Those who have earned the title “pitmaster” earn it by dedication and love for producing the perfect, brisket, ribs and other smokey delights, consistently.
These salt-of-the-earth folks can and do become famous among those who are BBQ lovers. Some are born into it, some are called to it, and many just fell into it, but they all have interesting stories.
Here are three Texas BBQ joints and pitmasters you may have heard of:
Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas – In 1900 Charles Kreuz bought a meat market, which we call nowadays a grocery store with a butcher. Coming from a family of German immigrants that had a tradition of smoking meats, he started selling smoked meat, German meat-market-style. The business grew, and some say that was when Texas BBQ was born.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Kreuz Market is still in business and has become famous for BBQ. The ownership has changed hands over the years and was moved to a bigger location, but the BBQ remains the same. This is one restaurant that still uses brick BBQ pits. This is a strict Texas-style BBQ joint, no sauce, no fork, no salad, and no plate, just butchers’ paper and your fingers.
Roy Perez – Kreuz Market pitmaster Roy Perez has become a celebrity in the world of barbecue. He started as a young pit apprentice in 1987. Perez was taught the Kreuz low and slow method of smoking meat, just as founder Charles Kreuz Sr. did a hundred and twenty years ago. Now with 33 years as pitmaster, he is at the top of BBQ critic and enthusiast lists. People come from around the world to sample his low and slow Texas BBQ.
Snow’s BBQ – Just an hour away from Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas is Snow’s BBQ in Lexington Texas. This renowned BBQ restaurant was once labeled as “The Best Texas BBQ in the World” by The New Yorker. That was in 2008 and since then the accolades continued. Texas Monthly even rated Snow’s BBQ the #1 BBQ joint in Texas, a rating that usually went to the very famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.
Tootsie Tomanetz – Snow’s BBQ’s “secret weapon” is world-famous pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz. At 85 years-old, Tootsie is not only one of the oldest famous pitmasters, but being a lady in the male-dominated pitmaster world, makes her stand out even more.
She says BBQ enthusiasts come from all around the world to sample her “world-famous” BBQ. People from countries like China, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and Italy will arrive and line up early in the morning just to get a chance to sample Tootsie’s BBQ.
Tootsie says it takes hard work and dedication to be successful at being a pitmaster and running a BBQ joint. With around 50 years of experience, she should know what she is talking about.
Snow’s BBQ is only open on Saturdays and closes when they run out of BBQ, which can happen by lunchtime, so get their early. But if you can’t get there or don’t want to travel for miles as some do, Snow’s BBQ will ship Tootsie Tomanetz’s famous BBQ to your door!
Caldwell County BBQ – Another legendary barbecue joint is Gilbert, Arizona’s own Caldwell Country BBQ! Now, what in tarnation is a Texas-style BBQ restaurant doing in Arizona? Well why not, Texas BBQ is popular around the world, and did you ever hear of Arizona BBQ? Arizona may not be a barbecue destination like Texas, but you will find that when you go to Arizona BBQ joints, they will very likely be serving Texas-style BBQ or close to it.
Everyone seems to love the brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and sausage, no matter what state they are in. If they are not serving Central Texas BBQ as CCBBQ does, they will likely be serving South Texas-style, which has a Mexican influence. But it is all about Texas y’all! And Caldwell County BBQ’s own pitmaster, Clay Caldwell and Jimmy Perez, wanted to make sure that they brought the very best Texas BBQ to Arizona.
Already having had a BBQ joint for 20 years, Waldo’s BBQ, he got out of the business. Soon after a trip to Texas and visiting legendary BBQ joints like Franklin Barbeque, he learned the secrets of low and slow smoked BBQ and brought it home to Gilbert, Arizona. Caldwell County BBQ has only been opened since 2018, so maybe they’re not legendary (except maybe in their own minds), but certainly up there with the well-known Texas BBQ joints and pitmasters.
Judging by the feedback from CCBBQs customers Clay and his family’s BBQ restaurant may be on there way to reaching legendary status! Go and visit and see for yourself if this little bit of Texas won’t rock your tastes buds and make you say “this is saving me a trip to Texas. I can just come here and get my Texas BBQ fix!”