Black's BBQ in Lockhart, Texas has long been renowned as the oldest family barbecue restaurant in the world, famous for its old-school cooking techniques and amazing smoked meat. However, this beloved barbecue joint has had its fair share of family drama, most recently between pitmaster Kent and his nephews, Mike and Mark.
The History of Black's Barbecue
The Black family opened Black's Barbecue almost a century ago, back in 1932, and they've been serving great food ever since. As the story goes, Edgar Black was an impoverished farmer and cattle rancher living in the Great Depression.
He made a deal with a friend who dreamed of opening a meat market, and Black's Barbecue was born. At the time, it operated as a meat market and grocery store, and the leftover meat cuts were barbecued, creating smokey meats that eventually stole the show.
When Edgar Black died in 1962, his son Edgar Jr. and wife Norma Jean took over the family business, and the rest is history. Third-generation pitmaster Kent Black was born into the business as well. "I started working here in 1958 when I was six years old. I was selling snow cones out front before shaved ice was cool. I grew up working in the barbecue business and our grocery business, carrying out groceries, mopping floors"
Kent went on to work as a state prosecutor, but in 2008 when his parents retired after 65 years of running Black's BBQ, Kent happily took over the business, which he feels is his true calling.
"I really feel a personal responsibility to carry on this style of cooking because it's disappearing from America," he says. "I'm not saying that out of an ego or anything, I believe in God and I feel like I'm here for a reason, and maybe one of my reasons is to preserve this style of cooking for future generations."
The central Texas restaurant is a legend in the BBQ world and is partly responsible for popularizing beef brisket and beef rib. In fact, Lockhart was officially named the barbecue capital of Texas by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and no Texan would call it a coincidence that this is the location of Black's BBQ restaurant.
Black's Barbecue is known far and wide for the delectable smokiness of its meats and authentic flavors, called by some BBQ enthusiasts as the best BBQ out there. On the menu, which can be found at www.blacksbbq.com, you can choose from pork ribs, beef ribs, chopped beef brisket, brisket, turkey breast, pulled pork, and chicken.
The restaurant also offers a buffet of side dishes like green beans, coleslaw, potato salad, along with desserts like ice cream and pecan cobbler. As for the BBQ sauce, Kent Black keeps it simple with a combo of salt, pepper, red pepper and cayenne.
The Black's BBQ Feud
The family drama began in 2014. Twin brothers Mike and Mark were raised in the barbecue Mecca that is Black's BBQ, and they're passionate about authentic, old-school BBQ. As the brothers told Eater in an interview, they feel that the family barbecue restaurant is losing touch with its roots and departing from the Black family tradition.
As Eater Austin reported, "In their opinion, Kent Black's cooking techniques have violated Black's Barbecue's 'old school' traditions. Mike learned pit-smoking from his grandfather, Edgar Black, Jr. He feels that under Kent's leadership, Black's has moved away from using the open pit concept and now uses rotisserie cookers as a major part of their cooking process. In addition, Mark Black tells Eater that he believes that the sides, once all made from scratch, now 'primarily come from a bag or a box.'"
Along with feeling that the BBQ itself wasn't as genuine or top-quality as their family's roots had been, the brothers felt that the restaurant as a whole was falling short of its standards. As Mike Black explained on his BBQ restaurant's website, "I noticed a whole lot of activity in the business that didn't sit right with me and I believe wouldn't have sat right with my grandfather had he had an accurate depiction of what was happening behind the scenes."
He feels that in his family's BBQ feud, "one side" didn't want to get along, subtly alluding to his uncle, Kent. When explaining the splits that sometime occur in families, he says "In the end, often one side feels like they've received the short end of the stick for whatever reason and the other side thinks their self-righteousness won out. Forgetting at the end of the day you are still blood related and should always treat others how you would like to be treated."
Because of this divide, the brothers decided to start their own barbecue restaurant in Austin, using the cooking methods they learned from their grandfather and reviving the forgotten traditions of the Black family. They had planned on using the family name in their new venture, but soon received a cease-and-desist letter from Kent's lawyer.
Mike knew that no matter what happened with his family, he and his twin are meant to do BBQ. As Mike says, "Considering after all, we were born in to the barbecue business, it's what we knew, it's in our blood! We had to continue on and we for damn sure wanted to after all we had been through!" Since opening, they've expanded to Dallas and plan to open a location in Lockhart this year, proving how successful you can be when you follow your heart and stand by what you believe is right.
Kent's Side of the Story
In response to his nephews' claims, Kent said that Mike and Marks' barbecue is drastically different than the classic Black BBQ products. He also vehemently denied their accusations that Black's BBQ has departed from family traditions.
"That's not true, and I don't know why they'd say that. As you can see back there, we've been doing things the same way for 82 years. My parents worked 65 years for this brand and this reputation, and we really don't want anything to damage that brand. Especially something like their business which we don't have any control over."
Can the Black's BBQ Restaurants Coexist?
It's unclear whether the family members have reconciled, but they found a compromise that would allow all to pursue their BBQ dreams. Rather than using the family name as they had planned, Mike and Mark named their restaurant after their father, calling it Terry Black's Barbecue.
Kent has now expanded and has locations in Austin, Lockhart, and New Braunfels. He kept the original name of Black's Barbecue and is using meat smoked in the original Black's Lockhart location. Kent also decided to expand to San Marcos, with an independent BBQ joint called Kent Black's Barbecue.
Kent says that he wishes his nephews all the best, saying "I wish them the best, I really do, and it's a free country, everybody can go do whatever they wanna do. I hope they're very successful."
The question is, can the Texas barbecue scene handle so many Black's barbecue restaurants? More importantly, which Black's BBQ is the best?
This post was originally published on July 16, 2021.