Black’s has little in common with the more publicized Kreuz or Smitty’s other than that they are all in the same town. Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past an anticlimactic salad bar. But when you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find the most important difference between Black’s and its Lockhart brethren—good brisket. Kent Black’s methodology (developed by his parents, Edgar and Norma Jean) is definitely odd: briskets are cooked for eight hours in a Southern Pride rotisserie using only wood, no gas. This leaves them partially smoked. They’re then stored for a couple days in a cooler, then smoked for four hours in the old brick pits. This may be the weirdest smoking routine in Texas, but it’s hard to argue with the results. A thick black crust covers the tender beef, and there’s plenty of well-cooked fat with a deep and powerful smokiness that just isn’t found elsewhere in town.

<p class="rtecenter" dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="media-image attr__typeof__foaf:Image img__fid__34235 img__view_mode__default attr__format__default attr__field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]__ attr__field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]__" src="" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">Crane High School in West Texas has been in headlines this week after an outbreak of Chlamydia </span><a href="" target="_blank">infected 20</a> students. Since Crane only has a total student population of about 300, the <a href="" target="_blank">1/15 infection rate</a> was severe enough to prompt school administrators to send a letter home to parents, and spur a revisitation of their current sex education program.</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">Crane High’s current sex ed program is a three-day long course taught each fall. Like most schools in the state, it’s abstinence-based, which means students are taught that abstaining from sex is the only way to prevent unintended consequences, and they learn nothing about condoms or other forms of protection and birth control. </span></p> <!--break--> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">This kind of program is popular around Texas, especially since the mandatory health class was dropped from the high school graduation requirements </span><a href="" target="_blank">back in 2009</a>. Despite <a href="" target="_blank">research that shows</a> comprehensive, or <a href="" target="_blank">abstinence-plus</a>, curricula are much more effective at teaching teenagers how to engage in healthy, safe sex, <a href="" target="_blank">about 75 percent</a> of Texas school districts use abstinence-based programs. The thinking is that if kids aren’t presented with information on how to have safe sex, or are scared out of the act altogether with threats of <a href="’s-talk-about-sex-0" target="_blank">possible disease and depression</a>, they’ll put off losing their virginity until they’re older, or married.</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">Or as Crane ISD Superintendent Jim Rumage put it in an </span><a href="" target="_blank">interview with the <em>San Antonio Express-News</em></a>, “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease. That’s not a bad program.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">It’s hard to say whether or not it’s a direct result of an education that neglects to teach students what a condom is, or how to use one, but Texas ranks as the </span><a href="" target="_blank">eighth-worst state in the country for STI transmission rates</a>. Specifically, the Chlamydia rate in Texas in 2013 was <a href="" target="_blank">473.1 per 100,000 residents</a>, compared to a nationwide rate <a href="" target="_blank">of 456.7</a>. Crane County, home to Crane High School, has a rate below the national and state averages, at <a href="" target="_blank">356.2 per 100,000 residents</a>, but surrounding West Texas counties like <a href="" target="_blank">Midland and Ector</a> have Chlamydia rates high enough to rank them on a national scale.</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">Texas ranks even more poorly when it comes to teen pregnancy, with the </span><a href="" target="_blank">third highest rate in the country</a> behind New Mexico and Mississippi. Teen pregnancy has been on the decline nationwide since rates peaked in 1991, but <a href="" target="_blank">Texas is lagging far behind</a>.</p> <p><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">In this state, when non-mandated sex education courses are taught, they aren’t required to be medically accurate, are allowed to promote religion, are allowed to promote negative ideas about sexual orientation, and must be age-appropriate, according to a state policy brief </span><a href="" target="_blank">by Guttmacher</a>. HIV prevention courses also aren’t mandated, but when they are taught, they stress abstinence but do cover condom use.</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">This is all fine, if you’re someone like Dr. Stuart Spitzer, the </span><a href="" target="_blank">state representative who recently</a> put legislative weight behind a House budget that would move $3 million from HIV prevention programs to abstinence education. “My goal is for everyone to be abstinent until they are married,” Spitzer said on the House floor. It’s the same kind of declaration as Crane ISD Superintendent Jim Rumage’s — if kids would just keep their body parts to themselves, we wouldn’t have a problem to educate against in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7">But at the local level, in towns where outbreaks like the one at Crane High School have hit, or towns with especially high teen pregnancy rates, things look a bit different. Slowly, due to concern and outrage from parents who say the education their kids receive isn’t working, </span><a href="" target="_blank">more Texas schools</a> are turning to comprehensive and abstinence-plus programs. The change isn’t coming in sweeping top-down legislation from lawmakers — it’s coming school by school, all over the state.</p> <p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-0d50fb5c-2fb8-60df-1289-a9f0184d41c7"><a href="" target="_blank">On May 19</a></span>, school officials at Crane High will recommend a new sex ed curriculum to the school board. There’s no way of knowing what that recommended curriculum will look like, but there’s a pretty good chance abstinence-plus education might be on the horizon for Crane ISD.</p>

The rest of the menu isn’t bad either. Enormous beef short ribs have as much as a nine-inch bone and weigh a pound and a half. They can also be a little uneven: On some visits we’ve had a rich, moist hunk of beef that comes apart effortlessly. On others, we’ve enjoyed the same spectacular flavor but with more chew than we’d like. Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) is rustic, which is to say, you can taste that it’s handmade but you also can taste, occasionally, a mouthful of link that’s a little too liberally lubricated by the pool of hot grease formed by a large pocket of unincorporated fat. The flavor, however, is phenomenal, and there’s little to complain about when it comes to the other cuts. The exemplary smoked turkey breast is dusted with just enough black pepper to give it some bite. On our last visit, pork chops were a new, and welcome, addition to the menu; ours was salty, smoky, and moist, with a nice ring of well-rendered fat hugging the exterior. For pork ribs you have a choice of baby backs and spares, but we prefer the latter, with their rough and ruddy surface speckled with black pepper.