Lockhart is as well-known for a certain barbecue family feud as it is for being the Barbecue Capital of Texas. The same year the town received the designation from the Texas House, in 1999, the rift between the Schmidt siblings was laid bare to the public. After a lease dispute between brother and sister, Kreuz Market left its original home a year shy of the business’s century mark and moved down the street. Pitmasters from Kreuz Market dragged a metal tub of coals from the pits in the old building—soon to become Smitty’s Market—to fire up the smokers in the new building, which opened on September 1, 1999. Twenty-three years later, another sibling rivalry has ushered in fresh discord—this time in the Black family. Black’s Barbecue goes back ninety years, while the newest location of Terry Black’s Barbecue opened its doors in Lockhart just last week. And while this hostility may seem new, its genesis was a decade ago.
Terry Black has lived in Lockhart all his life. He opened his CPA office across North Main Street from Black’s Barbecue, the barbecue joint his grandfather Edgar Black Sr. opened in 1932. From the early nineties, Terry served as the president of the corporation that owned the restaurant. After his father, the late Edgar Black Jr., survived a heart attack in 1996, Terry spent more time in the restaurant, taking over many of his father’s duties. In 2008, Terry’s brother, Kent, came back into the family business after retiring as a lawyer. Kent became the restaurant’s manager, and Terry continued his duties as president. Terry’s son Michael came on to work the pits in 2010.
Then, in November 2013, while Terry sat in his office across the street from the restaurant, he received a fax from the Black’s Barbecue lawyer that his and his son’s services were no longer needed at the restaurant. The news was confirmed by his parents and Kent in a family meeting a couple hours later. “It was an unpleasant gathering,” Terry recalled. Kent said he wasn’t involved in the decision. “My parents owned the company at that time,” he told me. (Kent took over ownership when he bought the restaurant from his parents in 2015.) He added that the decision came after a year of attempted negotiations with Terry, who shouldn’t have been surprised. Either way, Terry and Michael were out of the family business. Directly across the street from Black’s Barbecue, Terry maintained his CPA office location, and it now serves as the corporate headquarters of the growing Terry Black’s Barbecue empire.
Michael had come back home to Lockhart from college in 2010 to work in the family business rather than pursue a career with his new finance degree. Now he was out of a job, so he partnered with his twin brother, Mark, their sister, Christina, and their parents, Terry and Patti, to open a new barbecue joint in Austin. In late 2013, they announced plans to call it Black’s Barbecue, which seemed misguided, given the recent family drama. After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Black’s, the new restaurant became Terry Black’s Barbecue and opened on Barton Springs Road in Austin in late 2014. A second outpost in Dallas opened in 2019. A year later, the family bought land for a future location in Lockhart. “Since day one, when we opened in Austin, we said, ‘If this is successful, then we want to go back home,’ ” co-owner Mark Black told me.
Terry Black’s Barbecue sought a plot of land on the north side of Lockhart, so it would be the first barbecue business travelers coming from Austin would encounter. You first have to drive past a billboard for Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q and two for Black’s Barbecue, the second of which reminds potential customers that Black’s is the “only 1 original Black’s BBQ in Lockhart.” The message was added to the billboard within the last few months, lest there be any confusion with the new Terry Black’s Barbecue half a mile up the street. A marquee owned by Black’s Barbecue farther into town displayed the same message a few weeks back, to which Terry Black’s responded. Fighting fire with dynamite, its own marquee message two weeks before opening read: “Pitmaster. Where the title is earned not because mama said so.” Mark Black said it was aimed at his uncle, Kent. Any speculation about this being a friendly contest was gone.
A week later, the U.S. Department of Labor published a press release revealing that Black’s Barbecue had withheld $230,353 from employees when it improperly split tips with managers. In a Facebook video, Kent, alongside his son, Barrett Black, explained that the restaurant “missed a rule change” about tipping and repaid the tip money last year. Terry Black’s had a new marquee message two days later (and two days before its opening) that read: “Another 230,353 reasons why you should eat at Terry Black’s BBQ.” Kent was not amused. “I have no interest in a feud,” he told me, and he placed a welcome message to Terry Black’s on his own marquee, seeking a truce. Since Terry Black’s first day of business, last Friday, the marquee battle is on hold. “I’m all for resolving it,” Kent said of the family squabble, but with just blocks between their businesses, the two sides of the family haven’t shared a meaningful conversation in years.
Both sides agree on a few things, like the importance of keeping it clear that the two restaurants aren’t affiliated. “We want people to know there’s a distinct difference,” Mark said. Part of that difference is the businesses’ preference in smokers. Six steel offset Moberg smokers are on display inside the new Terry Black’s Barbecue pit room, overseen by pitmaster Aaron Duntley. They sit in contrast to the combination of the historic brick pits and gas-fired rotisseries favored in the Black’s Barbecue pit room. The businesses also both agree that the new barbecue competition is good for Lockhart. “The more barbecue in town, the better,” Kent said. Mark echoed that sentiment, saying, “If anybody comes in and ups the game, it’s better for everyone.” He may get his wish next year, as Chuck Charnichart, pitmaster at Goldee’s Barbecue in Fort Worth, is planning to open her own barbecue joint in Lockhart, if she can only secure a lease.
The day after Terry Black’s debuted in Lockhart, I drove into town to taste the rivals. The doors to Black’s Barbecue opened just after 10 a.m., and I was one of two customers. The smoked turkey wasn’t available, thanks to a global turkey shortage (get those Thanksgiving birds early, by the way), but I was there for the Texas trinity. Black’s was charging $27 per pound for brisket at a time when plenty of other spots have topped the $30 mark. Unfortunately, the fatty end was sliced with the grain, leaving me with strings of beef, albeit moist and well-seasoned strings. The sausage was plump with juice, but the spareribs needed some seasoning.
Thirty minutes later, general manager Brandon Wood opened the doors of Terry Black’s, where I was also the second customer. Brisket was a dollar cheaper per pound, and upon reflection, it was the best bite of brisket I’ve enjoyed in Lockhart in recent memory. I’d prefer a stouter bark on my rib, and the sliced link of sausage was great, but it reminded me how much I love the ring-shaped beef sausages served uncut throughout Lockhart. The starkest difference between the meals was the quality of the sides, which I know many folks will skip on their Lockhart barbecue tours. The food service–grade mac and cheese and canned green beans at Black’s are a far cry from the pasta covered with a creamy cheese sauce and the crisp, fresh green beans tossed with butter, garlic, and finely diced onions at Terry Black’s.
A few days before Terry Black’s opened, Terry addressed the team of employees readying the restaurant for service. He told them about a photo he’d found of his grandparents and great-grandparents standing outside the Hotel Black they ran in Elk City, Oklahoma, around 1905. He reminded his crew that this new restaurant was the latest chapter in a long history of hospitality offered by the Black family. And with or without a feud, it is remarkable to see two brothers—Kent with four barbecue joints and Terry with three locations for now—so successful in a difficult business. Kent said that’s the family story he’d like to focus on. As we ended our conversation, he told me, “I’d be extremely happy if we could just get back to barbecue.”