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Which Hatfield’s is the Real McCoy?

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In the business world, verbal partnerships are notoriously fraught with discord, and Kenny Hatfield, the pitmaster at Hatfield’s BBQ and Blackjacks Beer Garden in Rockport, Texas, recently learned this firsthand. Earlier this year, just six months after opening the restaurant with two friends, he was celebrating the news that his barbecue joint had made it into the Texas Monthly Top 50. Roughly a month after the announcement, the three partners had split two ways.

Before the beef between the two parties, the restaurant seemed to be a relatively successful startup story. Erinn and Joey Lincoln moved to Rockport from Houston, and they wanted to open a beer garden and live music venue. They knew success hinged on securing a good location. This is where Kenny Hatfield came in. The Lincolns had befriended Hatfield, a long time Rockport resident who owned a local furniture store. He showed the couple around town in search of the right spot. He also suggested they might want to invest in improvements on a small building he’d been working on. The small cedar building was an on-and-off project for Hatfield for the past few years. The hope was that it would one day become a barbecue joint. With the building already started they all thought it might be mutually beneficial to go into business together. The Lincolns would run the beer and entertainment side while Hatfield would manage the barbecue side. In November of last year, Hatfield’s BBQ & Blackjacks Beer Garden was born.

Hatfield's original building
Hatfield’s BBQ and Blackjacks Beer Garden

A press release announcing the opening of the business from December 4, 2012, identifies Erinn, Joey, and Kenny each as partners. But no parties filed any legally binding partnership agreements.

When the business opened they were tenants on land owned by a local real estate investor. Earlier this year the investor signed a deed of trust giving control of the land to the Lincolns. That deed of trust listed the Lincolns as partners in the business, but not Kenny Hatfield. This left Kenny without any legal right to the business or the property. Once the business received recognition from Texas Monthly for its barbecue, Hatfield sought to secure his position in the business legally. According to a story in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, he gave the Lincolns three options: He could buy out the Lincolns at double their original investment; he could add his name to the corporate papers and the deed of trust; or he would take his things and leave the business. The Lincolns chose the third option.

Hatfield's pit in wall
Kenny tending the “Big Nasty” pit

The feud, which involves a lot of he said/they said, left Hatfield without the land or the restaurant and the Lincolns without the pitmaster that developed the meat smoking techniques that landed them on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list. After the meat was sold out on June 23rd, Hatfield took his pit—which was his before the restaurant was opened, a big boy named “Big Nasty”—and moved it to a new property on Market Street in Rockport. Hatfield was starting over, but this time he would have air conditioning. And no business partners. He named it Hatfield’s BBQ, and it opened this last weekend.

Since news of the feud broke out, both sides have been angling to keep the Top 50 celebrity that comes along with making Texas Monthly’s vaunted list. Kenny has sent a cease and desist letter to the Lincolns to remove his name from their business entirely. The Lincolns say they plan to comply, but they need to revise some permits before that can be completed. Once that’s done branding separation shouldn’t be too difficult. The Lincolns own a website called Blackjacksbeer.com and the Facebook page is for Blackjacks Beer Garden.

Hatfiield's Big Nasty
Kenny Hatfield with “Big Nasty” after removing it from the original building.

So what about the award-winning barbecue? The Lincolns say George Gracia was the original pitmaster and still is. The original press release seems to agree with them, but Kenny says “I taught him how I cook. I taught him everything.” To try for an unbiased observer, I called local reporter Mike Baird who’d done some stories on Hatfield’s BBQ since the Top 50 list was announced. When I asked him which of the two Hatfield’s BBQ locations he would be visiting, he said “Kenny was the guy with the barbecue. It was the best barbecue I’ve ever had.”

We’ll see if that great barbecue makes it over to the new joint on Market Street. “Everybody will see what’s really going on once I open,” says Kenny. Well, I, for one, can’t wait to go down for a taste test.

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  • Bill Pike

    Without getting too negative in a public forum, I ate at Hatfields shortly after the TM Top 50 and Corpus Christi Caller Times article came out. I’ve had some REALLY good bbq and this was most certainly not one of them.

    • Pam Young

      Go to the new location on Market Street. Once you’ve tasted “The Real McCoy” you will understand why it made the top of the list.

  • Edna Easter Hatfield

    Well Bill just to let you know that right after the caller times article was the split. You didn’t get the Real Hatfields BBQ.

  • Tom Meinhausen

    Hatfield’s, The Real McCoy. Let it be noted for the record, Kenny Hatfield serves BBQ because he loves nothing more in life then to see somebody smile from food he created. It is passion and talent blended perfectly together that creates the mouth watering smells, that soon becomes a meal placed before you.

    For many years Kenny would serve BBQ on Friday evenings to anyone that would show up at his flooring store, he didn’t charge, he just loved seeing people enjoy his food. Today you can enjoy this passion at his joint 6 days a week. Of course, now there is a charge, and will worth it. Like it says in the article, the Real McCoy is just that.

    • Lela Evans

      Thank you Tom you said it perfect!!

  • Thomas M Turner

    Just got back from road tripping it with my daughter to Kenny’s new place (30 miles from my house in Corpus). I went to his old place 3 times before, and I can say I like the new building better (air conditioning!). No wine or beer yet, so I’m guessing he’s waiting for a license. No problem, you can BYOB…but that’s not why you’re there anyway. It’s for the Cue. So I dropped a few dimes on 2 pounds of brisket, 2 pounds of pork ribs, a pound of pulled pork and a pound of sausage. The brisket was smoking hot and super moist, even the lean cuts. Each piece pulled apart with little effort. Great crust, great smoke flavor, good balance of salt and pepper. In short, this was easily the best brisket I’ve had from him. This was on par with what I’ve had at
    2 Brothers in San Antonio (which is exceptional), and an edge above what I had at the Granary (but only had their meat once). The pork ribs have always been a favorite, and they didn’t disappoint. Some had a little too much char, but the meat fell easily from the bone and was still really moist. His rub has always been a high point of the ribs. Despite the few that were a little too black, the ribs were still top notch. The pulled pork was excellent. Moist, lots of smoke flavor, just delicious. The sausage was back to its good form (it was really up and down at his old place). Moist with a great pepper taste. Regarding all the meat varieties, I’ve found that the quality is directly proportional to the amount of oversight Kenny has at the pit. I think his help at the new joint will likely be able to maintain better consistency. Overall grade: well worth the 30 mile jaunt from Corpus. Plus, heating up the leftovers is still better than most other places first serves. Hope he keeps it up.

  • WJames

    I will be in the area on Tuesday….have heard nothing but good things about the new Hatfield’s…the real McCoy….can’t wait to try the bbq. It’s a shame there are people in the world like the Lincolns that take advantage of others.

  • Larry Bates

    The 621 W Market St is the “real McCoy. I had their ribs and brisket and it was wonderful. Kenny was cooking and checking on customers to make sure they were satisfied.

  • We had bbq at a wedding reception tonight. Good pork bad sauce

  • Jon

    I have traveled and had BBQ at many places and I know that everyone thinks that their BBQ is the best. However my first visit, meat was really dry. The staff handled the pulled pork without gloves (put me off appetite wise) So the brisket meh. the ribs over cooked and the hygiene not good at all, wiping sweat from your forehead and then handling the meat just grossed me out.

    Good Luck.

  • It has some good BBQ but not the BEST

  • Marilyn

    We’ve had BarBQ at Kenny’s many times…both places. I really liked it from the old place, and it’s still really good from the newer place on Market…however I’ve seen some of the same things the man above saw, “no gloves, sweat running down their face,” but the Q was good and is good…Some meat can’t help but get too “done,” but all in all, I still like Hatfield’s better than any other bar-b-que.

    • Got to add a bit to my post —
      I was born and raised in San Antonio, and my daddy made the best BBQ around. Every Saturday morning he’d stack the wood and build the fire, watch it (and drink Lone Star) until he deemed it the fire just right. Then he come in the house for the meat, take it back to the BBQ pit, get another beer, and arrange it just so, then put he’d the sauce on with a paint brush, turn it over and over, until it was done – everytime he turned it over, he’d get another beer. IT WAS THE BEST I’VE EVER TASTED! and I’ve got to say Hatfield’s is as close as I’ve ever tasted to my Dad’s. (Maybe Kenny should drink Lone Star Beer all day while he’s [email protected]!!