May 16, 2013
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.
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.