For third generation Pitmaster Kent Black, serving his famed brisket and sausage at the Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historical Park next spring to benefit the LBJ Museum of San Marcos will be a true homecoming.
Kent Black’s BBQ of San Marcos, Lockhart and Austin (www.blacksbbq.com) will be the featured caterer and a sponsor for Spring Shindig 2016: An LBJ Party at the Texas White House, the first major fundraiser for the Claudia Taylor (Lady Bird) Johnson Endowment for the LBJ Museum. The event will be April 23, 2016 in the Oak Grove at the LBJ Ranch in the park.
The Black family has served their delicious barbecue for President Lyndon Johnson’s family for decades—going back to the former president’s early days as a Congressman, as U.S. Senator, as Vice President and as President of the United States.
Kent’s grandfather, former Caldwell County Judge Edgar Black Sr., founded the business in 1932. Kent’s parents, Edgar Black Jr. and Norma Black, now retired, later ran operations until their son took over in 2008.
Black’s BBQ arose out of necessity during the depths of the Great Depression.
“During the Depression, my grandfather was a rancher and farmer in the sand hills, a wooded area between Lockhart and Bastrop,” Black recalls. “He had 100 head of cattle in 1932. However, all the banks were closed and nobody had any money. The federal government offered to come out and shoot our cattle for a dollar a head to reduce the numbers and to get some money into circulation.”
Edgar Black, Sr. did not want to do that. He had a friend, Joe Roble, who wanted to open a meat market. “My Grandfather had cattle; his friend had a meat market — and that’s how Black’s BBQ started,” Black said.
His grandfather led a two-day cattle drive to Lockhart to the courthouse square. “My Dad was seven years old and remembers riding a covered wagon from Delhi, a little town where my Grandfather had been postmaster, to Lockhart. They drove the cattle to town, found a place on Main Street, and that’s how we started Black’s BBQ.”
LBJ was elected to Congress in 1937 and the Black family recalls his campaign visits to Lockhart over the years.
“LBJ would come into town in the days when politicians worked the courthouse square, Black said. “There was no air conditioning then, so he’d bring several crisp white shirts and stop at a home or business to change.”
An honors graduate of Texas A&M University after World War II, Edgar Black, Jr. had the chance for a job in Houston with Exxon, Kent said. However, Edgar Sr. persuaded him to take a two-week break at home—a break that lasted the next 65 years.
Today, 90-year old Edgar Black Jr. is “Pitmaster Emeritus,” noted his son. “Like the Pope, there can be only one Pitmaster.”
When he was a child, Kent’s family served on the committee to support the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. The Blacks went to a birthday celebration at the rodeo arena in Stonewall where they had a big L-B-J shaped birthday cake.
They sang a song, ‘Everything’s OK on the LBJ,” Black recalls—remembering the lyrics of the Lawton Williams tune. “I got this close to shaking LBJ’s hand –but just missed the chance.”
During Johnson’s presidency, Lady Bird Johnson came to Lockhart to promote the Highway Beautification program, one of the great legacies of her years as First Lady.
“The City of Lockhart got into program and had to submit architectural and finance plans for a grant,” Black said. “The city completed the program and made many improvements still visible today. When Mrs. Johnson came to the dedication, I was one of a few Eagle Scouts who got to meet her.”
Black also reminisces about helping prepare brisket and sausage to ship to the White House during LBJ’s presidency—under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service.
After LBJ’s death in 1973, Mrs. Johnson made many trips to Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas, to enjoy the spring wildflowers, to visit her college roommate, and to dine at Black’s BBQ.
“We got to know her during those trips, accompanied by two black Suburbans, with at least one Secret Service agent along,” Black said. “Lady Bird-was always so gracious and approachable. By the time she left, she knew everyone and could call them by name. She had the wonderful ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room”
Kent Black’s “other” career is that of an attorney. He earned a law degree from the South Texas College of Law in Houston. He has been in private practice and served as an administrative law prosecutor with the Department of Human Services for 20 years, general counsel for the Board of Nurse Examiners and as a municipal judge in Lockhart.
However, he always stayed involved in the family business. When his parents retired in 2008, he became “Pitmaster.” He opened Kent Black’s BBQ at 510 Hull Street, San Marcos, in 2014, manages the original Black’s BBQ at 215 N. Main Street in Lockhart, and the Austin location at 3110 Guadalupe Street. He still practices corporate law—in his spare time
Kent Black’s BBQ is gaining national recognition.
“Once you get more than 30 miles from Lockhart, you can’t find this type of barbecue,” Black said. It’s in demand across the nation and business during the holiday season is brisk.
On Dec. 3, Black spent 15 hours doing interviews and demonstrations with “Burgers, Brew and ‘Cue” on the Food Network, a program that will air in early spring. The host is Michael Symon, winner of Iron Chef and a regular on “The Chew,” on ABC.
“The LBJ Museum of San Marcos is excited to have Kent Black catering our Spring Shindig 2016,” said Dr. Ed Mihalkanin, board president. “The Black family ties go back to the beginning of LBJ’s political career and its foundation in Central Texas.”
For Kent Black, the gig at the Spring Shindig also means a lot: “I feel honored and privileged to be a part of it,” he said. “For me, it’s coming full circle—from a kid being around the Johnson events to getting to know Mrs. Johnson during her visits to Lockhart. I appreciate what the Johnsons did to help our country.”
The Spring Shindig will show case exciting performances by iconic singer Michael Martin Murphey, with opening performances by Ryan Scott Travis, Jan Seides, and other special guest stars from the Texas entertainment scene. Luci Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb are honorary chairs of the event, which will also feature a Texas Hill Country beer and wine tasting and live auction of unique items.
Individual tickets are available for $90 each and must be purchased in advance. For a ticket or to be a sponsor, visit www.lbjmuseum.com/springshindig or contact event organizer Suzanne Perkins at 830-385-1645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sponsorship levels include Presidential ($10,000), Vice Presidential ($7,500), Senatorial ($5,000), Congressional ($2,500) and Wildflower ($1,000).