Three major European powers of the 18th century – Spain, France and England – competed for control of territory that ultimately would become Texas. To help solidify its claim, Spain established missions, introduced cattle-raising and thus founded the ranching industry that has grown over the past three centuries.
Today, iconic meat markets near rural areas take the bounty from farms and ranches and transform it into a dizzying array of products to satisfy Texans’ carnivorous cravings. Three prime examples – each with German roots – are Thorndale Meat Market in Thorndale, northeast of Austin; Eckermann’s Meat Market in Shelby, between Houston and Austin; and Bernhard’s Meat Market in Ingram, west of Kerrville in the Hill Country, home to large populations of exotic hoofstock.
Thorndale Meat Market
“My great grandpa – Wilhelm Rubeck – came to Texas from Germany in 1898 and settled in Detmold, near Thorndale,” says Trey Felton. “He was affectionately known as Papa Bill to his seven children and almost 100 grandchildren and great grandchildren. He owned a general store that also had an upstairs beer garden. He dabbled in barbecue and sausage-making and burned down his business while barbecuing…twice.”
Papa Bill’s son, Marvin, continued the tradition and, at one time, owned a 2,000-head hog farm to make tens of thousands of pounds of sausage annually. His specialty was German-style pork sausage and beef-pork dried sausage, known as Landjager in southern Germany and Austria. He also operated a butcher shop in his garage where customers would drive from all over Texas.
Felton and his sister, Summer, acquired the family property and built the current Thorndale Meat Market in 2011, using the existing structures to house barbecue pits and cold-smoking equipment. They applied their ancestral knowledge of butchering and barbecuing to create an artisan butcher shop specializing in domestic meat – beef, pork, chicken and turkey, plus bacon and sausages. While meat-processing remains a big part of their business, the brother-sister duo has witnessed a surge in the popularity of barbecue; on average, they prepare 100 briskets per week.
Eckermann’s Meat Market
At Eckermann’s in Shelby, owner Buck Eckermann and his team also process beef and pork through their slaughter operation as well as deer and elk harvested by hunters for custom processing.
“Our business roots began more than 70 years ago when our late father became involved with meat-handling as a young adult by slaughtering beef steers for local stores and rural beef clubs,” Eckermann says. “He also slaughtered hogs for many neighbors’ families during the winter months. ‘Hog-killing day’ was part of our German community’s tradition.”
In the 1950s, at-home processing led to custom processing of beef, pork and lamb for people who could afford deep-freeze units in their homes. “The early custom processing was performed in a room within our home where a Philco freezer stored the processed meat until the customer could pick it up,” Eckermann recalls.
“As the decade of the ‘50s was ending, the need for a total meat-processing operation was growing. Many local stores were finding it difficult to handle full carcasses, and the rural beef clubs were declining. So, our parents invested $900 in a new, stand-alone facility on the family farm as a turnkey meat-market operation.”
Eckermann’s can manage all types of custom meat-cutting, but they specialize in smoked and dry sausages. “Our sausage label says it all – ‘A fresh cut from the country,’” Eckermann says. “We’re a rural market where you can get custom meat cuts in a country atmosphere.”
Bernhard’s Meat Market
In contrast, Bernhard’s in Ingram focuses much of its attention on wild- and exotic-game processing. Brothers Milton and Earl Bernhard started the business in 1952; it was sold in 1983 when Earl passed away. Under new ownership, the market faltered, so Milton re-established Milton Bernhard Meat Processing in 1995. Current owners Mark and Carolyn Lampson purchased Bernhard’s from Milton and Betty Bernhard in 1995, built a state-of-the-art wild-game processing facility and retail meat market in 2005 and added a custom slaughter operation last year.
“In addition to wild game and exotic meats, we process domestic beef, swine, lamb and goats,” Mark Lampson says. “Our high-end retail meat market carries choice-graded beef, fresh chicken, quail, numerous sausages derived from Milton’s original recipes and many cured products and cheeses.”
Up until the pandemic, Bernhard’s saw a decrease in carcass beef sales because of the higher cost of feedlot cattle. But beginning in March 2020, sales increased dramatically, the result of a perceived shortage of beef during the spring and summer of 2020. Thankfully, supplies of beef and other meats have rebounded.
In 1984, 82-year-old actress Clara Peller wanted to know in a TV advertising campaign, “Where’s the beef?” Today, almost four decades later, the answer continues to be “all over Texas,” much of the credit belonging to country markets like Thorndale’s, Eckermann’s and Bernhard’s.
Thorndale Meat Market
300 U.S. 79
Thorndale, TX 76577
Eckermann’s Meat Market
2543 FM 1457
New Ulm TX, 78950
Bernhard Meat Market
2920 Junction Hwy.
Kerrville, TX 78028
Bob lives near Camp Verde and frequently contributes to regional and national magazines. He’s also communications director for Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals of all ages in mind.