Ronnie Killen has opened the doors to his permanent barbecue joint, Killen's Barbecue. His Goal: To Serve "The Best Barbecue … Period."
When Ronnie Killen, chef and owner of Killen's Steakhouse, started his weekend barbecue pop ups in March 2013, word quickly spread about the unyielding commitment to quality he was putting forth in his salt-and-peppered-crusted brisket, pork and beef ribs, and housemade smoked sausage. Seemingly immediately, lines of up to two hours began to form for a taste of Killen's barbecue. Now nearly one year later, Killen has opened the doors to his permanent barbecue joint, Killen's Barbecue, located at 3613 E. Broadway. And as if to further prove to the world how committed he is to being the best, he's brought Houston's rising pitmaster Patrick Feges on board to join him.
"It's no secret that my goal is to be the best barbecue, period," says Killen. "I put it on my t-shirt as a daily reminder to myself. And it's why I recruited Patrick to join us - he's passionate about barbecue and has a great understanding of the science behind it." Feges will join Killen's 'cue crew as assistant pitmaster, cooking and cutting the meats alongside Killen.
With Killen's latest venture (this is his fourth restaurant), he will showcase the marriage between a decades-long infatuation with smoked meats and his classical culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu, where he graduated with honors.
"I'm known for my steakhouse, but what a lot of people don't realize is that the first restaurant I opened, when I was 23, was a barbecue joint - Killen's Kountry Barbecue," he says. Killen ultimately shut it down to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and London, feeding his desire to learn more about fine dining. After graduating top of his class, Killen opened the renowned Killen's Steakhouse, an ice-house-turned-fine-dining-establishment that consistently lands on top 10 best steakhouse lists nationwide.
"The barbecue we'll be doing now versus what I did when I had my first barbecue place is totally different - different woods, different meats, different pits for different meats," Killen says. "Back then I was just cooking. Now there's a whole chemistry behind it: the rendering of the fat, the way the smoke ring develops, the greenness of the woods used to help control the temperature."
Reflecting on his journey back to barbecue, Killen says it was a Fall 2012 "Art of Smoke" dinner he hosted at the James Beard House in New York City that kick-started his thoughts about returning to his culinary roots and to barbecue, what he knew best and most enjoyed doing. He first tantalized the masses in February 2013 when he took home top honors for his barbecued beef short ribs at the Houston Rodeo Uncorked Best Bites Competition. A month later he participated in the first annual Houston BBQ Festival, further burnishing his reputation as a serious player in the barbecue arena, before finally launching the weekend pop ups, first at Killen's Steakhouse and later at the permanent site of Killen's Barbecue.
Killen and Feges will serve barbecue in the style made famous in Central Texas, with diners filing through cafeteria lines, ordering meats by the pound, or as one-, two- or three meat plates. Brisket and beef ribs will be smoked on a one-of-a-kind indoor pit central to the structure, a single-rack reverse flow firebrick pit that will hold around 450 pounds of meat. The firebox that provides heat and smoke under the cooking surface will then flow over the meat before venting via the chimney. Pork ribs, pork butt and bone-in pork belly, chicken, turkey breast and sausage will cook on an outdoor wood-fired Oyler smoker that will hold up to 1,800 pounds of meat.
"Our meats will be better than what you'll find at most barbecue joints because we're starting with better product, like Allen Brothers beef ribs and brisket from Creekstone Farms," says Killen. While most pitmasters steer clear of chicken because of its extreme sensitivity, Killen and Feges will cook it to capacity and "when it's gone, it's gone," he says. Also of note are Killen's much-buzzed-about sauces - tangy, sweet or coffee - which he plans to eventually offer for retail sale at the restaurant as well as other venues in and around the Houston area.
Alongside the meats, Killen's will serve a mustard-based potato salad, spicy pulled pork pinto beans, baked beans and ramen coleslaw, along with his legendary creamed corn and mac 'n' cheese. Desserts will include Killen's creamy old-fashioned banana pudding with vanilla wafers, pecan pie with a touch of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, his nationally renowned crème brûlee bread pudding, as well as seasonal cobblers. For beverages, Killen's will offer sodas and tea, as well as domestic, import and specialty beers.
As for the building, Pearland ISD's first school cafeteria, Killen says, "the history that building has, what it offers as a barbecue joint … it could not be more perfect. It looks similar to what it did in the '50s, complete with metal diner-style chairs and tables. Walls are lined with photographs of the school from years past. A Pearl beer poster that originally hung at Killen's Kountry Barbecue hangs near the entrance. It's very cool, very special." Killen says he sees his barbecue place being even bigger than Killen's Steakhouse. "I'm not doing this for the money, I'm doing it because I enjoy it," says Killen. "I know we're going to be good."
Killen's Barbecue will be open Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 am "'til they run out of 'cue." For more information, visit www.killensbarbecue.com or follow the restaurant on facebook at www.facebook.com/killensbbq or twitter at www.twitter.com/killensbbq.