Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Houston Barbecue: a very recent then and now

With today marking the third anniversary of Killen's Barbecue opening its doors to the public for the first time, I found myself thinking about how much the barbecue scene in the Houston area has changed since Ronnie Killen opened his now famous barbecue restaurant in Pearland.

Three years doesn't seem like a long time, but the changes in our city's barbecue options are noteworthy. It's astounding to think that if one were to make a top ten list of Houston area barbecue joints, it is quite possible that only one of those places was in the same location serving the same type of barbecue three years ago.

This not to say that Killen's Barbecue is solely responsible for Houston's barbecue boom; that is hardly the case. The Texas barbecue explosion seen across the country began with the Franklin Barbecue phenomenon, though one could argue that Killen's was the first to push the envelope in this area of what "new school" barbecue could be. In alphabetical order, let's take a look at ten of Houston's best places. This is just a small look at where they are now, and where they were pre-Killen's.
Metal trays with an assortment of housemade pickled condiments at The Pit Room - all classic signs of "new school" BBQ.
Brooks' Place BBQ - This is it folks, the only place still in the same form since prior to 2014. Trent Brooks remains at the small trailer in front of an Ace Hardware on the west side of town, serving up smoked meats with a hefty side of Second Amendment Rights.

CorkScrew BBQ - The Buckmans were serving out of a trailer next to a Big Lots back in 2014. They
installed an Oyler pit that year and steadily went from one of the best barbecue places in the area to one of the best in the state. CorkScrew quickly outgrew its trailer setup and made the move to a brick and mortar in October 2015.
Prime brisket ($18/lb) and beef plate ribs ($20 per rib) at CorkScrew BBQ are two of the best values in Texas today.
El Burro & The Bull - After many stops and starts that began in 2014, John Avila and his wife Veronica finally opened El Burro & The Bull last year in the downtown underground food hall, The Conservatory. Though El Burro often seems to fly under the radar compared to Houston's other smoked meat options, the food here is solid and the good bit of heat and Mexican flare on the menu helps set them apart from their competitors.
Gatlin's BBQ - Although the Gatlin family has been serving 'cue in Houston for what may feel like an eternity compared to other places listed here, they made a major upgrade in terms of restaurant space. Gone are the days of the small house in the Heights. In 2016, Gatlin's opened in a much larger space on Ella, hopefully easing some of those dreadfully long wait times that plagued the old location.

Pappa Charlies Barbeque - Back in 2014, Pappa Charlies was building a loyal audience from a food truck, mostly serving at bars. Owner Wesley Jurena and his team made the move to brick and mortar on the east side of downtown in the fall of 2015. Pappa Charlies has received rave reviews from Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, as well as national media since making the move to a permanent spot.
Brisket and glazed ribs at Pinkerton's BBQ.
Pinkerton's Barbecue - Grant Pinkerton, the young and ambitious owner of Pinkerton's Barbecue, was not on anyone's radar back in 2014. He quickly became an intriguing figure in the barbecue world when he first announced plans for a River Oaks joint slated to be opened in 2015. As anyone familiar with the obstacles of opening a restaurant in this city can tell you, many things can change from concept to opening. The River Oaks location did not come to fruition, but in late 2016 Pinkerton's finally opened in the north Heights area. They're off to a strong start and are quickly becoming one of the better joints in the Houston area.

The Pit Room - Yet another recent addition to the Houston barbecue scene, The Pit Room opened
last summer and was quickly met with praise by the hungry Montrose crowd and media alike. While The Pit Room serves the traditional Central Texas staples such as black pepper rubbed brisket, pork spare ribs, and three types of housemade sausage - a rarity for Houston's top joints - there is a clear new school barbecue influence such as tacos and a large condiment bar filled with an assortment of pickled vegetables and sauces.

Roegels Barbecue Co. - Russell and Misty Roegels certainly aren't newcomers to the Houston
barbecue scene; they were successfully operating under the Baker's Ribs franchise name for over a decade. But it wasn't until the Roegels began sampling barbecue from some of the state's top joints along with trips to Texas A&M's  meat science camps that they began to alter Baker's recipes and started adapting their menu to suit the kind of barbecue they truly wanted to make. In late 2014, they broke away from the chain and opened as Roegels Barbecue Co. In the years since, Russell Roegels has continued to hone his craft and now produces some of the finest barbecue in the state.

Southern Q BBQ - Southern Q began as a food trailer in north Houston circa 2010. The Garner
family specializes in an East Texas style barbecue, which features a garlic-heavy sausage as well as boudin, both housemade. The Garners made the move from trailer to permanent restaurant on Kuykendahl near FM 1960 in early 2015 and in a time filled with Central Texas joints, Southern Q offers a nice change of pace.
The "Brisket and Blues" with brisket, blue cheese, onions and tomatoes at Tejas is one of the best BBQ sandwiches in town.
Tejas Chocolate & BBQ - Another new kid on the barbecue block is this little place in Tomball.
Owners Scott Moore and Michelle Holland enlisted the help of Scott's brother Greg, a seasoned foodservice industry veteran who worked at a restaurant that neighbored Roegels Barbecue, to help launch the barbecue side of their business. The results have been positive, to put it mildly. Tejas serves the traditional fare, but also offers unique sides, sandwiches, sauces, and desserts.  Opened in 2015, Tejas is yet another quality addition to the city's barbecue scene.

The growth of Houston barbecue the past three years has been nothing short of remarkable. Our city now boasts a long, deep roster of quality barbecue that combines classic techniques with contemporary concepts and the diverse cultural influences for which Houston is known. Ronnie Killen's juggernaut of a barbecue joint was not the sole catalyst for this revolution, but the explosion of Houston barbecue coinciding with Killen's popularity is not sheer coincidence. Will the growth continue over the next few years? Perhaps not at this pace, but it appears neither the popularity of nor the appetite for barbecue is slowing down any time soon.


Comlete Exclusive said...

I always look forward to going out. A good tip would be to look out for those places with interesting concepts. These Los Angeles venues are pretty amazing. I came up here with a friend. The place was spacious and food was great.

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