The Scoop Houston: Killen’s Barbecue
It was 11:45 A.M. on Saturday morning, and there were about 25 people lined out the door at Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland, a town in South Houston. From what I’ve been told, this is nothin’.
In the past few years, a handful of Texas BBQ joints have taken on the challenge of raising the bar and expectations for meat lovers by serving smoked meats packing even more seasoning, flavor, and fat than the standard ‘ol barbecue. Texans and out-of-towners alike have become familiar with “the line” that comes with such greatness. Franklin Barbecue in Austin is perhaps best known for its perfected smoked meats, coming at the cost of a 2+ hour wait—depending on your commitment level and luck. In my own meat mecca experience, arriving at 7:30 AM with lawn chairs and mimosas yielded a spot about 20th in line and a 4 hour wait, but at least we avoided the inevitable sold-out sign and got what we came for—mind blowing barbecue.
Killen’s Barbecue, run by owner/pitmaster Ronnie Killen, is one of the newest BBQ joints to join the scene, and is already being called the best in the greater Houston area. Naturally, I needed to make the 40 minute drive to see what the hype was all about. From the day their doors opened in late February, customers have lined up ready to eat, and typically, they sell out of everything by mid-afternoon. A big part of what creates the long lines at Killen’s, and other similar joints, is the importance of having customers ready to serve as soon as the meat is ready. Hot out of the smoker, barbecue is tender and incredibly juicy, and if it isn’t served ASAP it will dry out and lose its wow factor. Knowing this, some may appreciate the regular line at Killen’s a little bit more. Also, the free beer helps. On weekends, someone stations a Lonestar keg and kindly hands out free cups of cold brew to help pass the time.
For a Saturday we were extremely lucky—we only waited for 20 minutes and nothing was sold out yet. Upon entering the restaurant, a black board hangs above you listing the available meats and sides that you will soon be able to order at the counter. We ordered by the pound so we could try a little bit of everything: brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, turkey, pulled pork, and both regular and jalapeno sausage. The only meat we passed up was the bone-in pork belly. For our sides, we got macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, green beans, and potato salad. Upon realizing this was our first time visiting, the friendly server highly suggested that we try the pumpkin spice bread pudding for dessert. We obliged with no problem or hesitation.
In a nutshell, almost everything at Killen’s was amazing and some items landed titles of “Best I’ve ever had,” but there was one disappointment. Perhaps it was my heightened expectation from the buzz about their brisket, but it did not quite hit the mark for me. While the bark (the black crusty edges of the meat) was incredible, both in its peppery flavor and crispy texture, we were served slices of underwhelming and slightly dry beef. In all fairness, we made an amateur move and didn’t specify that we wanted the moist or fatty ends, so I will surely give it another chance. The one redeeming part about the amount of leftovers we have is that it tastes AMAZING covered in their tangy barbecue sauce.
On the other end of the spectrum, Killen’s beef ribs were the best I’ve ever had. These dinosaur-sized ribs are smoked long and slow, resulting in mouthwatering meat that practically melted off the bone, with the same highly seasoned, crunchy bark that the brisket sported. While this was absolutely the star of all the meats, there are plenty of other delicious options to indulge in. The pork ribs and smoked turkey were both moist and peppery, and the pulled pork was perfectly smoked, salty, and tender. Both types of sausages were packed with garlic, mustard seed, and packed a little bit of heat, with the jalapeno only barely hotter than the regular links.
As for the sides, don’t even think about passing up the creamed corn or macaroni and cheese. Whether restaurant-made or out of the can, I have never experienced being impressed by a side of creamed corn. But Killen’s is something special. Using fresh corn mixed with addictive sweet cream, this stuff is cooked down to a perfect thick, soft consistency. On the note of addictive, the macaroni and cheese is more than your average Velveeta-laden pasta shells; velvety, sharp, and rich describes this MAC. And we thought that a pint would be too much. That’s cute.
When it was time for dessert, I unfortunately had to watch from the sidelines. As dreamy as pumpkin spice bread pudding sounds, I am allergic to the main ingredient: pumpkin. From the groans and eye rolls coming from my friends, I needed to know what it tasted like to eat the layers of cream-soaked bread, sprinkles of toasted pecans, and “heavenly pillows” of spiced pumpkin.
“That’s like asking how love tastes. Can you tell me how a sunrise tastes?”
I can only imagine the actual taste, but even smelling it, I know they nailed this creative fall dessert.
Although Killen’s Barbecue is the newest Q in the Texas scene, they hit the ground running and their game is strong. If you live in Pearland, you better be stopping in weekly by now. If you appreciate epic barbecue, live in or plan on visiting Houston, and haven’t made the journey, then get to it. You are definitely missing out on one of the best BBQ joints in Houston.