It was a beautiful thing to watch: Ronnie Killen, unwrapping a huge slab of hot-from-the-oven brisket, then lightly shaking it to gauge the consistency of the meat. Moist heat curled upwards as the wrapper was peeled back, and the black-crusted meat jiggled as if it were a big block of Jell-O.
I knew even before he cut into it that it would be exceedingly moist and tender -- it was the jiggle that gave it away. And sure enough, each slice of brisket revealed itself to be oozing with juiciness. In fact, the sight had me in near-convulsions of food ecstasy. If there was ever a definition for "food porn," the food at Killen's Barbecue is it.
And good news for those of you who have never had the pleasure of putting some of that meat in your mouth: Killen's Barbecue is opening in Pearland tomorrow, Saturday, February 22! The build-out is complete. The chairs and the tables have arrived and are in place.
I can tell you without hesitation that it's worth the drive. Killen's is craft barbecue at its absolute best (I say this with utter conviction) -- and it's going to put Pearland -- and with it, Houston -- on the map as one of the nation's top barbecue destinations.
At the pop-up meal I had recently, it wasn't just the brisket, either. The large slabs of Flintstone-size beef short ribs were just as awe-inspiring. Cooked in slabs of four, each single cut of rib weighed in at about a pound and a half to two pounds. It was a meat-lover's dream and a foodie's best fantasy.
I watched eager diners come up to the counter, ordering several pounds of everything before walking away -- huge tray of barbecue in hand -- with the kind of glee that goes with winning the lottery. It brought to mind a conversation that I had with Killen last summer, when I visited his barbecue pop-up for the first time.
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Before that first visit, I had seen photos of people waiting in line, heard the stories about how good his barbecue was. But I didn't comprehend the magnitude or the quality of what he was putting out until I forced myself to make the drive to Pearland (it takes 45 minutes from my side of town) one rainy Saturday morning. I was awestruck. I'd never seen anything like it.
"I don't need to be doing this. I want to do this, and if I'm going to do it, I'm going to make the best barbecue you've ever tasted," Killen said to me that day, standing under a white makeshift tent next to the old cafeteria space he'd bought to turn into his barbecue restaurant. The grounds were muddy; there was rain everywhere. People were lining up, and he'd been up until 3 a.m., prepping for the morning's food.
Indeed, his barbecue is the stuff of dreams. Glorious, honkin' huge, tender, flavorful ribs. Melt-in-your-mouth, juicy, smoky brisket. Snappy sausages; tender, smoky pork ribs; and delicious smoked turkey. Everything that he makes is of prize-winning quality.
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Killen is so meticulous that he is there at every pop-up, touching the meat, feeling it and looking at it, before serving it with his own hands. You'll see him right in the front, often frowning in concentration, taking orders before slicing the meat and weighing it for every person in line.
It's this tireless dedication, this commitment to creating the best, that makes his barbecue so fantastic. His fans recognize this. This past weekend alone, when a pop-up was announced in anticipation of his opening, he sold out of 1,200 pounds of barbecue in about two and a half hours on Saturday, then blew through 1,300 pounds of meat in about the same amount of time on Sunday. Killen's own mother lamented that she hadn't made it in time to try his barbecue because he'd sold out before she got there.
One of the first patrons to sit down with food told me she and her husband had arrived at 9:30 a.m. in anticipation of the 11 a.m. opening time. "Oh, we've been here before," she assured me, "and it's totally worth the wait."
The wait is over. This weekend is already looking much better!