Innovative Barbecue that nearly jumped the shark
Houston has long celebrated its multicultural influence with a wide variety of dining options throughout town. Houston barbecue has never been solely identified by the Central Texas style that permeates Austin, but the huge growth in that format led to it being the predominant style featured at more recent restaurant openings. Less than two years ago the HouBBQ team really began to open minds when they launched their first Barbecue Throwdown, a contest that encouraged Houston barbecue restaurants to push the boundaries of smoked meats. At the same time, a handful of marketing savvy pit masters began cooking more exotic options at the Houston Barbecue Festival. While not purely a marketing gimmick, a whole hog or alligator still won that day’s social media posts.
For 2017 this trend kicked into overdrive, with a huge variety of meat options offered up for sample. Not all of them were successful in my opinion, but it was refreshing to try the variety available and for once I didn’t get brisket palate fatigue.
Snapper, duck, lamb, goat, beef shank, turducken sausage, prime rib, and flank steak were all featured among the more common cuts of meats at the 5th annual Houston Barbecue Festival this year. There was a seeming invasion of pork, too. Pork belly was everywhere it seemed, both Feges and Gatlins cooked whole hog onsite, and The Pit Room cooked suckling pigs on rotisseries. Boudin was well represented at multiple booths along with pastrami and the obligatory brisket and ribs.
I had a great time and the crowd appeared to as well, trays were loaded deep with pounds of samples. Lines grew during the general admission time and the entire event was over in a flash, leaving daydreams of exotic meats and smoky memories until next year.
There were many great meats served up but I will whittle them down to my favorite bites of the event:
Tejas Chocolate – An entire mini-meal in one sample, with each item great on its own. The carrot soufflé and spicy chocolate panna cotta dessert complemented a complex suite of flavors including meat trio of brisket, beef cheek, and pork belly
Killen’s Pork Belly Burnt End – smoked, fried, and glazed these were the definition of the overused term “meat candy”
Pappa Charlies pork belly bite with collard greens on a sweet potato chip – A bomb of succulent flavor, just the right amounts of salty, meat, and sweet.
Feges BBQ hog with mustard sauce and slaw – Patrick keeps improving his craft and while I have had the benefit of eating this dish from him at Southern Goods, the tangy mustard sauce and topping of creamy cole slaw was a great treat in the middle of the day
Corkscrew BBQ prime rib – I venture to Vegas often and have had enough bad prime rib to last several lifetimes. Corkscrew smoked up some 1855 prime rib to delectable results, resetting my expectations on this cut of meat.
Yes, only one of my favorite bites included brisket. But there was a lot of great brisket and other items at the fest. It is hard to only pick five, and there were lots of memorable bites from plenty of others but those really stood out for me.
Other great bites
Roegels Barbecue Co pastrami beef rib – great flavors and executed very well. I’ve had it multiple times so I knew how good it was, but it definitely blew the mind of many first timers. (The beef rib pastrami was only available during VIP hour, but the brisket pastrami through the rest of the day was great as well)
Blood Brothers spicy pulled beef sliders – their unique and spicy SWAT sauce and caramelized onions topped a pulled chuck roll for a tasty flavor that lingered on your tongue
The Brisket House chipotle glazed baby back ribs – Thickly coated with a sweet and mildly spicy glaze, I really enjoyed these
Louie Mueller Barbecue beef rib in a Fluff Bake Bar croissant – a warm flakey hug around their legendary beef rib
Southern Q Boudin – Their boudin is authentic and a great bite. The offal flavor is strong and that’s one of many things about their boudin that makes this a stand out.
El Burro and the Bull Sausage and boudin – Left me hankering for more
Tin Roof Barbecue beef shank barbacoa tacos – Something I’d like to see pop up on their menu as a specialty
Southside Market original sausage and sausage slammers – Not only are these some of my perennial favorites, but they were handing out coupons for a free 4 pack at retail!
Spring Creek jalapeno poppers – Another item that has become a tradition at HOUBBQ, with their friendly crew passing them out throughout the festival grounds you didn’t even have to wait in line