2223 S. Voss Rd, Houston Texas 77057
Open Monday-Saturday 11-8, Sunday 11-6 (or until sell out, whichever is first)
Other articles on Roegels Barbecue:
- Phaedra Cook produced an excellent two part article on Roegels: Part one. Part two.
- Alison Cook’s review in the Houston Chronicle
- JC Ried’s article in the Houston Chronicle
- Daniel Vaughn’s review in TMBBQ
In the last few years the barbecue scene in Houston has made leaps and bounds in what I consider the right direction. Once relegated to the back corner of Texas barbecue a sea change has been made here. In the last five years the type of barbecue served has shifted. Brick and mortar locations had been joined by pop ups and trailers who serve up moist and flavorful brisket with a heavily seasoned bark and thin layer of fat that is retained through serving. This is opposed to what has been more traditionally served in Houston and closer to what is called east Texas style; brisket with little seasoning and all remnants of bark and fat removed before serving. You can still find many places who serve that style, but Roegels is riding the wave of flavor that is central Texas style barbecue and doing it well.
The journey to Roegels
The Roegels family’s (pronounced Ray-guhls ) path to owning their own joint was a long one that began in East Texas at Bodacious Bar-B-Q where Russel first learned his barbecue chops. It carried the family across the state to Houston where they settled while operating and eventually owning the Baker’s Ribs franchise on South Voss. In 2014 after a trip to barbecue camp (there really is such a thing) , sampling the barbecue at the second Houston Barbecue Festival, and a visit to top central Texas barbecue joints, the fire was stoked for Russel to build his own brand while changing up his barbecue style to more closely match that of central Texas. The path wasn’t easy; the Roegels’ had not been born into a barbecue family nor did they have connections to wealth. The journey was slow, hard, and consumed endless hours of work from open to close seven days a week.
Russel got his first taste of the barbecue business assisting at Bodacious Bar-B-Q in east Texas at the age of 15. After time in the Air Force he returned to Bodacious, eventually working his way up the ladder until an opportunity arose with Baker’s Ribs. Predominately based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area the lone Houston outpost location was available. On a lake in east Texas with a beer in hand, an agreement was reached whereby the Roegels could work-to-own the franchise.
In the wake of a storm
Russel and Misty arrived in Houston in 2001 and in the wake of tropical storm Allison. They were broke and with 13 month old Drake Roegels in tow. Hotel rooms were virtually impossible to secure due to the storm so they stayed with family at first as they worked long hours and drove from Deer Park across town to 2223 South Voss Road daily in their plan to purchase the Baker’s Ribs franchise. Russel told me of those long days, when he would leave home at the crack of dawn and when driving back to Deer Park he would pass by Astroworld when the fireworks would be going off. With an agreement and a dream of one day of owning their own barbecue joint, the couple worked and saved money until they had enough to enter in a franchise agreement. That agreement would last more than 11 years as the Roegel family used their sweat equity to manage and eventually own the restaurant.
Central Texas Style Barbecue
Once the terms of the agreement ran out, Russel Roegels began to experiment with the recipes and rubs, and desired more freedom than what the franchise agreement would offer. The A&M barbecue camp sparked an interested into different styles and sampling other’s barbecue on road trips and at the Houston Barbecue Festival impressed upon Roegels a type of barbecue that differed from the east Texas style he was producing. The agreement with Baker’s had brought him far and he hasn’t regretted that relationship; it was what allowed him the success he has today, but he yearned to stretch his wings.
Roegels reached an amicable split from Bakers and has put his name and personality on the sign and in the food served from his eponymously named joint. While he has received acclaim in the press, Russel still often puts in seven day workweeks without a break in order to put his new enterprise on the map. It is a family endeavour and on my last visit both Russel and Misty were working as well as their daughter, Tori.
The barbecue here has been an evolution more than a revolution, with a series of changes ramping up since the launch of the new business. Each time I’ve eaten here, the food has improved and on my list visit Russel had tweaked his rib rub one more time as he works to infuse his personal twist on a Texas staple. Roegels features giant beef ribs and moist brisket covered with a heavy pepper based rub. Like the central Texas style he emulates, there is a bark on the outside and between that bark and the meat is a thin layer of fat that turns to butter when in your mouth, inciting the senses with just the right mix of beef, fat, and spices. Other proteins include sausage along with pork butt, turkey and chicken, all worthy options although Roegels is especially proud of the turkey.
Uncommon side dishes here include Texas Caviar, a corn and black bean salad and loaded mashed potatoes, both worth trying. The bourbon banana pudding is an excellent end point to a fine meal and Roegels Barbecue Co. is a great example of the turn that the Houston barbecue market has made recently.
Stop by, but remember that they do sell out daily. If you plan on coming very late in the afternoon (beyond 4pm) or early evening it’s recommended to check @thepigonvoss on twitter before making the trek.
I spoke with Russel about the transition to Roegels Barbecue Co.:
Bryan: What drove your decision to change?
Russel: It wasn’t money, it wasn’t paying a franchise fee or anything like that. It was about being able to create what i wanted to. I’m not saying I didn’t believe in their (Baker’s) product, but it was a different style than what i wanted to do. I grew up in East Texas. We did things one way there.That was the only way I knew how to do things. Even the first 12 years in Houston doing this, it was our way. then one day, I’d always heard about Louie Mueller’s but I didn’t know what they did. then one day Franklin blows the world up with his barbecue so I said “I want to go try this stuff.” That was about the time the second Houston Barbecue Festival came along. We had gotten invited to go do that and I had a chance to try all these people and I was like “you know what, I like their way better than ours.”
We had been with Baker’s Ribs at point eleven and a half years almost and I wanted to change. We saw something we liked better, and we’re the ones doing the work so why not change it. Again, not to say their (Baker’s Ribs) way was wrong or right but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. We had a contract with them which was a ten year deal, and it had been more than ten years at that time and we started changing things little by little. Then we had an article come out in the Houston Chronicle that Chris Reid wrote, saying what we were doing, and the Baker’s guys didn’t really care for that a whole lot. They said it made them look bad which I didn’t think so.
At that point we knew we wanted to change, we knew we needed to change our name and get out on our own because we weren’t going to be able to make our product our way and make a name for ourselves if we’re using their product, their way, their name.
We started putting a plan together. I talked to the franchise owner and told them that we wanted to leave, it was a peaceful exit, no two ways about that. I told them I couldn’t make a name for myself if I’m using their name. They said they completely understood and to keep them in the loop on how things were going. About a week later, long enough for us to get our signs done, then we changed. That was December 11, 2014. The way we looked at it even though Baker’s Ribs had been here 20 years we were starting a brand new business. We had already worked on our brisket, making more of a central Texas style. What I wanted my brisket to taste like is what they have in Taylor. That’s what we still go for today. Our ribs, we were using Baker’s rib rub. We were using a lot of their seasonings so we had to start making those ourselves. We used something real similar to theirs at first and just added salt and pepper to it. Then we wanted to get away from the sweetness and went to straight salt and pepper for awhile. I felt like it was lacking so I’ve added different things to it.
Bryan: So you’re still tweaking the recipes? I like the rib rub
Russel: Probably wednesday of last week we put that together, and I like it. I think that’s what we’re going to go with. I’ve asked people that eat barbecue and do barbecue for a living. the Blood Brothers guys, Terry and Robin came by and I asked them, they liked it. So you get your average consumer who knows what their talking about and then you’ve got people who cook barbecue and who eat barbecue and you want an educated opinion on it. They liked it and more importantly we liked it so that’s what we’re going to go with.
Side orders, we’ve changed up every side order that we do.
Bryan: With the old name, the word “ribs” was prominently displayed. Do you sell more beef now?
Russel: We sell more beef now than we did before, but I’m not sure that has to do with the name. It comes from different people writing about it. Writing what we do to our brisket and how well they liked it.
Bryan: When did you start selling beef ribs?
Russel: We did it a couple of times when it was still Baker’s Ribs, but to fine tune it to the product that it is today, it was done when it was Roegels Barbecue. One morning I went to Snow’s, I went to Louie Mueller’s, and I went to Southside Market. A few weeks later Misty, her brother, and myself went on a Lockhart run. Then our daughter wanted to go to Austin and we hit some places out there. That and talking to Wayne Mueller, asking him for advice on things. He’s really helped me out a lot. If you’re gonna put beef ribs out you’re not going to go to the middle of the pack, you’re going to go to the guy on top. He’s gracious enough to help me with anything I’ve got. We went to him and he said “stay away from this kind, you might want to look for this kind.” That is how we settled on the Superior Angus brand. They are a thicker cut rib.
Bryan: Did the clientele here struggle with pricing by the pound for the beef ribs?
Russel: We get the same questions everyone else does; “can you put them on a meat plate”, “just give me one pound”, “how many are in a pound”. You know, the typical person who isn’t familiar with beef ribs. We try to educate every person in here. Even if somebody comes in here and you can pretty much tell the people who have eaten beef ribs and know what they are coming in for versus the people who are willing to try them for the first time because they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. We make it a point to ask them “you know what you’re getting, right?”
Some will say yes and some will say they don’t have a clue, so we explain to them “you’ve got about a half a pound of bone, give or take a little bit, and you’re going to have a pound of meat. It’s not going to be an even pound.” You know, it’s a meal within itself. It’s one of the best pieces of barbecue that you will ever eat. I wouldn’t call it a struggle, it’s just educating people. There have been people doing beef ribs but there aren’t that many in the Houston area.
Bryan: It’s the education of the barbecue consumer. I’ve also seen a lot of confusing on selling out. They just don’t understand that concept.
Russel: They do not. They don’t understand that a bit. We’re trying to educate them on that on a daily basis here. Typically we’ll make it all day, but not with every product we have. The first week after the Allison Cooke article came out, that was pretty wicked right there. I doubled what I normally cook on the first day after it came out online. We sold out in three and half hours. It was just one after the other, we were getting big orders. The day after that I cooked twenty briskets, that would have been the day the actual print came out. We sold out in five and half hours That continued for a couple of days until that Saturday. I knew it was going to be a big day and we cooked 26 briskets, 40 racks of beef ribs, 80 pounds of sausage, 8 pork butts, 6 or 8 turkey breasts, and we pretty much sold it all that day. It was the busiest day we’d ever had. We crawled out of here that day, then I dragged my trailer down to Reliant to do the Houston Barbecue Fest. It was a rough week but it was worth it.
Bryan: Were you closed on the Sunday of the festival?
Russel: Oh no. We cooked starting Saturday night for the store and the festival. I think we closed at three o’clock the day of the festival. We just couldn’t cook enough for the festival and to serve here into the evening.
Bryan: Have you noticed any improvement in the barbecue acumen? Is Houston starting to make the turn?
Russel: There are people who are getting it now, they understand it and I have a sign right by the window, by our hours, that says we don’t sell warmed up barbecue from the previous day. We cook what we plan and when we’re out we’re out. There are people that get that. then there are still some people who want to rip my head off at 7:45pm because we don’t have a whole chicken. I was running around at the (Houston Barbecue) festival saying goodbye and I was irritated at people not getting the whole running out thing. some of the last people I talked to were the Buckman’s (who run Corkscrew BBQ) and the Gatlin’s (who run Gatlin’s Barbecue.) Mr G told me “Russel don’t ever apologize to anybody for running out. It’s a good problem to have.” I guess those two and Killen’s are the one who regularly run out in town. I talked to them about how to handle it and not get pissed off about it.
Bryan: With the high prices of beef, is chicken becoming a more popular option?
Russel: Turkey or chicken is not something people traditionally go to a barbecue place for. We were in the best birds in Texas article that Daniel Vaughn put out which I got a real kick out of because chicken is one of the slowest moving proteins that you have. The turkey breast we use is an all natural turkey breast roast, and we smoke it; it’s an amazing product. It’s real juicy and it’s one of my favorite things I have.
Bryan: You get them as whole breast?
Russel: Whole breasts. You know how you get a butterfly chicken breast? It’s basically that with a turkey breast, with the skin on.
Bryan: You offer up something called Texas Caviar, can you tell me about that?
Russel: Baker’s ribs had a bean and corn salad. We wanted something like that so we got a true Texas caviar recipe so we did that and our sales doubled on it. Misty calls it redneck salad. When I was on TV they asked me what texas caviar was, and I said it’s a little redneck salad. Misty was over there off the camera just shaking her head. (laughs).
Bryan: What else are you proud of here?
Russel: The bourbon banana pudding is something you must try. Its made in house like everything else and is a great dessert.