Killen’s BBQ, Pearland
Review date 7-6-2013
Hey! Click here -> Killen’s info for a much newer post on Killen’s Barbecue!
Killen’s is operating a pop-up restaurant in the parking lot while they build out their new location in Pearland, Texas at 3613 E Broadway. The BBQ pop up is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am until they sell out, which can happen in only a few hours. Killen’s offers up true central Texas style slow and low wood smoked meats and has brought another great option to Houston and nearby BBQ fans. as A BBQ renaissance has arisen in the past five years with a number of upstarts cranking out elite quality meat. Houston has fallen behind the other large Texas cities and Killen’s will help Houston gain some respectability in the BBQ wars.
Austin sports the Texas Monthly number one rated Franklin along with a long list of excellent joints like La BBQ, John Mueller Meat Company, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Lamberts, and Stiles Switch (which I did not enjoy but numerous others have). Not far outside Austin nearby establishments such as Opie’s, Cooper’s, and the Legendary Louie Mueller in Taylor are a short drive away. Of course also nearby is Lockhart Texas with its long time BBQ legends. Dallas’ Pecan Lodge made the Texas Monthly top 4 with rave reviews and several other local business nearby are highly regarded. Even San Antonio has the Granary and Two Bros.
Houston has been mostly famous for chain-style BBQ restaurants than elite level BBQ. There are a few highlights though; Houston’s Virgie’s and Gatlin’s cracked the Texas Monthly top 50, and newcomers Brooks’ Place in Cypress and Corkscrew in The Woodlands are earning their rep. Of the four I visited recently Gatlin’s edged the others out based on great brisket and a delicious deer sausage. (Why isn’t deer sausage a more common option, especially in central Texas?) Corkscrew was close to Austin-style with a long line and free beer on my last visit but it fell just short of truly elite BBQ. I think as Corkscrew grows and settles down a bit that they will inch up the rankings – It was nice to make a short drive for great BBQ but it wasn’t yet to the level of me going there rather than making the ride to the Austin area. I’m heading back to Brooks’ place soon as my first visit was at 2pm and the freshest brisket is between 11am and noon. Another honorable mention goes to the Wooden Spoke, a trailer based competition-style BBQ shack just southwest of The Woodlands.
Killen’s however, may just replace some of my Austin favorites. When we visited on Saturday July 7th we were presented elite level brisket with really good potato salad and decent beans. The brisket here is one of my top five favorites, with the simple salt and pepper bark that I prefer. Unfortunately the sausage I was served was undercooked so far that I dared not finish it. I am going to give Killen’s a huge break here though based on recent events beyond their control.
There has been some drama as Killen’s BBQ tries to get their solid footing. A brisket was stolen off their pit in June, http://www.khou.com/news/local/Meat-thief–Suspect-steals-15-pound-brisket-off-smoking-pit-at-Pearland-restaurant-209972371.html and then someone stole their main BBQ pit July 4th. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Barbecue-pit-stolen-from-Killen-s-restaurant-in-4648590.php . Losing a single brisket is one thing, but losing a pit is a major problem. Pits are often designed to custom specifications and one can’t easily just switch up and be consistent in quality. Killen’s was able to procure a loaner in order to open on Saturday the 5th and I am going to give them a pass on the sausage because of this. However, in my opinion the sausage I received should not have been served; it needed more time in the heat.
The experience here is like a number of the other new stars of Texas BBQ. Folks line up well before they open and the line remains long until they sell out only a few short hours later. Killen’s offers both meat by the pound and the more traditional 2 meat/3 meat plates. The brisket at $14 a pound is less expensive that a few of the top ranked joints. Those more accustomed to gas-fired chain restaurant BBQ might balk at such pricing, but we’re used to up to $16 a pound pricing at the elite joints so it was no surprise to us.
We arrived at 10:15 am and were about 24th in line. Well I would say “in line” but apparently folks in Houston are so new to this hip BBQ trend that they weren’t standing in line. They were sitting under the shade of a giant oak tree at picnic tables. Both my wife and I looked at each other perplexed and watched as people showed up and sat down randomly. Finally at 10:30 the traffic began to pick up and I ordered everyone to form a line. I could only imagine the pandemonium if we were to wait much longer before queuing up; I envisioned pushing, shoving, and yelling. Luckily the cutlery for customers was only made of plastic!
From 10:30 to 11 the crowd grew and in a quick check five minutes before opening I counted over 75 people in line. Some of this was due to the publicity of the stolen pit which made the TV new the evening before, but the word has been spreading fast of Killen’s quality and the line will be commonplace.
Just prior to opening they walked down the line and offered free samples to about the first twenty people. We were able to snag one and when we popped it in our mouth, we got the magic tingle. The magic tingle is a feeling you get when you have a bite of perfect fatty brisket; a heavy salt and pepper rub that combines with fat that is rendered into a buttery form with brisket meat that melts into your mouth. The true smoked flavor kicks in and the aroma exits your nose as the tingle continues to travel through your body to the tips of your hands and feet. This was the real thing.
Once open, the line moved well compared to other trailer-based joints. I had read some reviews complaining of the speed but again Houston folks are new to this type of experience. Service is typical here; order your meat, then sides, then pay at a separate table. The only things backwards in my opinion were the drinks and desserts which were first in order but that really doesn’t matter. On this day there was free beer via keg although it tasted more like Bud light than Lone Star to me.
We skipped both pork and beef ribs in order to get more brisket than normal. In the last two days we had already hit John Mueller Meat Company, Cooper’s, Louie Mueller, and Giddings City Market. We were in the midst of a BBQ hangover so we were a little conservative with a pound and a half of fatty brisket and a half pound of sausage. Our son Wyatt was with us and they had a good deal on a chopped beef sandwich and side for $4.50 so we got that with beans for his side and a separate side of potato salad.
Our brisket was beautiful. They had wrapped the brisket, either before finishing it in the put or for transportation from their steakhouse, and the bark was very moist. The fat cap was perfectly rendered and the fatty membranes in the center of the meat were also cooked right to the edge but not over. The meat virtually dissolves in your mouth as you eat it and the remnants left behind on the butcher paper are soaked in the fat residue that drips from the fresh brisket. Our sample piece was heavy on the pepper, in the style of Louie Mueller. The brisket we were served with our meal was heavier on salt than pepper and had a slightly different bark flavor than our sample piece. Leslye preferred the sample slightly over our cut and I did as well but that tingle hit us several more times as we devoured the brisket.
Taking a turn on the potato salad it was cool, creamy, and just the right mix of mustard, eggs, and dill flavor. This side also ranked very highly in our comparison. The ranch beans were good but didn’t stand out.
They offer three sauces at Killen’s; regular, tangy, and coffee. A coffee based sauce will only be surprising if you have never been to Franklin BBQ in Austin, as they crafted a delicious sauce with espresso. I tasted the coffee sauce here and instantly thought of Franklin’s sauce. I even took some home to compare with the bottled Franklin sauce I have. Visually they are extremely similar with Killen’s displaying a bit more pepper flakes than the store-bought version of Franklin but the colors were spot on. The Franklin had a ‘darker’ taste than Killen’s though, with Killen’s tasting just a little sweeter and lighter. I don’t want to start a sauce-troversy here, but one had to inspire the other. That said, you absolutely don’t need sauce at Killen’s but a dab of it here and there was awesome.
I’ve held off talking about the sausage as long as I can. The sausage I was served was undercooked; WAY undercooked. The casing was loose and soft and when I bit into it wasn’t just lacking snap, it tasted raw. The filling was pale, pinkish, and fell out of the casing. I’m going to give Killen’s some huge leeway here due to the pit fiasco, but this shouldn’t have been served to us.
Prior to leaving we struck up a conversation with the neighbors to the restaurant. They had been blocked in by traffic and had to resort to calling the police to help get vehicles moved so they could enter their drive way. Upon arrival the police had told them “This is Texas, they love their BBQ. Get used to it and we recommend putting up some signs.” They were taking it in stride as they were putting up no parking signs, though, and were friendly as well. They really had no idea of the quality of the establishment next door and I encouraged them to check it out. Their current favorites were Central BBQ just down the road and Spring Creek BBQ. They will be in for a real treat when they try out Killen’s, and I also recommend that Killen’s give them a piece offering of some of their BBQ.
Based on the quality of the brisket and of the reviews I’ve read of their beef and pork ribs which looked great on the cutting board, I am headed back to Killen’s soon to try more than just the brisket. I would like to also try a fully cooked sausage. Maybe I can also convince them to switch to Lone Star. There really is something about Lone Star beer and BBQ. I know I’m nit-picking about free beer but I’m already getting picky after hitting up 35 joints this year.
This is not just the best brisket in Houston and it doesn’t just “hold its own” to some of the top 10; Killen’s brisket is a true challenger to the best in the world. The word is already out and the lines are already long but I strongly recommend checking them out sooner rather than later.
-Capt. Bryan www.texasbbqtreasurehunt.com
Ronnie Killen also owns Killen’s Steakhouse located at 2804 South Main Street just down the road and he is no stranger to good food. More about him can be found at http://www.killenssteakhouse.com/chef-killen.html