At 10:50am, I had just pulled in to the Bayou City Events Center in Houston. My grandfather always said 10 minutes early is an hour late. I figured an hour and ten minutes early was right on time.
As I stepped out of the car I was hit by an Arctic blast of death: 30mph wind gusts and 55º temperatures. That’s similar to below freezing in other parts of the country.
Nevertheless, I was ready to eat barbecue come hell or high water.
First, let me tell you the bad news. There were two places I did not try: Pizzitola’s and Gatlin’s. Many of you may wonder why I missed Gatlin’s. Well, I’ve been there before AND the line was sickeningly long. Gatlin’s had a grease fire earlier in the morning and didn’t open up until the general ticket holders came in. Let me tell you: fighting with 1200 people over barbecue is not my style. I’d rather eat grass than stand in a long line for ‘cue I’ve already sampled.
Pizzitola’s just didn’t make it in my mouth. Maybe I peaked. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was the sun. Whatever the case I didn’t get to taste it. C’est la vie.
Folks, every joint that participated did a stand up job. Trust me, most parts of the country would be overwhelmed by the quality of barbecue found at HouBBQ. But this isn’t most parts of the country. This is Texas. You’ve got to bring it here.
- Brisket: Brisket is what I almost always eat first, no matter where I go. HouBBQ is no exception. For me there was a hands down winner: The Brisket House. I got served a slice of moist that just absolutely slayed. It had a good amount of smoke, a nice bark and a ton of flavor. They use a mix of pecan and oak and that seems to work. I’ll definitely need to visit them to make sure they are putting out brisket of the same quality on a daily basis.
- Pork rib: Houston is really competitive when it comes to pork ribs. When I look for the best I want meat that separates but doesn’t slide off the bone under its own weight. I want a black pepper face punch. And I want smoke. Lots of smoke. Virgie’s was the clear winner here. I loved that rib so much, the first words I wrote in my notes were “mouth sex”. I’ve had the ribs at Gatlin’s (ok, I ate the hell out of them) and really liked them a lot. But I think Virgie’s was slightly better. I can’t wait to pay them a visit.
- Pulled pork: Pork butt is, in my opinion, one of the more forgiving meats to cook. For that reason, my criterion for awesome is fairly strict. You cannot make a mistake. I want smoke. I want moisture but I don’t want it dripping on me. When I get a bark/fat piece I want sweet smoke candy flavor. There were a few joints with pulled pork that was awesome, but Fainmous BBQ did it for me. My notes say “soft and supple” and it was that times 1000. I had a bark/fat piece that was sublime. I hope they serve that level of pork every day. I’ll find out soon enough.
- Sausage: This was by far the most difficult category for me. I didn’t feel like there was a clear winner here. I liked a couple of the sausages but since I had basically peaked on sausage at Zimmerhanzel’s the day before it was just difficult for me to make a choice here. I thought Blake’s BBQ and Burgers, Ronnie Killen and The Brisket House were all great. I want to see more focus on casing with everyone at the festival. Sure, I’m being super nitpicky, but at this level of barbecue that’s all there is.
There were two things I ate at HouBBQ that really left an impression on me.
- The ribs from Virgie’s.
- The beef rib from Ronnie Killen.
Beef rib, ftw
Killen was one of two people who cooked all their barbecue on site. Yes, that’s right. He cooked it all ON SITE. Under harsh conditions no less. With 30mph+ gusts of wind and temperatures that dipped into the 30’s. And Killen came out with a beef rib that was great. I can’t imagine what he’ll be able to do in a highly controlled environment. My prediction is that Killen is going to take Texas BBQ by storm when he opens a barbecue joint.
For those of you unfamiliar with Killen, he has a steakhouse in Pearland, TX that consistently ends up on top 10 steakhouse lists across the country. I got to chat with him for a while today and the dude knows so much about food it blew my mind. He was telling me about how he sources beef and that alone could take up a whole book.
I don’t want to rant too much about Killen but I just knew when I was talking to him that he is committed to perfection and will give 110% on the barbecue he makes. Restaurant know how, commitment to perfection and encyclopedic knowledge of food and cooking can only lead to success.
HouBBQ was a ravishing success. It seemed like the organizers had done this 100 times before. From my perspective every detail had been worked out and all the barbecue joints representin’ Houston were ready to go with the right amount of ‘cue. I was really impressed.
I was also massively humbled when a few people told me they read my blog. I hope I can provide a fresh perspective on Texas barbecue as I mature on this site. I have a lot of really awesome stuff planned and soon you’re all going to know just how much I geek out on ‘cue.