After months of planning, pop-ups and construction, Killen's BBQ looks set to open by the end of the month. With the custom, reverse-flow, brick pit under construction in the former Pearland ISD cafeteria that chef/owner Ronnie Killen purchased for his restaurant, he gave me a quick tour of the space where he intends to serve, as the T-shirts say, "the best barbecue, period."
During a walk through of the space, Killen told me he expects to be open no later than Feb. 1. Although the building looks incomplete, Killen said all it needs is the final ceiling installation, floor sanding and electrical wiring before he can start bringing in kitchen equipment, tables and chairs.
While barbecue restaurants don't usually require an oven, grill or fryer, Killen is having them installed. Although the restaurant will primarily serve barbecue, the equipment will give him the flexibility to serve burgers or other items in the evening if the barbecue consistently sells out in the afternoon.
Of course, 40 briskets may not be enough to satisfy the legion of barbecue fans Killen has developed, which is why the brick pit isn't the restaurant's only smoker.
For now, his focus is squarely on the barbecue, and the custom built brick pit he's commissioned is the heart of the operation. Built with fire brick and reclaimed materials, the pit will have a firebox upfront that will provide heat and smoke under the cooking surface and then over the meat before it heads out a chimney.
Once complete, he estimates it will hold between 40 and 50 briskets. A prep area in the same room means briskets will be seasoned and on the pit with a minimal amount of hassle. Since diners will be able to see the pit from the serving line, the restaurant's name will be laid into the brick.
Of course, 40 daily briskets may not be enough to satisfy the legion of barbecue fans Killen has developed, which is why the brick pit isn't the restaurant's only smoker. Out back, Killen will use a wood-fired Oyler smoker with an electric rotisserie for beef ribs, pork ribs, turkey and whatever else he decides to play around with. Recently, Killen has been testing a bone-in pork belly that he says is the pork equivalent of his celebrated beef ribs. They could become the restaurant's second signature item.
One thing Killen says he won't do is cook more meat than he can sell in a day. He'd rather maintain a high level of quality than try to hold meat that's past its prime.
When looking back at 2013, the rise of Killen's BBQ from nascent idea to full-fledged barbecue joint has to be one of the most memorable stories. It seemed like a lark when Killen showed up at the RodeoHouston Best Bites competition with hundreds of pounds of moist, fatty, smoky beef short ribs that earned raves from both judges and attendees.
Then he sponsored the Houston Barbecue Festival, served a lot more beef ribs and started the weekly pop-ups where people from across the Houston area willingly waited for an hour or more to get their fix. In the next two weeks, he'll have the opportunity to prove that his million dollar investment (including the purchase of the building and its land) was a wise decision.
I can't wait.