The Houston Barbecue Festival returns for a second year on Sunday April 6. Modeled after the Texas Monthly Barbecue Festival, the event brings together pitmasters from across the city for an event that recognizes the talent within the Houston barbecue scene by bringing a bunch of people together to eat a lot of smoked meat.
After last year's successful trial run, organizers Michael Fulmer and Chris Reid have taken steps to make this year's event bigger thanks to a new, larger venue at Reliant Park and more participating barbecue restaurants.
"The first year our goal really was to focus on Houston barbecue and show Houston and Texas and the U.S. what Houston barbecue is all about," Reid tells CultureMap. "All of the joints we invited were the best of the best of Houston barbecue. We didn’t go out of town. We didn’t branch away from traditional barbecue other than Gerardo’s."
"All of the joints we invited were the best of the best of Houston barbecue. We didn’t go out of town."
After the festival, the organizers talked to attendees who noted that Houston barbecue restaurants are good, but that central Texas remains the state's top barbecue destination. In response, Reid and Fulmer are bringing in some out of town guests to see how Houston barbecue stacks up against pitmasters from across Texas.
"The idea is that we’re going to branch out a little bit and put Houston barbecue within the context of Texas barbecue and U.S. barbecue and maybe even international barbecue going forward," Reid says.
While the idea of throwing Chinese barbecue pork, Korean barbecue or Indian tandoori against smoked brisket sounds like a very Houston barbecue festival, Fulmer cautions that might not happen this year. "That might not be something you see this year, but you may see it down the road. We want to tweak and innovate just a little bit every year," he says
One of those out of town guests will likely be Wayne Mueller of iconic Texas barbecue joint Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, who recently used a Super Bowl Sunday appearance at the Saint Arnold brewery as a test case for his plans to open a Houston location. Reid confirms that they've discussed the idea of attending with Mueller but haven't confirmed him, because they've been focused on Houston restaurants.
Currently, all of the Houston representatives on the Texas Monthly Top 50 and CultureMap's Barbecue Top 10 are participating along with newcomers that include Oak Leaf Smokehouse, Feges BBQ and Pappa Charlies Barbeque.
Fulmer notes that Houston's barbecue is currently enjoying an unprecedented upswing thanks to an influx of new talent over the past few years. "I think it’s exciting that there’s lots of new and young talent that’s forcing the established places to step up their game. . . . You look at Wayne (Kammerl) at Brisket House; he’s doing beef ribs on the weekends. We went to try it, and it was fantastic."
Long-established local barbecue chains Goode Company BBQ and Pappas Bar-B-Q aren't on the roster, but the organizers still want them to be involved. "We’ve reached out to them, and, if they can’t or don’t want to be a part of it, the invitation is still there and we respect their heritage," Fulmer says.
The only negative aspect of last year's festival were high winds that made holding a plate full of barbecue somewhat difficult, but the organizers have a plan.
"We always leave a slice of brisket on our plate for the weather gods," Fulmer says with a laugh.
"We still made ‘em work," Reid adds. "If we can just get a calm weekend with good weather, it’ll be even better."
Tickets for the Second Annual Houston Barbecue Festival are on sale now. Prices are $50 for general admission or $90 for VIP.