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New Barbecue Spot Swarmed

New barbecue restaurant is swarmed — and a hip hop star gets in on it: Welcome to Ronnie Killen's world

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Slideshow
Killen's Barbecue Line
Diners waited for up to two hours this weekend to try the newly opened Killen's Barbecue in Pearland.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's barbecue brisket
Customers may have been upset about the line, but most thought brisket that looks like this was worth the wait.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's barbecue Ronnie Killen Bun B
Even hip hop superstar Bun B came by to check it out.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's barbecue meat plate
Order a plate or by the pound.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's barbecue slicing meat
For now, Killen himself is working the line until newly hired pitmaster Patrick Feges comes aboard.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's Barbecue Ronnie Killen beef rib
Save room for a beef rib.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's Barbecue Interior
The dining room has a retro feel thanks to this diner-style furniture.  Photo by: Kimberly Park
Killen's Barbecue Line
Killen's barbecue brisket
Killen's barbecue Ronnie Killen Bun B
Killen's barbecue meat plate
Killen's barbecue slicing meat
Killen's Barbecue Ronnie Killen beef rib
Killen's Barbecue Interior

"Very busy."

Ronnie Killen only needs those two words to describe the first weekend of full-time operations at Killen's Barbecue. In addition to serving about 1,500 pounds of meat on both Saturday and Sunday, attendees at Sunday night's RodeoHouston Best Bites competition consistently swarmed his booth.

No wonder he hired Underbelly line cook Patrick Feges to work as his pitmaster, a development first reported by CultureMap.

 The wait doesn't seem to have deterred anyone. Even hip hop superstar Bun B made the drive to Pearland to check out Killen's.  

In the middle of the craziness, the Chronicle broke that news that Killen would be partnering up with chef Bryan Caswell and front of house guru Bill Floyd on a Montrose restaurant that will serve burgers and Killen's signature barbecue. While the restaurant doesn't have a name yet, Killen tells CultureMap they've discussed the possibility of calling it the "Montrose Meat Market," a name he acknowledges "may offend people."   

Although the restaurant doesn't have a location yet either, Caswell has already bought two Oyler pits like the one Killen is using in Pearland. The new restaurant's location will also support the catering operations Caswell runs for both seafood restaurant Reef and Tex-Mex spot El Real.

"We've been talking about it for nine months," Killen says of his venture with Caswell. "My role there is going to be really minimal . . . It's really going to be a consulting role and training. That's one of the reasons I hired Patrick. He can go to both places, making sure things are going right." 

Typically, the chef prefers to go out on his own but liked the opportunity to partner up with another one of Houston's highest profile chefs. "There’s very few people that I would do any kind of partnership with," Killen says of Caswell. "I know he knows a lot of barbecue people. I think it’ll be good for everybody."

Some people, including Chronicle critic Alison Cook, have wondered whether Killen is spreading himself too thin, but the chef wants diners to know his eyes are firmly on the prize. "If it becomes an issue, I’ll bow out," he says. "I’m not going to put anything I have in jeopardy over something like that."

The Other Restaurant

As for CK Steakhouse, Killen's planned Heights venture with Hubcap Grill owner Ricky Craig, the situation is less certain. "It’s on the back burner while Ricky gets his new location open (in Kemah) and I get this open," Killen says.

Both men opening new restaurants aren't the only reasons for the delay though. Killen and Craig are still negotiating with the landlord over whether they'll invest additional money into the building's construction and how much time Killen will spend at the restaurant. "(The landlord's) expectation is for me to be there all the time. I can’t do that . . . Barbecue is very demanding. I don’t think a lot of people know that. This morning I was grinding meat for sausage," Killen says. "A lot of people buy it, but then I’d be like everybody else."

That doesn't mean the project is dead, however. "It definitely is not history," Killen says. "I definitely would like to do something there. The Stella Sola project still haunts me about how much money I put into that (without opening anything)."

 They've discussed calling it the "Montrose Meat Market," a name Killen acknowledges "may offend people."    

Turning back to the barbecue restaurant that he calls his "newborn baby," Killen says managing the line, which ran up to two hours, and keeping people informed about whether they'll receive food before he sells out is proving to be the toughest challenge. As with Franklin Barbecue, the Austin joint Killen has set as his benchmark, the restaurant cooks to capacity and when the meat is gone, that's it. The goal, Killen explains, is to serve the meat "at its optimal temperature and moisture." 

Unfortunately, not everyone is used to waiting so long for barbecue.

"When are we going to sell out? I don’t know. We want to try to take care of as many people as we can," Killen says. "When people start complaining about (wait) times, you want to get defensive. Then they come back and tell you they understand why people are waiting. That makes everything better."

Killen also gave out chopped beef sandwiches to people who waited and didn't receive brisket or ribs. 

The wait doesn't seem to have deterred anyone. Even hip hop superstar Bun B made the drive to Pearland to check out Killen's.

One way to speed things along is if people decide what they want while they're in line, Killen notes. 

"I need to put up a sign that when you get to the line there is no 'Uh,' " he says with a laugh. "What does a quarter pound look like? Open your hand. That’s what it looks like."

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