Among a certain segment of Houston's culinary community, it's an axiom of faith that the first person to open a high-quality, central-Texas style barbecue joint inside the loop will make an absolute shitload of money. After all, the argument goes, if CorkScrew BBQ in Spring and Killen's Barbecue in Pearland are selling meat as fast as they can smoke it, the right concept in the heart of Houston could become a Franklin-style juggernaut.
While more established restaurants like Goode Co and even the venerable Pizzitola's have their fans, they simply aren't serving the intensely smoky, fatty, full-flavored barbecue that's at the forefront of Houston's barbecue awakening.
Given the potential for profit, some big names are already involved in the quest to open such a restaurant. Bryan Caswell and Greg Gatlin will soon open Jackson Street Barbecue in downtown, the Landmark Houston Hospitality Group is bringing The Republic Smokehouse & Saloon to Midtown and Wayne Mueller will open a version of central Texas stalwart Louie Mueller Barbecue in the Eastside at some point.
Pinkerton discovered this passion when, at 10 years old, he knew by intuition that his father needed to take some steaks off the grill.
With all that talent entering the market, it came as a bit of a surprise when the Chronicle reported recently that a 26-year old pitmaster with no formal culinary training would be opening a barbecue restaurant in River Oaks this August. Meet Grant Pinkerton: a Lamar High School and University of Texas grad with plans to open Pinkerton's Barbecue.
"I have a weird, undying passion for meat," Pinkerton tells CultureMap."I love it. Cooking meat has fascinated me since I was a little kid."
Pinkerton discovered this passion when, at 10 years old, he knew by intuition that his father needed to take some steaks off the grill. After learning to grill, he turned to a smoker. At Texas, he started cooking for 200 to 400 people at tailgates and, in the offseason, taking road trips to central Texas barbecue joints in places like Lockhart, Taylor and Llano.
"I came back to Houston and ate some barbecue here and said 'I can do better than this,'" Pinkerton explains. "Not only can I do better than this, but I want to provide awesome barbecue to Houston." He purchased a catering rig and started popping up "outlaw style," without permits, around West University Place. Pretty soon he had an email list of names that would allow him to pre-sell almost an entire day's production. That led to more catering, which is how Pinkerton met the people who are backing him in the restaurant.
The perfect place
Pinkerton says he had a vision for how his space would look but wasn't optimistic about finding the right fit until a friend referred him to a building on Joanel Street behind River Oaks Donuts. "We went and we checked it out, boom. It’s an old metal building with chicken wire covering the insulation and exposed metal beams. I was, like, this is it. This is perfect. I knew that’s exactly where I wanted to move in."
Pinkerton plans to serve brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, sausage, chicken and turkey on the regular menu with occasional specials like whole hog or cabrito.
A massive 12-foot by 42-inch, trailer-mounted Klose offset smoker will provide plenty of capacity. "We’ve worked with the architect to design a vent hood and ventilation system to go over the smokestack," Pinkerton says. "I think it can serve up to 1,800 to 2,000 people per day."
Pinkerton plans to serve brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, sausage, chicken and turkey on the regular menu with occasional specials like whole hog or cabrito. Sides will include jambalaya, coleslaw, potato salad and jalapeno cheese rice. "I want really awesome sides: culinary level sides to match really good meat," Pinkerton adds.
He's even developing a couple of salads for the River Oaks crowd, but they'll still be topped with meat.
As part of the run-up to opening, Pinkerton will be hosting pop-ups, participating in events like the Houston Barbecue Festival in April and booking more catering jobs. Festival organizer Michael Fulmer got his first taste of Pinkerton's barbecue last Saturday and was impressed by what he tasted.
"It didn't just look good. It tasted good," Fulmer tells CultureMap. "Both the fatty and the lean brisket were really good. It shows great adeptness of skill when you can execute like that.
"It's clear to me that he's not an amateur looking to come and play with professionals. This is a guy who's ready to go to the next level, and that's really encouraging."
Achieving his goals won't be easy, but Pinkerton is ready to make some sacrifices to achieve his dreams. "The hours are insane, and I’m thinking about that. It’s going to be crazy. It’s 6 a.m. to midnight, at least, every day.
"Luckily, I’m a pretty young guy. I figure I can kill myself for the first five to eight years."