In just three years, the Houston Barbecue Festival has evolved from an intriguing idea into one of the culinary calendar's most can't miss events. Its status from fledgling upstart to seasoned veteran has been mirrored by its most prominent participant: Killen's Barbecue.
However, it looks like the two have parted ways, at least for the fourth annual event that's being held May 22 at NRG Park. In an email sent Tuesday morning announcing this year's lineup, Killen's Barbecue is not among the list of returning participants. Festival organizers confirmed on Twitter that Killen's wouldn't be back.
When asked if he'd like to offer an explanation for his decision to skip the festival, the usually gregarious Ronnie Killen responded with a polite "No."
The breakup is definitely a shame, since the festival and the restaurant have had a symbiotic relationship throughout their respective histories.
In 2013, Killen's joined the festival as a sponsor, because the Pearland restaurant hadn't opened yet. Attendees got their first taste of Killen's brisket and beef ribs that would go on to earn a prestigious 4.75 rating from Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn and be named by the Food Network as one of the top five barbecue joints in the country.
While the festival's primary draw is the opportunity to sample meat prepared by as many as 24 different barbecue joints from across the Houston area (and a couple of out of town guests), Killen's Barbecue has been first among equals — attracting the longest lines and the most attention.
Of course, change also brings opportunity. Truly devoted barbecue hounds could earn hero status by starting their day at Killen's and then continuing on to the festival. Conversely, with so many barbecue fans at the festival, the line at Killen's could be the shortest it will be all year.