brisket on a pizza

Houston barbecue king Ronnie Killen partners with pizza powerhouse in major move

BBQ king Ronnie Killen partners with pizza powerhouse in major move

Papa John's Killen's barbecue brisket pizza
Killen's brisket pizza is coming to Papa John's.  Photo by Kimberly Park

Houstonians will soon have a new way to enjoy brisket from Killen’s Barbecue without driving to Pearland or attending an event at NRG Stadium. Chef Ronnie Killen has partnered with Papa John’s Houston franchisee Keith Sullins to bring barbecue brisket pizza to 82 stores across the Houston area.

Topped with Killen’s signature barbecue sauce, pickles, onions, bacon, and mozzarella, the pizza will retail for $17.99 as either regular or thin crust.

“The brisket pizza reminds me, with brisket and pickles and onion, of a foldover [a slice of brisket wrapped in a piece of white bread]. But you have the outside crunch that gives it a little texture, plus the cheese,” Killen tells CultureMap. “You’re eating pizza, but it reminds you of the way people used to eat Texas barbecue a long time ago.”

The limited time special — available from February 18 until March 31 to coincide with Rodeo season — has been a year in the making, Killen says. He likes that Papa John’s uses fresh ingredients; its stores don’t have freezers, which is consistent with Killen’s values.

In order to produce enough brisket for that many pizzas, the chef partnered with J Bar B Foods in Waelder. After signing a series of non-disclosure agreements, Killen taught the company how to trim, season, and smoke briskets to his specifications.

“The brisket they put out, it’s very good,” Killen says. “It’s very close to what we do. You couldn’t tell the difference between the smoke and the tenderness.”

If brisket pizza proves to be popular, Killen says he worked on a series of other barbecue pizzas that will roll out to Papa John’s over time. The plans include a short rib pizza with Killen’s coffee barbecue sauce, a smoked sausage pizza with peppers, and a pork belly pizza. Of course, Killen will spot check to ensure that both J Bar B and Papa John’s are upholding his standards. He says he'll order the pizza from time to time — and it better be up to spec.

Assuming the pizzas are a hit, they could eventually become a permanent part of Papa John’s menu — or even lead to a Killen’s-branded pizzeria. The chef says he’s drawn up a business plan for a delivery-focused concept that could be built into shopping centers across the Houston area for a reasonable cost. It’s still just a plan for now, but the idea of ordering from Killen's Pizza is certainly intriguing.

“I’ve already talked to real estate people, my bankers, everybody’s on board,” he says. “Putting our spin on [pizza delivery] would be really good.”