Best Bites Winners

Houston's king of meat rules at Rodeo Best Bites competition

Houston's king of meat rules at Rodeo Best Bites competition

RodeoHouston Best Bites Killen's Barbecue STQ
The Killen's crew was all smiles after their big win Sunday night. Photo by Eric Sandler

The New England Patriots may have lost the Super Bowl, but their two decades of consistent excellence makes them the betting favorite to take the title in 2019.

So it is with Ronnie Killen and the annual Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites competition. Last year, Killen’s STQ took second place in the entree category with its signature pork belly burnt ends. Good enough to earn a winner’s belt buckle, but Killen's goal is always to win.

Competing against over 100 restaurants at Sunday night’s sold out event, Killen stepped up and showed off his team's diverse skill set. When all the ballots had been counted, Killen’s STQ and Killen’s Barbecue took three of the night’s top prizes: first place in Lone Star Entree with smoked beef ribs, first place in Two-Steppin’ Dessert with maple bacon bread pudding, and people’s choice for beef ribs.

Asked about the secret of his success, Killen tells CultureMap it all comes down to a simple mantra.

“Make good food. I know that sounds funny, but make people want your food and talk about your food,” Killen says. “My food (philosophy) is having everything balanced: salty, sweet, hot, smoky. It was a beef rib, but it was very tender and the flavor was good. I thought about my cook-off experience, trying to make something taste really good cold instead of hot, give it a really good flavor.”

Credit to Pop Fancy popsicles for the night’s other big hit. The mall-based dessert kiosk’s cereal milk pops earned second place in dessert, the rookie award for best first-time participant, and second place in Outstanding Showmanship. The first-ever Trail Boss Food Truck award went to Breaking Bao for its Hot Jam Bao that featured fried chicken and housemade pickles.  

Other standout dishes included State of Grace’s fried crawfish beignets, Bosscat Kitchen’s pulled pork mac and cheese, Rise No. 2’s strawberry souffle, and El Burro and the Bull’s smoked cochinita pibil.

Still, the night belonged to Killen and his crew, led by Killen’s Barbecue pitmaster Manny Torres, STQ’s chef de cuisine Teddy Lopez, pastry chef Samantha Mendoza, and director of operations Graham Laborde. The chef isn’t quite done with the Rodeo either; he’ll be competing at this year’s barbecue cook-off as part of the Gonzales-based J.K. Cookers team. Killen’s father, who passed away last year, was a Gonzales native and member of the team.

“We’re representing the Gonzales Go Texan (competition),” Killen says. “I’m very focused on it, because it has a different meaning for my father.”

Here’s a full list of the night’s winners:

Trail Boss Food Truck Award
First place: Breaking Bao — The Hot Jam Bao

Trailblazing Appetizer Award
First place: Snooze an AM Eatery — Pork belly on a tortilla with mango pico de gallo
Second place: Brennan's — Tasso and grit dumpling with NOLA barbecue shrimp
Third place: EurAsia Fusion — Pepper tuna crab

Lone Star Entree Award
First place: Killen's — Beef ribs
Second place: Texas de Brazil — Flank steak with chimichurri sauce and mashed potatoes
Third place: Brio Tuscan Grill — Balsamic-braised beef with smoked gouda, polenta, and Brussels sprouts

Two-Steppin' Dessert Award
First place: Killen's STQ — Maple bacon bread pudding
Second place: Pop Fancy — Cereal milk pops
Third place: Ooh La La — Corn flake Cookie

Tasty Tradition Award
First place: Ooh La La — Corn flake cookie
Second place: Texas de Brazil — Flank steak with chimichurri sauce and mashed potatoes

Rookie Award
Pop Fancy — Cereal Pops

Outstanding Showmanship Award
First place: Brothers Produce
Second place: Pop Fancy

People's Choice
First place: Killen's — Beef Ribs
Second place: Taste of Texas — Certified Angus Beef tenderloin