One of the lingering questions surrounding Killen's Barbecue is who chef/owner Ronnie Killen would employ as his pitmaster. For the past year, Killen himself has supervised the one-off events and weekend pop-ups that have established Killen's reputation as one of Houston's top barbecue destinations, but the chef can't devote himself to that restaurant full time while simultaneously managing his successful steakhouse and working towards opening CK Steakhouse.
Killen tells CultureMap he has hired Underbelly line cook Patrick Feges to work at Killen's BBQ as his pitmaster and kitchen master. Feges, an army veteran with a compelling personal narrative, has used his limited free time to launch a side project barbecue business that's hosted several successful pop-ups.
Inspired by a CultureMap article that suggested the two unite, Killen initially contacted Feges last year about coming on board, but the young chef wasn't ready to leave Underbelly. Now, with the barbecue restaurant set to open next week, the time is right.
"I'll be doing what I love everyday. Coming home smelling like smoke everyday."
"I went to Chris (Shepherd) and got his blessing," Feges tells CultureMap. "He supports me 100 percent."
Killen says he'll work with Feges to teach him to manage the restaurant's two smokers: A wood-burning Oyler rotisserie and custom designed, reverse-flow brick pit that's one of the restaurant's signature elements. Feges will learn when briskets are finished and how to prepare Killen's signature beef ribs.
"He knows I don't want to be mediocre," Killen says of Feges. "I want to be excellent."
Hiring Feges helps bring Killen's closer to the goal printed on its T-shirts of serving "The best barbecue, period." His experience working in the busy Underbelly kitchen should serve him well. Killen says last weekend's pop-up sold out of meat in under three hours.
Most of Killen's employees stay with him for years, but he supports Feges's plans to open his own barbecue restaurant down the road. Feges doesn't have a specific timeline for his next move. He plans to work for Killen for a few years and make a move "when the opportunity arises."
Asked what's the best thing about making the move to barbecue full time, Feges has a quick answer.
"I'll be doing what I love everyday," he says. "Coming home smelling like smoke everyday."