How we’ve gone this long without an area barbecue festival is beyond comprehension, but two of Houston’s most enthusiastic meatheads have taken it upon themselves to remedy that, saving our town from a low-down smokin’ shame. Yes, this Sunday is the first annual Houston BBQ Festival at the Bayou City Event Center, and we recently sat down with organizers Chris Reid and Michael Fulmer to talk shop.
Reid and Fulmer are two seasoned smoke experts, traveling to the far reaches of the state and country in search of brisket glory.
CultureMap: Why did you decide to create this festival?
Michael Fulmer: It was just an idea whose time has come. It’s something we’d been talking about for years. We realized through our travels in Central and East Texas, meeting people and sampling BBQ, that it was time to showcase the great things happening in our own backyard.
"No one here has to settle for mediocre BBQ."
Chris Reid: Texas-style BBQ has just exploded over the past few years across the U.S. You can find it in New York, Los Angeles, all over — but it’s always Central Texas BBQ. There’s fantastic BBQ here, too, that gets no attention. So we wanted to do something to recognize the great stuff right here in our area.
CultureMap: What's your goal for the festival?
Michael Fulmer: This is a celebration. We want everyone to celebrate what we have here. That includes not just the attendees, but the sellers and vendors too. We want to honor this whole community. Really the goal is that we want people to want to come back for next year’s event.
Chris Reid: We also want to turn these pitmasters into rock stars for a day. This is their day. They’re taking days off to be there. Attendees are there to see them and talk to them and hear their stories, and we basically just want to shine a light on them and let them be the heroes for a day.
CultureMap: Why do you think Houston BBQ gets such a bad name?
Chris Reid: There’s been a lot of what I call “Lowest Common Denominator BBQ” that satisfies people. BBQ is so popular that it’s almost become automated — anyone can buy a cheap machine, put the meat in, go home and then done. But in the last few years, the newer joints are setting a higher bar, and the older places have stepped up their games, too, taking trips to Central Texas and re-tooling their operations. There’s more of an awareness that there’s a high standard, and that standard is filtering down to Houston.
CultureMap: With bad publicity surrounding some other recent festivals what are you doing to ensure a good experience?
Michael Fulmer: That was the first thing on our minds. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right: Limit the number of tickets sold, ensure a quality experience for attendees and vendors. If we’re true to our idea of celebrating these people, the quality of the experience has to be our guiding force. We’re spending the extra money where needed to make it a good experience.
"Houston’s not like Lockhart where you have four places within walking distance. We’re bringing them together for everyone to enjoy in one place."
Chris Reid: This is a first-year festival. We don’t have expectations of perfection. All we can do is work hard enough to cover our bases and put everything in place to have a great festival. We’re talking to people, taking advice, imagining scenarios and doing everything we can.
CultureMap: What can attendees expect?
Michael Fulmer: They can expect a huge variety of Houston BBQ. We’re curating these joints from all over the area — Atascocita, Spring, Westchase, and more. Houston’s not like Lockhart where you have four places within walking distance. We’re bringing them together for everyone to enjoy in one place.
Chris Reid: The ideal is that we want someone that has a regular BBQ joint to have a great experience, be introduced to other BBQ joints, and then be willing to drive to a new place to see what’s out there. No one here has to settle for mediocre BBQ.
CultureMap: What are you most excited about with this festival?
Chris Reid: Pitmasters being together, learning from each other. These guys are super friendly and hard working. You just don’t meet indifferent people in the BBQ world. I’m really looking forward to that general feeling of camaraderie.
Michael Fulmer: When you walk into an environment and you smell the smoke, there’s just that Pavlovian reaction . . . I want BBQ. We’re going to have lots of smokers out there, these guys are going to be up all night, getting it right for the festival. That to me is exciting, the devotion.
Learn more about this Sunday’s first annual Houston BBQ Festival here.