Sunday, February 22, 2015

Killen's Barbecue 1st Anniversary Celebration

What a great day for Ronnie Killen, his crew, and his family at the Killen's Barbecue 1st Anniversary celebration! They sure have had a year to remember--so much to be proud of! The weather held out for the entire event, and the Junior Gordon Band was rocking the outdoor pavilion to the delight of all in attendance. Lots of smiles all around, and certainly lots to smile about! At 4:00 pm, the line was still out the door, and the goods were still being piled onto trays carried by happy customers.

Texas Pit Quest was there, and here are a few pictures from the day just to give you a glimpse of the fun had by all. (See the entire photo set at my Facebook album "Killen's BBQ 1st Anniversary Celebration.")

I know, I said it before, what a great day. Congratulations, Ronnie! Hope you all enjoy the pictures!

- Scott

Killen's Barbecue, 3613 E. Broadway St., Pearland, TX 77581, (281) 485-2272.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 11:00 am until sold out.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pit Quest Saturday - Southern Q, BBQ Godfather, & Corkscrew BBQ

Our day started with the best of intentions.

Today I teamed up with @BBQBryan and @HoustonFed for a three-stop Pit Quest run on the north side of Houston. We were all looking forward to the opportunity to try some new spots and re-visit some of our favorites. Three guys, talking too long, lingering over good barbecue, and before we knew it, our day had gotten away from us.

We started our day with a trip to Southern Q BBQ & Catering at their 11:00 am opening. Knowing that I had just been here and had been crowing about it online all week, my two companions wanted to check it out for themselves.

The "Taste of the South" Sampler at Southern Q

We were greeted upon entering by Steve Garner, who, after quick introductions, shuffled off to the kitchen and brought out a small boat of today's house-made jalapeno sausage for us sample. Spicy, moist, loaded with beef and pork, and great texture. Memorable bites for all of us. We quickly settled on the "Taste of the South" Sampler so we could get some of everything, plus a couple of links of smoked boudin. Again, the sausage on the Sampler left a lasting impression on all of us today, with big flavors and its coarse, slightly loose beef and pork fill. Brisket was on point, with an East Texas-style spice in the rub and a thin, crispy bark. Everyone was pleased. It's not Central Texas-style; you won't find a thick, heavily black-peppered bark, so if this is your yardstick, you might be disappointed. Don't be--remember that Texas BBQ has many different branches on its family tree, and on the East Texas-style branch, Southern Q is a standout. (See last week's Texas Pit Quest post for more details on Southern Q).

East Texas-style sides and BBQ at Southern Q

BBQ Godfather, Spring, TX
Second stop on today's Quest was a visit to BBQ Godfather, the food truck operation on Rayford Rd. in Spring, TX. Today's special was their Pork Belly BLT, so we ordered one, plus a pound of brisket and three spareribs to share, and a side of their Bacon Mac 'n Cheese. Visually, the Pork Belly BLT was a nice composition.

Pork Belly BLT at BBQ Godfather
We had a little trouble with the texture of the pork belly, which we anticipated would have that nice combination of fat and crispiness you find on a perfectly-seared piece. This was a little dry and tough, and both smoke and seasoning was a bit lacking. As an overall sandwich though, it has potential. Ribs were good, and I found the brisket to be decent as well. As thick as the slices were, it could have used some additional time on the pit to break down connective tissue. The flavor penetration, from rub or smoke, wasn't quite there either. But it was a beautiful cut and I will definitely be back to give this brisket another chance.

That brisket though...

@HoustonFed and @BBQBryan in a serious BBQ discussion

Brisket and ribs at BBQ Godfather

We held out hope for the Bacon Mac 'n Cheese side. It was topped with much the same cut of pork belly as was on the BLT, diced large, dry, and lacking much flavor. Maybe it would have been improved with a topping of diced, thick-cut, cured and smoked bacon instead, something more bacon-like. In the end, I decided BBQ Godfather has the all the right pieces in place to be a real contender in the Houston BBQ scene, so at least another visit or two is warranted to increase our sampling distribution.

Brisket, ribs, Bacon Mac 'n Cheese, Pork Belly BLT at BBQ Godfather

Just before 2:00 pm we left BBQ Godfather and headed west down Rayford Rd. towards our final destination of the day, Corkscrew BBQ. We hoped to make it in time to get the last of pitmaster Will Buckman's renowned daily offering. As we passed under I-45 and were in the lane waiting to turn left onto Budde Rd., I checked the phone and the daily Corkscrew "Sold Out" message popped up. Foiled! @BBQBryan put it well in a later Twitter post, "Our plan to avoid a line @CorkscrewBBQ was technically successful. They sold out before we got there."  :-(

Sold out at Corkscrew :-(

We resolved to alter our sequence next time.

- Scott

@TxArch and @BBQBryan did not plan this at all.

Southern Q BBQ & Catering, 16540 Kuykendahl Rd., Houston, TX 77068, (832) 250-4851.
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm; Sunday, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

BBQ Godfather, 2074 Rayford Rd., Spring, TX, (713) 828-5690.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, credit cards accepted.

Corkscrew BBQ, 24930 Budde Rd., Spring, TX 77380, (832) 492-1184.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am to sold out.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Southern Q BBQ & Catering - Houston, TX

Southern Q... "You deserve good BBQ".

This statement, prominently displayed on the back of the bright yellow trailer where Southern Q carved out it's niche in the Houston BBQ scene over the past 4 years, speaks volumes. Steve Garner and his wife Sherice have landed, and I don't mean they broke down on the side of the road and can't go any further. "You deserve good BBQ" is their mantra, their mission statement, their philosophy, and it shows. It shows from the moment you walk into their new location and are greeted by Sherice, and Steve's mother Cathy, from behind the counter. It's there from the time your order arrives, until you finish up and are headed out the door feeling thanks and appreciation. You can't help but feel that they believe each and every customer truly deserves good BBQ, and a great BBQ experience.

The meats at Southern Q BBQ
J.C. Reid brought Southern Q to our attention in his Houston Chronicle article last September. Click the link; it's definitely worth the read. In Reid's article, you'll notice he too picked up on the motto right away--evidence that it is an integral part of how the Garners run their business. Reid also provided the details of how the Garners got their start, and the origins of the East Texas-style BBQ they cook and why. Now that they've moved into a physical structure on Kuykendahl Rd. just north of FM 1960 in north Harris County, I had to stop by to see what's happening in their new place.

The new home of Southern Q BBQ
The little red building the Garners have been crafting into a new, permanent home for Southern Q over last few months is ready for prime time, and debuted this past Friday. The previous owner of the structure had built it as a BBQ restaurant for his son, but he lost interest and closed down, and it remained vacant for quite some time. The location seemed perfect as a new home for Southern Q, so Steve worked on him for a while and was eventually able to persuade him to sell. The kitchen, obviously with much more room than the trailer, will be a big help in their catering business. It also came with a bonus--a wood-fired Ole Hickory rotisserie pit in excellent condition. Steve smokes brisket, ribs and turkey legs in the Ole Hickory, and keeps his trailer pit just outside the door for chicken, sausage, boudin and other items needing different time and temperature. His wood of choice is red oak, plentiful in this area, with a little hickory thrown in from time-to-time for added flavor.

I brought along a dining companion for this week's trip, my wife Susan, who thankfully seemed okay with the idea of BBQ for a Valentine's Day late lunch. Since we wanted to try a little of everything, we opted for the "Taste of the South Sampler", a combination of brisket, ribs, turkey, sausage, beans potato salad, Cajun rice and grilled corn--a great value for two, with enough left over to take a little home. We added a link of homemade smoked boudin on the side, which they served with Texas Firecrackers™. Brisket was the impressive standout for both of us on this day; great smoke flavor and bark, with a subtle hint of marinade that was "just there" in each bite--not overpowering at all. The smoked turkey, with a thin layer of caramelized sauce on the edge of each slice, seemed to have been perfectly brined to start, providing a balanced salt presence throughout, along with the moisture retention one expects from a good brine.

Nice meal for two at Southern Q

Handmade sausage is always a treat, and Steve's did not disappoint--nice snap on the casing, punchy with garlic, and with a good balance of coarse-ground beef, pork and other seasonings. Ribs were enjoyable--big and meaty, but that speckling of coarse black pepper on the crust that I personally favor on ribs was absent. Homemade sides were memorable--we both left craving more Cajun rice, filled with with a perfect balance of spices and noticeable pieces of green onions and red bell pepper. The grilled corn was an unique treat, served in half-ears with a sweet, buttery glaze and excellent smoke flavor from its time spent in one of the pits. The smoked boudin was flavorful, but I would have liked it better if it had more spice. (I'm always on the trail for smoked, spicy boudin!) I recognized many traditional flavors and ingredients from boudin in my time growing up in southeast Texas, and really enjoyed the addition of cuts of chopped lean pork. Do not leave without sampling one of the homemade desserts made by Steve's mother Cathy. Her rich, chocolate sheet cake with pecans was a hit, and we even had enough willpower to get out of there with a few bites to take home to share with the kids!

There has obviously been a lot of passion poured into the development of this location. Hand-painted BBQ-themed murals cover the walls, and typical BBQ restaurant Texana decor is tastefully located throughout. The new dining room has about a dozen tables, and there's room just outside to add outdoor seating for additional capacity during nice weather. They now have more room to spread out and think about what they might be able to add or do differently. One thing I noticed right away--the new place will allow them to expand their hours. Steve said "We're now open 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, Wednesday through Saturday, and 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on Sunday. We'll probably expand those hours during the summer months." He's also been able to bring on more staff; two in the dining area and 3 or 4 more in the kitchen, which may help in another way. Once some of these folks are up to speed on the operation, Steve might just be able to get a little more sleep than he has when he's been the only one on the pits at night. 

I asked Steve if he'd been hurt by the rising brisket prices or if it had caused him to consider other beef product offerings, but he said no, he would stick with the typical cuts, what he knows his customers like. "It's the only way we know how; it's what we learned," he says. Similar to other BBQ joints around town, he said he might consider adding some daily specials now and again to increase draw. Prices are reasonable, with brisket at $15.95/lb, and ribs and sausage at $14.95/lb. Whole chickens are $12.95.

The yellow trailer is parked out back (for now). With the quality of what the Garners are putting out, look for it to be back on the road in the future, scouting out new locations where they might grow. The little red shack won't be big enough to hold the crowds that will be lined up to get in once the word gets out.

You're going to like this place...


The "Taste of the South" spread from Southern Q BBQ

Steve Garner and Scott Sandlin of Texas Pit Quest "talking shop"
(there 10 minutes and I already have sauce on my shirt!)

Homemade smoked boudin with Texas Firecrackers

Steve Garner checking the rotating stock in the Ole Hickory

Finish with homemade desserts, hand-made by Steve's mom Cathy

Steve Garner is ready for the ride

Southern Q BBQ & Catering, 16540 Kuykendahl Rd., Houston, TX 77068, (832) 250-4851.
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 7:00 pm; Sunday, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Southern Q BBQ on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Luling Smoke House BBQ - Kingwood, TX

Its been a whole week since I had some good Q; time to hit the road.

Luling Smoke House BBQ, Kingwood
This weekend's Pit Quest takes us to a little place on Loop 494 just south of Kingwood Drive where Alberto Martinez has been cooking up what has been reported to be some good quality, local BBQ in the Central Texas style. I've been told by several people over the past year that this place is worth a visit, so I decided to stop in to see for myself on this cool, gray, stuck-between-winter-and-spring afternoon in southeast Texas.

Luling Smoke House BBQ operates out of a food truck on the roadside, with a separate, detached permanent smokehouse. Alberto Martinez, owner and pitmaster, has been occupying 
Owner Alberto Martinez checks sausage on the pit
this spot on Loop 494 for more than two years ("three years this July," he points out). He went out on his own in the BBQ business after having spent 30+ years honing his skills at the Luling City Market* in Houston. Its obvious Mr. Martinez knows his craft; he keeps a well-used, large offset pit in an enclosed shed near the parking spot for his food truck. Proudly offering a tour of his operations, he gave me a peek at the afternoon's product resting in the warmth of the pit for the remaining hours of the day. Plenty of well-seasoned stacks of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage were there, even at about 2:30 pm. "Business has been slow," he says, despite the milder weather, and even on weekends. He's definitely challenged by the restrictions and 
limitations imposed on the food truck business by the City, not being able to have even picnic table seating without the facilities required for restaurants. So if you're planning to go, be prepared for take-out BBQ and what that means (eating in your car or taking it home.) I couldn't wait, eager to get at it while it was still hot. I carefully unfolded my foil-wrapped sampling of moist brisket, sausage, turkey and rib and picnicked on my tailgate, challenged a little bit by the breeze, but still a pleasant experience for a leisurely Saturday afternoon.

Split red oak and white oak at 
Luling Smoke House BBQ
They say one of the first signs you're probably onto a pretty good BBQ spot is the size of the woodpile, and this one was big. Mr. Martinez tells me he uses a combination of white oak and red oak in his pit, saying he thinks the combination is closest to the flavor he would get from smoking with post oak, which he prefers. But post oak has to be shipped in from Central Texas, and is expensive to get in this part of the state. Since we were on the subject of expenses, I asked Mr. Martinez how he was affected by the rising cost of beef, especially brisket. He said brisket was a little over $2.00/lb about a year ago, and he paid $3.78 for today's briskets. That's quite a jump, and just like everyone else he's had to pass some of that on to the customers. But you would still be hard-pressed to find a better value for the quality in this area; he offers meat by the pound at a flat rate of $14.00 (up only $2.00/lb from last year), and sausages at $4.25 per link.

Luling Smoke House BBQ provides the standard Texas quintet of smoked meats--brisket, pork ribs, sausage, turkey and chicken. Plates are available, as well as sandwiches, or order by the pound. My sampler consisted of four meats; I saved the chicken for a future visit. I was impressed with the brisket--good smoke penetration, and still moist at 2:30 in the afternoon. The pork spareribs were big and meaty and very good, but I would have liked to have seen a little more dry rub and
Current menu, good prices
especially pepper on these (my personal preference for ribs). A standout was the smoked sausage link, which is homemade by Mr. Martinez. Juicy, with a great flavor, good texture, and that requisite snap on the casing. (Don't skip the sausage!) I could pass on the turkey though, which was a processed product. It was definitely improved by its time served on the pit. Beans and potato salad are the available sides, but I passed this time. Sauce is really good; a Central Texas-style vinegar-based tangy sauce that complements the smoked meats very well. There may have been some mustard in there, and ground black pepper flecks in suspension, a red pepper or other heat source in the background that provided enough bite to grab your attention, with just the right amount of sweet to balance the heat.

Stop by Luling Smoke House BBQ if you're headed up US 59 towards Humble or beyond. Introduce yourself to Alberto Martinez. You'll be glad you did!

Until next time...


Nice spread from Luling Smoke House BBQ
Customers lining up at Luling Smoke House BBQ on a Saturday afternoon
Hefty pork spare ribs at Luling Smoke House BBQ  #smokering
Alberto Martinez, happy in his element, his pit shed

Luling Smoke House BBQ, 22730 Texas Loop 494, Kingwood, TX 77339, (281) 881-6965. 

Head north on US 59 - Eastex Freeway, exit Loop 494/Hamblen Rd./Sorters-McClellan Rd., travel 1.8 miles and Luling Smoke House BBQ will be on your right. Open Monday through Friday 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturdays 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Closed Sundays. Credit cards accepted. Catering available.

(*Note: Luling Smoke House BBQ is not affiliated with either the Luling City Market in Houston or the City Market in Luling).

Luling Smokehouse BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato