Ronnie Killen Shares Details of New BBQ Restaurant
Ronnie Killen's barbecue is smokin' hot, and things are sure to heat up even more once his new restaurant in Pearland opens. While maintaining his popular upscale steakhouse (Killen's Steakhouse), he's also been whetting appetites for his crafty 'cue with weekend pop-ups, selling out in just a few hours to long lines and rabid fans. Those fans, along with the rest of Houston, will have their fill of smoky meats when Killen's BBQ (3613 E. Broadway St.; 281-485-0844) opens February 11. Killen gave us a quick rundown of the upcoming menu, the technicalities involved in smoking a brisket and why take-out orders will be limited once they finally open for service.
Zagat: Why barbecue?
Killen: My first place was in 1991 and I did that for about six years, then I ended up going to culinary school. I started cooking barbecue when I was young. My dad and my uncles used to barbecue all the time. My uncle taught me a lot about making sauces and just understanding the whole smoking thing. It's one of the things I've always enjoyed doing. The last two weekends, I've actually barbecued and I wasn't doing a pop-up. I like to eat it and I like to cook it.
Zagat: What differences have you noticed opening a steakhouse versus a barbecue restaurant?
Killen: It seems like it's taking so long. The city has been great, no issues with them, it's just like the whole thing is taking a lot longer to get everything done. It's getting close. We're very very close. [February 11 is the estimated opening date.] So many things popped up. Plus, what we're doing is really special; everything about it. It's probably going to be the nicest barbecue place in Texas. We've also been preserving a building [it's a former school cafeteria].
Zagat: What are some of the technical aspects of barbecue that keep you up at night?
Killen: It depends on marbling, the fat content, the rendering of that fat. There's so much that goes into brisket [and other cuts of meat]. From the absorption of smoke to a piece of brisket that's put on at room temperature or one that's cold. Then, resting the meat and letting all the juices go back into the brisket. It's technical. Barbecue is hard. My briskets got so much better after I went to culinary school. In the restaurant, it's going to be juicier because we're not transporting it - everything is going to be cooked onsite.
Zagat: How many pounds can you cook at one time?
Killen: The big, outdoor pit can hold 1,800 pounds and the custom-made indoor pit (because it only has one rack) will hold around 400-450 pounds.
Zagat: Do you expect to sell out on a regular basis?
Killen: Thinking about it from a chef's point of view: your barbecue is only good for a short period of time. This is what we have and when it's sold out, it's sold out. Even being open from 11 AM to 8 or 9 PM, you get into analyzing why there's brisket left over and trying to figure out what to do with it. A majority of the people would serve it the next day, and you can tell it's been reheated. I want to serve it at the optimal doneness, when it's not dry, and I think that's why our pop-ups have been so busy. I'm going to do a limited number of take-out orders. If you want a to-go, it's going to have to be ordered by the pound or whole briskets and it needs to be placed 48 hours in advance.
Zagat: What are some of the permanent menu items?
Killen: We'll have pulled pork, beef short ribs, brisket, sausage, turkey breast, barbecue chicken will be a daily special, pork ribs and something I'm really excited about, a bone-in pork belly. It's basically the short rib and the belly and it is outstanding. We were selling out of it at the pop-up in thirty minutes. It's like having this huge, monster short rib, but it's pork.
Zagat: Sides are also a big thing in barbecue, what are you serving to go along with all that meat?
Killen: I do a coleslaw that's different. It has sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and almonds in it. It's vinegar-based and has ramen noodles in it, too. We do baked beans, pinto beans, potato salad and I'll probably do creamed corn. I also want to do mac 'n' cheese.
Zagat: And we know you've got some desserts planned.
Killen: There'll also be cobbler (with ice cream), pecan pie and we'll do bread pudding of course - though it'll be a different version from the one we do at the steakhouse. I just made an apple pie a couple of days ago, and it was probably one of the better desserts I've ever made. To me, dessert is supposed to represent where you're from. If I was going to do peach cobbler, but they'd have to be in season or I'd have to used canned. I'm not going to use canned. We may have a seasonal cobbler. Something there's a lot of in this area is dewberries. I used to pick dewberries with my aunt and make dewberry pie. It's going to be like your mom's cooking. I also have an ice cream recipe from my aunt that tastes better than Blue Bell.
Zagat: What are some surprises you might throw in after you open?
Killen: I'm working on Wagyu briskets right now possibly for dinner. The prime briskets are really good, but the Wagyu is some of the best brisket I've ever cooked.