Who Grills the Best Steak? Killen and Caswell Duke It Out in the Walmart Choice Steak Challenge

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Photos by Kimberly Park
Bryan Caswell and Ronnie Killen shake hands at the Walmart Choice Steak Challenge.

What better way to spend a sunny spring afternoon than to participate in a pop-up celebrity chef challenge at your local Walmart parking lot, where the main ingredient is steak?

Last Tuesday, shoppers at the Walmart Supercenter # 1409 (10750 Westview Drive) had a lucky surprise when they pulled into the parking lot between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Chefs Ronnie Killen of Killen's Steakhouse in Pearland and Bryan Caswell of Reef Houston were duking it out on the grill for the Walmart Choice Steak Challenge, serving up free samples of steak for public vote.

The main ingredient? Walmart's USDA Choice Premium Beef. Shoppers who are not completely satisfied with their steaks can bring back their receipts for a complete refund.

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USDA Choice Premium Beef was provided by Walmart for the challenge.
Killen came fully prepared to take on the challenge with a meat tenderizer and a Cryovac, which he used to infuse the meat with flavor. "I can't let a fish guy beat me at my own game," he was overheard saying, in reference to the facts that Caswell's restaurant is known for its fish and Caswell's Twitter handle is @wholefish.

What Caswell didn't have in gadgets, he made up for with charisma. Toward the end, he enticed voters with promises like "Free Astros tickets for whoever votes for blue," as well as some good-natured comments like "Mine's called better!"

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Killen cut his steak into cubes.
Killen jokingly offered a free steak for every five votes, knowing that only one vote was allowed per person. In a show of bravado, he also pulled his phone out of his pocket and announced that he was making his reservation for New York well before the competition ended.

Tasters mentioned that the steaks tasted very different. Visually, they were distinct as well. Killen cut his steak into cubes, while Caswell cut his meat in strips, fajita-style. Tasters voted by dropping their favorite's toothpick -- Killen's was red, Caswell's was blue -- into a bin.

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A big smile from Chef Ronnie Killen, winner
In the end, after all the toothpicks were counted, Killen was named the winner. Caswell graciously accepted his defeat, immediately shaking Killen's hand. He later tweeted a congratulatory message to Killen as well.

As the winner of the Walmart Choice Steak Challenge in Houston, Killen will advance to compete in the national cookout judged by pitmaster Chris Lilly in New York City on May 22.

The event was sponsored by Kingsford® Charcoal and Coca-Cola, and Houston was one of eight markets selected for the chef showdown. Killen will be competing with seven winners from Miami, Tampa, San Antonio, Dallas, St. Louise, Nashville and Atlanta.

A youtube video of this event can be seen here.



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Location Info

Killen's Steakhouse

2804 S. Main, Pearland, TX

Category: Restaurant

Reef

2600 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Walmart Supercenter # 1409

10750 Westview Dr, Houston, TX

Category: General

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18 comments
Keef
Keef

Two respected chefs acting as shills for Wal-Mart, which has invaded the meat market and will drive up prices for any place that isn't Wal-Mart. Yay!!

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Sounds like you have some hefty beef against Walmart, but you shouldn't take it out against these well-respected chefs, and actually the opposite is true.  If Walmart offers meat at a lesser price to consumers, other vendors will have to follow suit and lower their prices. So it actually has the effect of the lowering the prices for consumers overall. Bottom line is people have a choice to buy their meat/produce where they like. 

SimpSimon
SimpSimon

Sorta shallow understanding of economics and purchasing/pricing power, as related to Wal-Mart. But I like your food pieces.

Diego22
Diego22

No harm, no foul. But sometimes loyalties to ideals might override a personal knee-jerk reaction to defend the GODS who are CHEFS. And if you're in the business of food writing, the economics of Wal-Mart is a story that requires just a bit of attention, more than omniscience. But rock on, lithe goddess.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I'll take that criticism. I'm not and never professed to be omniscient. Just trying to cut some slack for the chefs, who really just were there to show off some skills. Thanks for reading, though!

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm afraid I have to weigh in here along with Keef. Walmart (along with Kroger, but mostly Walmart) is one of the main culprits behind the rising cost of beef in this country right now.

Long story short: Its nearly 4,000 stores across the U.S. committed to stocking USDA Choice instead of Select (which it had previously sold), which is a higher grade of beef and also costs more. This switch has already driven up the cost limited supply of Choice beef -- remember, we just went through a terrible drought that severely decreased the supply of all beef in the U.S., including Choice -- and now that cost is even higher than it would have been before. You can read more here if you're interested:

http://www.gemellis.com/gemell... Other vendors don't have an option to "lower their prices" because they are completely unable to match Walmart's buying power; it's simple economics. When they lower their prices, they're cutting into their own profit margins so much that every "lowered price" enables Walmart to take that much more of the grocery business away from mom-and-pop grocers and smaller chains.

And guess what else sucks? The higher prices that Walmart is paying for the beef doesn't even go to help the ranchers who raised the beef -- the people who were most devastated by the drought. They've already sold their beef at auction; all that money is going to the packer buyers and slaughterhouses, etc. The ranchers don't benefit from these increased prices one single iota.

In short, Walmart has never done the grocery or the ag industries any real favors, and I'm kind of baffled as to why Caswell and Killen would team up with the store. Walmart is Bad News Bears.

marcus
marcus

 They must be more confusing than you give them credit for if you don't understand how Wal-Mart hurts small businesses, you condescending prick.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

My comment had nothing whatsoever to do with Walmart opening near the Heights. Instead, if you'd like, here's a primer on Walmart's long history of predatory pricing and the often terrible way Walmart treats its employees: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C...

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I never mentioned Revival Market in my response, but the truth is that the prices you'll pay for beef there or at places like B&W are a lot closer to the true price of what it costs to raise beef. I don't think beef should be cheap, plain and simple. The price has been artificially deflated for so long with corn subsidies that now most Americans feel entitled to cheap beef...but then get upset when they see how things must play out in order to keep that beef cheap (pink slime, for example).

I feel like you're reading a lot of "hate" into my comment that wasn't there, though. No hate for packer buyers or slaughterhouses. And of course not all ranchers are created equal. And I find economics quite interesting, not confusing at all.

Jim
Jim

If Walmart sells more USDA Choice instead of Select , the price of Select willdrop.  Short story – the customer stillbenefits.  Economics is very simple ifyou keep an open mind. 

 

Let be honest here. Walmart’s most recent crime is to have the audacity to want to build astore in the hip near-Heights area.

nate
nate

And how much does the beef cost at foodie accepted places like Revival Market?  But if that markup goes to the rancher instead of the slaughterhouse, thats OK?  Why the hate to packer buyers/slaughterhouses?  Or do you think that all "ranchers" deliver lovingly cared for, full weight cattle to the feed lots instead of ~400# pound feeders that are bulked up on the houses's dime?

Tell me, why is a smaller chain more deserving of your business then Wal-Mart?  SLGT?  The people that work at Wal-Mart don't live in the community?  Their wages don't get get re-introduced to the local economy?  You can't buy stock in Wal-Mart and enjoy their dividends and success?

I understand free market economics must be terribly confusing.

Wyatt
Wyatt

Unless they don't live near a Wal-Mart. Or don't want to support a Wal-Mart.

Wyatt
Wyatt

 Keeping in mind I have no problem with the event, and don't really care about the chefs, and am not even sure about the meat-price thing being true - just pointing that out.

JB
JB

 True, people have a choice, but Caswell especially has advocated for the SLGT scene which makes the eyebrows arch when he appears at Walmart. 

Wyatt
Wyatt

 That's understandable, just kind of an interesting twist, I guess.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

It's okay, Wyatt, thanks for the opinions -- didn't get "jerk" anywhere from your comments, but I appreciate the clarification nonetheless.

Writing this blog does not mean I'm pro or anti Walmart; I was covering an event that took place. The problem obviously runs deeper than Keef's comment (as Katharine pointed out). It's hard for me not to try and defend these two chefs, though.

I guess I was kind of coming from the standpoint of: does their appearance and/ or participation at this event have to be taken/viewed as a political statement, just because it happened in a Walmart parking lot?

I was looking at it more from a standpoint of: here are two of Houston's best chefs, chosen for their talent among hundreds of thousands nationally to participate in this highly publicized event.

Wyatt
Wyatt

 See Katharine Shilcutt's comment. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but it is close to mutually exclusive, at least.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Does appearing at a Walmart negate all the work he's done to promote SLGT; I think not. I don't think it's mutually exclusive.  From what I understand, both chefs were invited by Kingsford Coal, and not by Walmart per se. They were two of 16 chefs invited nationally to compete in this event. 

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