100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 5, Brisket at Killen's Barbecue
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo courtesy Killen's Babecue I think you can almost smell it through the photo.
A lot has been said and written about Ronnie Killen's barbecue since it first started popping up in Pearland back in the spring of 2013.
Mai Pham wrote, "Each slice of brisket revealed itself to be oozing with juiciness ... the sight had me in near-convulsions of food ecstasy."
The Chronicle's Greg Morago called the brisket "agonizingly supple," and in Houstonia, Robb Walsh described it as "perfectly cooked" (though he seems to prefer the beef ribs). Even Yelp, that most fickle of beasts, loves Killen's meat.
So when I first checked out the new restaurant, Killen's Barbeuce, which has been selling out of barbecue nearly every day it is open, my expectations were almost impossibly high.
I'll be damned if Ronnie Killen's brisket didn't exceed them.
To be fair, I spent much of the past three years in Missouri, where pulled pork and burnt ends totally trump brisket at nearly every barbecue joint. Pork is such the focus there that brisket tends to be dry and rubbery, unless you get the burnt ends, but there are only so many "ends" on each cut of meat.
Photo courtesy Killen's Barbecue Killen shows off a perfect slice of brisket.
Upon arriving back in my home state of Texas, I immediately jumped back on the brisket bandwagon, and though I occasionally do crave pulled pork, I'm not at all disappointed with the fabulous barbecue in Houston. And the barbecue at Killen's is indeed the best.
The brisket comes out of the smoker with a charred, black crust. Killen heaves it onto a cutting board and picks up a serrated knife with his gloved hands. As the teeth of the knife penetrate the blackened exterior, juice starts oozing out of the slice, first slowly, and then to the point that the cutting board, the knife and the gloves are all covered in a glistening sheen of juice and fat.
Beneath the layer of char and seasoning is a bright pink ring of meat that fades into a more subdued pink marbled with veins of whitish fat that, rather than being chewy, very literally melt in your mouth. The brisket is incredibly smoky, the flavor permeating the entire cut of meat and the juices so entirely that I always find myself, an avid fan of spicy barbecue sauce, forgetting to squirt any on my already moist brisket.
I also forget to use my knife, primarily because it isn't necessary. The brisket is so tender that it falls apart with a touch of the fork, though I usually get so excited that I forgo utensils entirely in favor of my fingers.
The excellent brisket comes all the way from Creekstone Farms in Kansas--the same folks who supply the famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin--and the meat is seasoned with salt and a pepper blend, nothing more. Then it's smoked in a custom pit just long enough to imbue it with flavor, but never so long that it dries out. Killen really has this craft down.
And yes, he knows it. It even says so on the Killen's Barbecue shirts: "Best barbecue, period." It would sound pretentious if it wasn't so true.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.