Saturday, 29 April 2017

Texas Tour Two - Part 3, Killen's BBQ, February 2016

It was a beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning in Houston, and it was the last day of my trip.  My flight didn't leave until late afternoon though, so that meant I had time for one more barbecue visit.  Prior to my trip, I had been hearing a lot of buzz about Killen's Barbecue, just to the south of Houston in Pearland, so I decided that it would be the final stop for this work trip/barbecue journey.  I had been texting that week with a friend about meeting for lunch on Saturday, and it turned out that he lives in Pearland, so we made plans to meet at Killen's.  I arrived about 45 minutes before opening, parked in the back and had a peek at the smokers situated behind the restaurant before joining the line out front.

I joined the line, which was about 20 or 30 people deep at this point.  My pal Jason arrived just a few minutes later and we spent the time in line catching up on each other's lives.  Jason and I work in the same industry and have gotten to know each other over the years.  The restaurant was offering free beer to the folks in line (something fairly common I've learned), while taking donations for a charity.

Once opening time came the line moved fairly quickly, and before long we were out of the sun in the shade of the entrance canopy and then through the doors into the building.  There is a small foyer once inside that leads to the ordering counter.  We ordered our meats and sides, plus I had been tasked with bringing home a pecan pie, so I also ordered a whole pie.  On my previous trip to Houston, I had commented to my family on how good the pecan pie (my all time favourite pie by the way) was, so it was requested that I bring one home.  I had picked up a round, plastic food container at Wal-Mart earlier in the week so I was prepared.  I asked the restaurant to wrap the pie in plastic wrap for me and they were happy to oblige!  

We paid the bill and took our trays to a table.  This is a much newer building (or at least recently renovated) than some of the other places I had been to that week, so it is missing that feeling of history and tradition.  There are no Louie Mueller smoke stained walls here for sure, but the design and decor gave it a bit of an old style diner look, so it definitely had character.  There is a counter for tea and fountain drinks, and also for the usual condiments like pickles and onions.  The table contained a couple of sauce options.  Again, like at Leon's a week earlier, I didn't take a picture of my plate (over a year ago I had no idea that I would one day be writing a blog about these adventures!).  I know I had brisket and pork ribs, both of which were top notch.  The brisket at Killen's is what I had been reading about and it was easy to tell why.  Delicious bark, beautifully tender with the fat well rendered.  The ribs were on the par with the brisket.  Great bark with a good bite, the meat pulling away from the bone with just a bit of effort.  The sauces were good, with the coffee flavoured sauce having a particularly interesting taste to it.

A year later, I am trying to remember if I ordered the 2 meat plate or the 3 meat plate.  Given how memorable the brisket and ribs were, I have to think I showed a rare bit of restraint and just went with the 2 meater as I am sure I would remember a third meat if I had gone for the third.  If my memory serves me, Jason ordered brisket and pulled pork and enjoyed them both.

I've heard good things about the beef rib, so I will have to make sure I get back to Killen's on a future trip.  By the way, the pecan pie made it home safe and sound and was enjoyed by the family, although we all noted that you could taste a bit of smoke flavour in the crust.  I say Killen's BBQ is worthy of all the hype I had read about prior to my visit and continue to see.  I will be interested to see where they rank when the updated TM BBQ rankings come out soon.

Killen's is owned by Chef Ronnie Killen and is just one of the restaurants in Pearland and Houston he runs.  There is also Killen's Steakhouse, Killen's Burgers and the new Killen's STQ in Houston, next door to Roegel's BBQ.

Check out Killen's at and follow them on Twitter at @killensbbq.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Texas Tour Two - Part 2, Galveston Island, February 2016

After my Saturday featuring 3 BBQ joints in Taylor and Elgin, I made my way to Galveston on Sunday.  I had visited Galveston on my previous trip to Houston, but the fog that day was so thick you could even see the water from the sidewalk on the other side of the beach so I wanted to get back there and hopefully see some of the local attractions this time around.  I had also been disappointed after that first trip to find out there was a top notch barbecue place that I had missed out on, so I had a few things on my agenda.

I made the drive from Houston, arriving mid morning.  I parked down around Seawall Blvd. and took a stroll along the Gulf Coast line.  Along the boulevard opposite the beach are plenty of restaurants and bars, along with some shops.  There is also a large gift and souvenir shop on the beach that is elevated up over the water.  I walked out onto one the piers extending out into the gulf and chatted with a couple of folks fishing there.

 There is also a small amusement park, Pleasure Pier, with rides and games.  I took a stroll through the park.  It looks like it would be fun for the younger crowd, but there are only a couple of rides geared for adults.  The roller coaster looked fun, but I didn't want to be that creepy guy riding the coaster all alone! Besides, by this time I was ready for some lunch.  Before leaving the beach, though, I grabbed a picture of the Hotel Galvez & Spa.

It looked like a beautiful old hotel, facing the beach and the Gulf.  I haven't been to New Orleans, but the architecture of this hotel and many of the homes around Galveston reminded me of what I've seen on TV and in movies of New Orleans, not surprising since they are just across the Gulf from one another.

I made my way back to Broadway and to Leon's World's Finest In & Out Bar-B-Que.  If you're not looking for it, you'll miss it, even though it is right on the main drag through Galveston.  Leon's is a TMBBQ Top 50 rated joint, so while hard to find the food is legit.

Through the storm door and into a small dining room with the walk up counter.  The folks inside were very friendly.  If I recall correctly I ordered up a three meat plate with ribs, brisket and sausage (I failed to take a picture of the meal for some reason).  I also ordered up the kicked up spicy rice as my side and sat down to enjoy.  There was a group of college age kids there, licking their wounds after what sounded like a hell of a good time the night before.  I dug into my lunch and was very pleased.  The brisket and sausage were both excellent, but the ribs stole the show in my opinion, along with the slightly spicy rice mixed with cut up vegetables.  Those ribs though, just outstanding!  For dessert, I struggled to decide between the pecan pie or the buttermilk pie, but I ended up with the pecan's my favourite pie, I couldn't help myself!  There was another fellow that came in while I was there and he was raving about the boudin sausage, so that will have to be on the menu next visit.  Boudin is a Cajun sausage made with pork and rice.  If you are planning a visit to Galveston Island, be sure to check out Leon's and visit them online at

After lunch, I headed to the other side of the island to the port area.  There were a couple of crazy big cruise ships docked in the harbour and I strolled down the docks where a number of fishing boats were unloading the days catch.  From there I took a walk around the downtown area and visited a number of the gift shops there to find souvenirs for the family!

This was a much better visit than my first attempt at Galveston, partly because I could see where I was going, but mostly because of some darn fine BBQ at Leon's!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Texas Tour Two - Part 1, February 2016

In February of 2016 I once again had the opportunity to head down to Houston for work and like the previous trip, I was going to have a weekend to myself.  By this point in time I was considerably more educated on the BBQ scene, thanks to social media and in particular the Texas Monthly BBQ blog written by Daniel Vaughn.  I highly recommend if you are interested in learning about the BBQ joints, people and history of barbecue in Texas.

Armed with this newfound knowledge I planned my day trip for the Saturday and headed out early that morning, taking highway 290 out of town, once again for Taylor, TX.

My first stop was a return visit to Louie Mueller, but this time I had a different beef item in mind.  As well known as they are for the brisket, they are also famous for their beef ribs, so I figured I'd better give it a try!  I got there ahead of any big lineup and made my way up to the counter to order, and to enjoy that beautiful brisket sample of course!  I also wanted to have one of the jalapeño sausages I had enjoyed the last time.  When I gave the cutter my order of a beef rib, a sausage, a side of potato salad and a banana pudding for dessert he kind of chuckled.  A few moments later when he placed the massive beef rib on my tray I understood why.  It was huge.  While I have lived my entire life in cities, I have spent enough time outside the city to know how large cows are, but seriously, this thing was ridiculous.  The bone was the size of my forearm.  But here I was, the meal was paid for so there was only one thing to do...dig in!

The rib was excellent.  Tender, succulent meat seasoned with that famous black pepper and salt crust. The only issue was just how darned big it was.  The sausage and potato salad, while not needed, were both very good, but the star of the show was the rib.  I did enjoy the banana pudding at the end of the meal.  It was thankfully not too heavy or rich and the sweetness was welcome after all the savoury meat.

I had another stop to make while in Taylor, but I needed some time, so I found the local Walmart and wandered around there for a while to let that beef rib digest a little.

The town of Taylor is home to another well known barbecue joint, Taylor Cafe.  I had read a comparison, saying that Louie Mueller is a BBQ place that sells beer, while Taylor Cafe is a beer hall that sells BBQ.  After my short visit I have to agree.

Taylor Cafe looks just like your typical small town bar.  Neon beer signs on the walls, bar counters in the middle with tables lining the walls.  There are two bars inside, apparently a relic of the segregation days.  The attraction for me wasn't the food, but the opportunity to meet the legendary owner, Vencil Mares.  I first read about Vencil in the 'Peace, Love and BBQ' book.  He opened Taylor Cafe in 1948 after returning from World War II.  Now in his 90's, Mr. Mares occupies a seat by the bar most days, and that is where he was when I wandered in.  The bar was mostly empty and I took a seat at the bar and ordered a simple sausage on white bread with pickles and onions.  Vencil was visiting with a couple of regulars that were there.  After eating I took the opportunity to say hello and shake his hand.  From what I have read, the BBQ at Taylor Cafe may not be what it used to be, but I was grateful for the chance to meet a legend and to be able to say I've eaten there.

My third and final stop for the day on my way back to Houston was at Southside Market in Elgin.  Famous for their "Hot Guts" beef sausage, Southside bills itself as the Oldest BBQ Joint in Texas and has been in business since 1882.  Like many of the legendary Texas BBQ places, Southside started out as a meat market before the days of refrigeration.  To keep cuts of meat that didn't sell right away from spoiling, they were smoked to preserve them.  Over the years Southside has changed ownership a number of times and a fire in 1983 forced them to move from the original building to the current location right on Highway 290.

Walking in the doors, it was clear that this was a larger, more commercial operation than my previous stops that day.  It is a much larger restaurant with a gift shop area (I got t-shirts for me and my daughters and a bottle of sauce that we are still enjoying).  To be honest, by this time I was pretty much stuffed, but I had to try something.  I ordered a brisket sandwich and a sausage slammer, which was a delightful combination of jalapeño, cheddar, sausage and bacon...truly 4 of my favourite things!

I really liked the slammer and the brisket sandwich was good, but I was too full to give it a truly fair shake.  This is a large operation serving a much higher volume of customers than a place like Louie Mueller and as such it would be unreasonable to expect the food to have the same hand-crafted quality.  I haven't been back through Elgin since, but I would certainly like to go back and give them another taste...maybe when I'm not in the middle of a serious case of the meat sweats!  Check out their story at

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Cathedral of Smoke - February 2014

I mentioned in my first post that there just isn't a ton of real barbecue around Calgary.  Like I said, there is some out there and some of it is good...there just isn't a lot of it, so I didn't have a chance to try a whole lot.

I started a new job in June of 2013 and later that year I was asked to spend a week or so working in our Houston office in February of 2014.  I decided if I was going to be in Texas I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to try out some of the local barbecue.  While I was there my weekdays were going to be busy working, but I was going to have a weekend to myself.  I started doing some research online to figure out where to go and one place kept coming up, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX.  Everything I read made it seem like exactly what I was looking for.  Small town place, long history, great reviews.  Hell, the place is called "The Cathedral of Smoke".  It was decided.  Early on that Saturday morning in February I would head out from Houston for the 2.5 to 3 hour drive northwest to Taylor.  I checked in with them on Twitter the day before to see what time I should plan to be there...needless to say I was a little excited and didn't want to miss out on what I'd heard was their legendary brisket!

I hit the highway for the drive, arriving in Taylor around 11:00 am.  As I recall, my phone GPS was acting up so I had to drive around a little trying to find the place and even drove by it once looking for it.

When I did find it I was pleased to see that I had arrived in time to beat the line up!  I parked and walked up to the old screen door and when I stepped inside it was like I was stepping back in time 40 or 50 years.  The dark, smoke stained walls, the old signs, the framed magazine covers and posters all gave the interior a sense of history.  There was a short line up and before long I was at the counter, about to experience something I had read about.  You see, when you get to the counter at Louie Mueller, the meat cutter slices off a chunk of brisket on the big wooden chopping block and gives you a sample to enjoy while you order.  It was like nothing I had ever tasted.  Tender beyond belief, I hardly had to chew it.  It just kind of melted in my mouth, the long smoking process having rendered the fat down to an almost liquid state.  The meats are sold by weight.  I ordered up 3 slices of the brisket and was fortunate to get an end piece, full of fabulous salt and pepper bark.  I opted for a jalapeño sausage and a side of coleslaw, with sauce on the side.

This was three years ago now and the memory I have of it is wow!  Just like the sample I had received at the counter, the brisket was almost fall apart tender and so delicious, with the taste of smoke present, but not overpowering and the flavours of the bark flooding my mouth with happiness.  The sausage casing had a satisfying snap to it as I cut through it and the jalapeno gave it a nice, flavourful kick while not being overly spicy.  The coleslaw balanced out the meat nicely.  I tried the thin, tomato based sauce with the brisket, but frankly meat that good doesn't need sauce (something I would later learn is a bit of a trademark of Central Texas barbecue).

I picked up a t-shirt on my way out as a souvenir and to this day, whenever I put it on I swear I can smell that sweet smoke!

How It All Began

In this first post, I'm going to try and explain how I came to be a barbecue guy. How a Canadian guy who'd never really spent any time in the south became a fan of a cuisine that isn't necessarily easy to find where I live.  First, a little background story.

I've always been a fan of what I used to think was barbecue.  I have fond memories of childhood barbecues with burgers and hot dogs on the grill and our Mom sending my brother and I on our bikes to Mrs. Mikes for $2 worth of fries.  She would call ahead and there would be a big brown paper bag of their delicious fries waiting for us to pedal back home with.

Later on in life I became proud of my abilities to cook and create a variety of tasty dishes on my propane fueled Weber and enjoyed cooking for family and friends.  I still do. 

But in 2011 that all changed.  My wife bought me a book as an anniversary gift.  She thought it was a recipe book for the grilling type of barbecue that we had become accustomed to...she was wrong and I'm not sure I've ever been so thankful for an innocent mistake.  The book was 'Peace, Love & BBQ' by Mike and Amy Mills, proprietors of 17th Street Barbecue in Murpysboro, IL and BBQ legend.  While there are some darned fine recipes in there, the book is filled with the stories of the people that Mike has encountered in his years on the BBQ competition circuit.  Reading these tales triggered something inside me and sparked an interest in learning more about this style of food. 

Let's face the facts.  I live in Calgary, AB, Canada.  The options 'round these parts to taste authentic BBQ are limited, but I did what I could.  That Christmas delivered my first smoker, a simple Brinkmann barrel model from Bass Pro Shops.  Armed with just enough info to make me dangerous, my first attempt at ribs was less than stellar.  They took a lot longer than expected and while they were edible, they were far from spectacular.  My next attempt at ribs, along with a red wine infused moose roast was far better.

Using that barrel smoker there were a few more attempts at ribs and brisket.  Some good, some not so good...but never quite what I was looking to create.  I was learning that BBQ was something that took  time and practice to get decent at, and as a busy family man with 2 kids the opportunities to spend a whole day on the weekend to mind the coals were few and far between.

My definition of real BBQ was about to change however...