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Killen Q

Ronnie Killen's New Klose Pit

Ronnie Killen is competing in the “Come and Take It!” BBQ competition this weekend in Gonzales. In July, he cooked in the Moulton Jamboree Cook-off. His team is doing pretty good–they have taken a couple of overall medals. He bought a new pit from Klose which he is still breaking in.

No Ronnie Killen, the owner of Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, isn’t chucking it all and going on the cook-off circuit. Killen is improving his equipment and sharpening his Q skills for an upcoming restaurant venture he is calling Killen’s BBB (Barbecue, Burgers & Beer). The idea is to move the steakhouse to a new location in Pearland and return the current restaurant to its original purpose–it was a barbecue joint when he first took it over.

Brisket, ribs and sausage at Killen's

Killen invited me and a couple other of the usual suspects to his restaurant to sample the barbecue the other night. Here’s Eater Houston’s post and another one from culturemap. The consensus at my end of the table was that the baby back ribs were great and the brisket was excellent, but the housemade sausage stole the show. Here’s what J.C. Reid had to say about the links at

But the stars of the show were the pork-and-beef links made in-house by Killen and staff. High-quality (no filler) pork and beef is ground to a perfect consistency (not too coarse, not too fine), embellished with garlic and other herbs and spices, stuffed into a snappy pork casing and smoked on the pit. These are what barbecue links should be: properly textured with a balanced fat content, well-seasoned and smoked, and a casing with good snap but easy to bite through.

Ronnie Killen is looking to go head to head with the Central Texas guys. And if he can turn out competition quality Q everyday, his new joint could be one of the state’s best. But the devil is in the details, if you know what I mean.

Pitmaster: George Archibald, Jr.

George Archibald, Jr. photo by O. Rufus Lovett

There is a lot of barbecue on television these days. You see colorful barbecue cook-off competitors and talented young pitmasters. What you don’t see enough of are veteran pitmasters like George Archibald Jr.– artisans who have been quietly carrying on the Southern barbecue tradition for decades. We visited Archibald’s while we were researching Barbecue Crossroads, our new book from UT Press.

1211 MLK Blvd.
Northport, AL 35476
(205) 345-6861

“I’ve been the barbecue business all my life.This is just a small little place. I just build a fire and keep the fire low and cook it slow.” – George Archibald, Jr.

George loading the pit

Here’s a few highlights from an oral history by Amy Evans of the Southern Foodways Alliance:
George Archibald spent years working in a steel mill. His wife, Betty, worked at a paper mill. In 1962 they opened Archibald’s Bar-B-Q in their hometown. George Archibald, Jr. was twelve years old when he started working in the family business. Today, he and his sister, Paulette Washington, run the business their parents started.

Archibald's ribs with white bread and Golden Flake potato chips

Not much has changed—not the ribs, the vinegar-based sauce, not even the pink interior of the place. Loyal customers drive up even before they open the doors at 10:30 a.m. Whether you take a plate to go or settle into one of the picnic tables outside, you’ll savor some legendary Alabama ‘cue.

Read the complete interview with George Archibald Jr. at the Southern Foodways Alliance Southern BBQ Trail Oral History Collection:

BBQ Burgers

There’s a recipe for Franklin’s brisket in my new book, Texas Eats. There’s also recipes for some other “shade tree barbecue” recipes. And then there’s a real gem of a BBQ recipe tucked away in the hamburger chapter.

It’s my version of the BBQ burger at Guy’s Meat Market in Houston. This burger is incredibly popular–people line up for them–just like Franklin’s brisket. The great thing about BBQ burgers is that they are snap to make at home. And they are a great idea for a quick dinner when you are getting ready to put a brisket or a pork shoulder on the pit overnight.

Guy’s BBQ Burger

Tuesdays through Fridays, Guy’s Meat Market on Old Spanish Trail in Houston smokes 200 burger patties in their barbecue pit. They go on sale at 11 am and they often sell out before noon. The secret to enjoying Guy’s barbecued burger is to skip the lettuce and tomato and top it instead with barbecue sauce and pickles.
It’s not worth firing up the barbecue smoker to make a few hamburgers, but these are easy to make when you are smoking something else. Try them for dinner when you are barbecueing a brisket. The hamburgers are done in less than an hour and then you can let the brisket smoke overnight.

Serves 2

2 half pound hamburger patties
2 hamburger buns or kaiser rolls
Half cup barbecue sauce
8 dill pickle chips or 12 pickled jalapeño slices (optional)
2 thin slices from a large sweet Texas 1015 onion

Start a charcoal fire in your barbecue unit. Use wood chips, chunks or logs and keep up a good level of smoke. Maintain a temperature between 275 and 300 degrees F. Sear the meat patties on a skillet set over the fire, turning once. Resist the temptation to press down on the patty with the spatula—this squeezes out all the juices and results in a dry hamburger.

When the burgers are just browned a little, transfer them to a spot in a barbecue smoker where they can smoke for a while. Cook the burgers for an hour or until they reach an internal temperature of 150° F. When the burgers are nearly ready, split the buns and butter both sides. Lay the buns on the griddle or grill, and toast them until they are nicely browned along the edges.

Spread a tablespoon of barbecue sauce on the bottom and a tablespoon of sauce on the top of each bun. Place an onion slice on each bottom bun and add the burger patties. Then put the jalapeño slices or pickles on top of the meat and add the crown halves of the buns.

Serve immediately.

Note: The USDA recommends that ground meat should be cooked well done (160° F) for safety’s sake.

Life-Altering Barbecue

Counter at Martin's, Bryan, Texas, photo by O.Rufus Lovett

Barbecue Top 10 lists, BBQ restaurant ratings, rib rankings and all the rest of it are, as the Buddhists would say, illusion. There is no best barbecue, anymore than there is a best symphony or a best painting. This website is about the art, the culture and the Zen of BBQ.

Fire barrel, Scott's Variety, Hemingway, S.C. photo by O. Rufus Lovett

We seek out the restaurants and barbecue events that are preserving America’s artisan food tradition. We don’t have any judgements to offer about yummy lunches–but we do have a whole lot of recommendations about life-altering barbecue experiences.

Whole hogs in the cooler at Grady's Barbecue, Dudley, N.C. photo by O. Rufus Lovett

Please come back and see us again soon.

Political Barbecues: Tippecanoe and Roasted Ox Too

Campaign BBQ for William Henry Harrison, image from Crystal Bridges Museum

At Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, I found a display on the subject of political barbecues. In the election of 1840, Whig candidate William Henry Harrison threw barbecues and held parades instead of debating such national problems as the expansion of slavery and the establishment of a national bank. The event depicted in this cartoon was held in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 13, 1840. Note the whole ox being barbecued in the top left corner of the cartoon.

Harrison was in fact a rich man who owned a plantation, while the poor of the frontier were Democrats. As governor of Indiana, Harrison had lead an army troop to disperse a native American uprising at Tippecanoe, and so he was regarded as an Indian fighter. By embracing the log cabin symbolism of the frontier, Harrison easily defeated Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren who insisted on addressing the issues.

Harrison and the Whigs borrowed the idea of the political barbecue from Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson and his Democratic Party. In the election of 1824, the aristocratic John Quincy Adams was awarded the presidency despite losing the popular vote to the popular war hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Adam’s inauguration celebration was the most elaborate ever seen.

Four years later, Jackson took on Adams again. This time he devised a new tactic–he ignored the debate in Washington and took his campaign directly to the people through a series of parades and barbecues. Jackson won the election and his roughhewn Western supporters mobbed Washington convening at the White House for an impromptu celebration.

Community ‘Cue in the Houston Press

Check out this week’s feature story in the Houston Press on our latest research project:

“Barbecue is one of the oldest artisan food traditions of the Americas. For the past few years, I have been crisscrossing the Old South documenting Southern barbecue culture. When I set out, I expected to trace American barbecue back to its roots in rural Southern restaurants. But in my research, I found the ancient artisanal culinary culture I was searching for has been much better preserved in community barbecues, though those are endangered, too.”

Foodways Texas Films: Vencil Lives Here

Congratulations to Keeley Steensen for her new movie about Taylor Texas pitmaster Vencil Mares, winner of this year’s Foodways Texas Lifetime Acheivement Award.

Vencil Lives Here from Foodways Texas on Vimeo.

Pitmaster: Shayne Carter

Barbecue pits at Kenney Hall

Shayne Carter was tending the pit at Kenney Hall when I got there on the morning of the 4th of July. This was his first year helping out at the Kenney community barbecue. Beef shoulder clods, mutton, and pork butts were the meats being cooked. I had recently seen Carter tending the pits at the Annual Father’s Day Barbecue in Millheim too. Carter explained that the same set of welded metal baskets were used at six different barbecues in Austin County. The baskets replaced the seven foot long metal rods that were used in the old days.

“We started using Igloo coolers a couple of years ago,” Carter said. “We try to pull the beef shoulders off the pit a little before they are done all the way and then let them continue to cook in the cooler. Beef shoulder is different from brisket. Shoulder is really moist and juicy at 165°F.”
read more Pitmaster: Shayne Carter »

Mustard BBQ Sauce Recipe

Mopping Mutton Ribs

Harley Goerlitz, the famous Texas cook-off competitor, told me he entered the mutton category of a cook-off in Tennessee. His entry was shunned by the judges because it didn’t include mustard barbecue sauce—the traditional accompaniment to mutton. “Now I know,” Harley said with a shrug.

While researching our new barbecue book which is due out next spring, Rufus Lovett and I drove through South Carolina, where mustard barbecue sauce is standard. We sampled whole hog with the traditional mustard sauce at Jacky Hite’s Barbecue in Leesville among other places.

Recipe after the jump.
read more Mustard BBQ Sauce Recipe »

Texas Open Pit BBQ

I took my family to the annual Father’s Day BBQ in Millheim, Texas yesterday. The event is a fundraiser for the old German dance hall built by the Millheim Harmonie Verien, a German music group founded in 1872. My daughter won a strawberry cake with cream cheese icing at the Cake Walk. And we all grooved to the tunes of the Lazy Farmers, a polka band. Millheim is a ghost town located halfway between Cat Springs and Peters on FM 959 near Sealey.

I went early with a couple of photographers to document this amazing example of an old-fashioned community barbecue. (Can you spot shooter O. Rufus Lovett?) This is the way barbecue was originally cooked in Texas–not in enclosed smokers at German meat markets, but in an open pit–just like in the Deep South. The low pit is dug several feet into the ground and several cords of hardwood are burned down to get the coals started. The beef shoulders go on the pit the night before, followed by Boston butts and later several sheep cut into pieces.

read more Texas Open Pit BBQ »