Only a couple hours away from the home of Central Texas Barbecue, Houston isn’t known for its smoked meats. Michael Fulmer and Chris Reid are trying to change that. For the second year, they’ve put on the Houston Barbecue Festival, where 20 local barbecue joints set up their cookers and provide samples to thousands of hungry guests.
Despite the rain, our faces lit up after walking through the front gate. The place was packed, with massive lineups for the crowd-favorite vendors. As this was just our second day in Texas on a trip from Canada, we were anxious to get at some ‘cue. We got our first taste at Brooks’ Place BBQ (they had the shortest line in sight). Smokey, tender beef brisket and the best links we’ve ever had. It was obvious this was going to be the best day ever.
After devouring our first sample plate, we headed for the lineup at Louie Mueller Barbecue. The bias towards out-of-town restaurants was evident here- their lineup was at least 100 people deep. After talking BBQ with some enthusiasts in the line, we spotted the legend Wayne Mueller slicing up the best looking brisket we’ve ever seen.
After one bite, the lineup made sense. The hype over Texas style barbecue made sense. It was perfection. The slice of beef rib sitting alongside it made a 1500 mile journey seem not only worth it, but absolutely necessary. We were hooked. Over the next two hours, we sampled the barbecue from twelve different Houston barbecue joints (also had the term “sample size” completely redefined for us. I guess everything is bigger in Texas).
The vendors at the HBBQF didn’t take this event lightly. Some restaurants even shut down for the day and brought all their staff out with them. We poked around the back of the tents and got a look at the pits, many of which were loaded to capacity. Some of the vendors took the time to give us tours of their equipment, talk trade secrets, and made us feel right at home.
Some standouts were the ribs from Gatlin’s BBQ- a little smokier than the rest, just the way I love ‘em. The sides and desserts from Ray’s BBQ Shack completely justified their 45 minute lineup. Corkscrew BBQ had some of the best brisket- we got some lean that was just as flavorful and tender as the moist from the other vendors. We finished with the beef ribs from Killen’s BBQ- and what a way to end the day it was. After eating pounds upon pounds of barbecue- the only thing left to do was enjoy a beer and an afternoon nap.
Through the torrential rain, the crowds were undeterred. Many stood in line, drenched to the core, with smiles from ear to ear as they waited for a bite from their favorite restaurant. It’s easy to see why this festival, in only its second year, draws thousands from around the state. Houston is definitely becoming a force to be reckoned with in the barbecue world.
Stoke Stack Barbecue