HEB is the type of organization that we love. Founded in Kerrville, Texas, the chain of supermarkets brings a wonderful mix of products to neighborhoods all over Texas.

We won’t hide the fact that we’re unabashed HEB fans, and it’s the grocery store we visit first for all of our needs. (Truth be told, we feel a little dirty every time we walk into a Kroger or Randall’s… like we’re cheating on our favorite.) We’ve had great success with products that HEB puts their name on, since almost all products branded HEB are not only high value but also very high quality. Clearly this is an organization that stands behind what it sells.

We recently got word that the new HEB on 1488 in Magnolia had something interesting: An honest-to goodness BBQ joint inside the store.

Order at the Counter

Located right by the main entrance to the store, you can’t miss the Texas-themed facade or the smell of smoked meat. (These HEB guys are pretty darned smart.)

Right off the bat, we’re told that the beef used in HEB BBQ is 100% natural. “Natural” is a buzzword that doesn’t have an official meaning, so we’re glad HEB defined their take on it: No added hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.

We place our order with the friendly, efficient staff member, and search out a spot to devour our BBQ.

Find a Seat

After ordering, we are directed to a side room that was easy to overlook at first. It’s bright, spacious, and comfortable. We appreciate the honesty of the space; it’s not trying to be a fake City Market in Small Town, Texas.

Plenty of seating is arranged throughout the room, and the wall graphics pull together this modern/rustic look that is comfortable and inviting.

Chopped Brisket Sandwich

We started with a quarter-pound chopped brisket sandwich. The brisket was coarsely chopped and shredded, and moistened with a tangy-sweet BBQ sauce. The flavor was unusual, in a good way; a bit sweet, a touch of tangy sourness, and noticeable peppery finish.

The chopped beef sandwich made a good first impression on us. It’s above-average BBQ; nicely tender and filled with unique flavor from the sauce; a great start to our BBQ lunch. But it was time to move on to the next course.

Baked Potato (w/Turkey)

Next up was the beautifully arranged, loaded baked potato. The warm potato was topped with butter, sour cream, pre shredded mild cheddar (slightly dried out) and freshly cut chives, then finished with chunks of chopped turkey.

The turkey was tender, juicy, and gently smoked. It was better than average, but would have benefitted from a touch more perfume from the smoking wood.

The potato, however, needed some serious work. It arrived only slightly warm and undercooked; the butter wasn’t melted. When we alerted the manager, he quickly replaced it… with another slightly warm, undercooked potato. The manager on duty told us that he’d checked the internal temperature himself, and it was correct to HEB’s 140 degree specification. The manager (a very nice guy who was clearly interested in our feedback) even showed me a photograph of the inserted thermometer showing 140-145.

But the potato was undercooked.

I’d never researched this before, but upon returning to my desk, five minutes with Google revealed that an internal temperature of 210 degrees is considered ideal for baking potatoes (other sources confirmed this). Apparently HEB needs to update its specifications unless it wants to serve an undercooked potato. It is apparent that their kitchen isn’t staffed with experienced restaurant cooks; I can’t imagine that a professional cook wouldn’t know how to properly bake a potato.

Fortunately, this should be an easy fix.

Fatty Brisket

As any Texan will tell you, the standard test for Texas BBQ is the brisket… preferably the fatty (or moist) brisket. Lean brisket can be good, but there’s flavor in the fat, and the fatty end is the part most BBQ connoisseurs crave.

Pit masters experiment for years to learn to select the perfect brisket, concoct the ideal rub, and perfect the smoking technique that brings the most out of each individual brisket.

So how does HEB, who’s new to this game, do? Let’s find out. At the counter HEB sets a pretty high bar: At $18.50 per pound, HEB's brisket is priced higher than Corkscrew BBQ, our benchmark for great brisket.

The brisket arrived thickly sliced, with a nice pink 3/8” smoke ring. Curiously, the smoke ring was only on one side of the brisket. The bark was dark, thin, and soft… and again, only on one side of the brisket.

As you can see, the fat wasn’t particularly well-rendered, leaving significant zones of creamy white fat intact in the midst of the beef.

Cutting into the brisket revealed an inconsistency of texture. Some regions were beautifully tender and soft; others were dense and far too firm, requiring a saw-like technique with the supplied plastic knife.

Tasting the brisket revealed a uniformly mild flavor. Clearly this was high-quality brisket, but the flavor was more like roast beef than BBQ. The flavor of smoke was somewhere in there, but was so far back in the flavorway as to be lost in the more dominant beefy and fatty flavors. The bark lacked an assertive kick of pepper; it mostly contributed a needed bit of saltiness.

In summary, I think the brisket has potential, but the potential hasn’t been realized. A more fragrant mix of wood, a bit more time in the smoker, and improved technique to even out the cook across the brisket could result in a greatly improved product. Learning to create top-quality BBQ takes time and experience; even a top notch organization like HEB isn’t going to perfect this craft right out of the box. Hiring an experienced pit master to oversee the preparation, smoking, and slicing of the brisket seems like a prudent course of action.

In Summary

HEB should be applauded for bringing a legitimate BBQ operation to its new Magnolia store. This early visit showed promise, but there is work to be done. Based on the food that came out, it appears that the hard-working staff has experience in the grocery business, not the restaurant business. Adding a couple of pros in the restaurant field would go a long way to taking HEB True Texas BBQ from promising to outstanding.

Houston BBQ fans have been anxiously awaiting the reopening of Corkscrew BBQ, the award-winning BBQ spot on the north side. Before today, Corkscrew was located in a trailer on Budde road, just South of the Woodlands.

We arrived at Corkscrew BBQ just before the opening. This has become a tradition for us - we visited the original location on opening day, and were immediately impressed by the BBQ turned out by this family business.

The new Corkscrew is on the northern edge of Old Town Spring, having taken over the old Hyde's Cafe building. Will and Nichole Buckman, owners of Corkscrew, completely renovated the historic building. The setting is rustic and comfortable, with the two Corkscrew pavilions repurposed to create an outdoor seating area.

As expected, lines at the new Corkscrew were out the door to the curb. Waits to order ran about an hour, which isn't bad for top quality craft BBQ.

The assembled crowds had their waits rewarded. Corkscrew delivered its Texas Monthly Top 50 meats and delicious sides.

We're excited to see the reopening of Corkscrew BBQ. The Spring area once again has two top quality destinations for barbecue fans. We'll be back. Often.

After a festive Friday night, there's no better way to start your Saturday than with a relaxing late breakfast with friends at Corkscrew BBQ. They open at 11, but you've got to get there early, enjoy the morning, and surround yourself with the aroma of the world-class BBQ.

It's worth the wait.

The scene: The waning days of Advent, Christmas coming up. I'm winding up the year for clients and getting ready for the holiday with family.

Out of the blue, a cryptic message from an Italian man that no one wants to cross. Tony Faour, the BBQ Godfather, master of smoked meats and sautéed mushrooms. Tony's reputation is known all up and down I-45: If you have a craving for excellent BBQ, Tony can hook you up, and you don't have to wait hours for the privilege. He is a gracious host. He may, in the future ask you for a favor. It may not be pleasant. Today his instructions were simple:

"Meet me at Phil's. I have cannoli."

Phil would be Phil Nicosia, proprietor of Pallotta's Italian Grill, and another Italian businessman you do not want to cross. Phil controls the world's supply of Dominick's Mud, la chac la bread, and an addictive substance he'll only identify as "Number 84". Get on Phil's naughty list, and these and other vital substances disappear from your life. No rehab facility in the world can help you when you can't get Number 84.

I arrive at Phil's place, festively decorated for the holidays, filled with local residents chowing down on Phil's great Italian food. These citizens had no idea what was about to go down, literally across the room from them.

I casually sauntered up to the bar, and noticed that Tony had brought his crew. His lovely bride was at his side. He'd also brought his consigliere, the saucy brunette known only as Brittany SoFly, the woman who'll present your BBQ with a smile... for a price. (Actually a very reasonable price, considering the quality of both the BBQ and the smile.)

Taking a spot at the bar, I noticed a mysterious blonde next to me. We made eye contact, and it was none other than Kim Bellini, foodie femme fatale, fantastic photographer, and renowned expert on ranch dressing and cream gravy. Kim's finely-tuned palate for all things creamy made her an obvious choice to judge these traditional Sicilian pastries.

Was I in over my head? Me, a simple boy who loves good food, sitting down with these dangerous characters, daring go toe-to-toe with them and declare my favorite?

Well, mom always liked me. Armed with that comforting thought, I kicked back the Coca-cola I ordered, my resolve steeled.

After some pleasant chit-chat where the competitors took measure of each other and exchanged friendly barbs, the cannoli appeared.

Both were beautiful examples of the pastry chef's art. Phil's were slightly thick, bursting with creamy filling, each end dotted with the oft-seen candied cherry. Tony's were lighter, more delicate, the ends festooned with crushed, salted pistachios.

It was the moment of truth. I tasted them both.

Cannoli from BBQ Godfather (Not on the menu. Yet.)

Tony's cannolo was an impressively authentic rendition of the best cannoli you'd find in New York City. The shell was light, delicate, and delicious, with a savory flavor reminiscent of a pie crust. The filling was mild and delicate, with zings of sweetness from small chunks of dried fruits. No flavors overpowered the others. The salty pistachios added another layer of complexity. The overall experience was a balance of semi-savory flavors with only a hint of sweetness. This is a very sophisticated cannolo, one that any Manhattan white tablecloth restaurant would be proud to offer.

Cannoli from Pallotta's Italian Grill

Phil's rendition of this classic pastry was very different. Biting into it gave a burst of flavor; cinnamon, sweetness from the cream filling, a bit of chocolate, the bright flavor of the candied cherries. Phil's shells were as solid and substantial as Tony's were light and delicate; they delivered a satisfying crunch when you bit into them. This cannoli was very sweet, with big flavors. I could see lines around the corner if a street vendor in Brooklyn offered them to the public.

Declaring a winner was difficult. The competitors couldn't have been more different, reflecting the totally different styles of the men who created them. I really enjoyed them both, and would gladly order either one. But for me personally, the brash, in-your-face flavors of Phil's creation tempted me to take that one last bite, and for that, I have to declare Phil the winner in a very close contest.

If you find me at the bottom of Lake Woodlands tomorrow, have a very Merry Christmas.

It's frustrating to wait in line at our favorite BBQ spots, only to find out that they're run out of the meat you're craving. This happens to most BBQ lovers at some point, and many ask themselves the obvious question:

"Hey, BBQ guy! Why don't you just cook more BBQ when you run out?"

There's a very good reason.

BBQ takes hours to cook. Unlike just about every other food served in restaurants, there's simply no way to cook to order.

So pit masters at top pits prepare as much as they think they can sell, while keeping in mind the individual attention that each brisket requires. To execute at a high quality, a pit master can only manage so many briskets, no matter how much capacity his physical smoker can handle.

Lots of average BBQ places cook in larger quantities. The briskets don't get individual attention, and thus the quality varies from brisket to brisket. If the 'Q doesn't sell, it goes in the cooler, and gets reheated the next day. Again, quality suffers.

Rudy's is a great example. They produce very good commercial BBQ, but it's not consistent. Sometimes it's moist and juicy. Sometimes it's dry. Tenderness varies, too.

The best pit masters would never risk this. Franklin, La Barbecue, Killen's, Corkscrew, Pecan Lodge, Snow's and BBQ Godfather are examples. They cook the quantity of BBQ they can cook without sacrificing quality and based on anticipated demand, and when it's gone, it's gone. BBQ aficionados understand this. BBQ isn't like other dishes; it takes hours to smoke, so you can't just whip up more when you run out. Holding it until tomorrow kills quality, so if they smoke too much, it gets thrown out.

Pros like Will Buckman of Corkscrew BBQ even stage their briskets, so a certain number are ready at 11, more at 1pm, etc. This way the Q you get hasn't been sitting half a day in a warmer, drying out and losing flavor. It's also sliced right as you order it, again to maximize quality.

If you're less picky, places like Rudy's can provide tasty BBQ right up until closing. But if you crave world class BBQ, you've got to understand the realities of the business. They're not in a position to change how they create the BBQ; it's your choice whether or not you think the potential inconvenience is worth it or not.

I can't decide for you. While you're thinking, I'll be in line at Corkscrew BBQ.

Out here in the Woodlands, we're fortunate enough to have some very good BBQ. Pits like Corkscrew BBQ and BBQ Godfather serve up excellent renditions of their respective styles; Corkscrew having been named amongst the Best in Texas (and thus the world) by many BBQ aficionados (us included).

But an older BBQ place repeatedly gets "Best BBQ" accolades from a local publication, even ahead of the much-honored Corkscrew. Its name is Pitmaster BBQ, and it's got a checkered reputation out in these parts, largely because of management's fetish for calling the health department out on its competitors, and after that failed, filing repeated complaints to other regulatory bodies trying to get them shut down.

If you've got "The Best BBQ in The Woodlands" why would you resort to such underhanded tactics to thwart your competition? Shouldn't you just let your superior brisket do the talking?

As a food writer who writes a lot about the Woodlands area, I have to admit that I'd not visited Pitmaster in years. My last visit was a dim memory of unremarkable BBQ served in an anachronistic setting... and not anachronistic in a good way.

But fair is fair. I needed to return to Pitmaster, and to determine firsthand if BBQ lovers were right about Pitmaster, or if those who voted in the no doubt scientific polls were right. So when some members of our local Woodlands Area Foodies group mentioned lunch at Pitmaster, I decided to join in.

Service was friendly, if a touch slow at first. On a Monday, with the top BBQ pits in town closed, Pitmaster had some business, but wasn't packed.

I ordered the Pitmaster special; brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, along with two sides. After a longer-than-expected wait, the 'Q came out.

Pitmaster Special

At the waiter's suggestion, I chose the spicy sausage. Texture was generic, heat was mainly black pepper with a touch of jalepeno. Flavor wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable. You can get sausage like this at any number of exceedingly average BBQ places.

Next up were the pork ribs. They're the greyish mass in the middle of the photo. Nicely meaty, but with little or no rub, and little or no seasoning. Tender, but with plenty of unrendered fat. They tasted more like poorly trimmed pork roast than like BBQ pork ribs. Again, unmemorable. 4/10

Finally was the meat that defines Texas BBQ, the brisket. Pitmaster's was unlike any I've had in years. Dry, thinly sliced (as if by machine) and pre-slathered in sweet BBQ sauce, this may be the worst brisket I can remember. It had an odd, off-putting, slightly chemical flavor, no actual smokiness that we could discern, and any moisture present was from the overly sweet sauce, not the brisket. 0/10

Pitmaster has a reputation amongst foodies for being a place to avoid. Apparently that reputation is well deserved. Between the dreadful brisket and the questionable business tactics, this isn't a place we'd recommend visiting.

The fact that a local publication repeatedly names them "Best BBQ" has to be based on something other than the BBQ. I'd eat at Dickey's before I returned to Pitmaster. And I am not a fan of Dickey's.

(As an aside, we don't make it a habit of reviewing substandard mom & pop restaurants; we just ignore them. But Pitmaster's constant promoting as "Best BBQ" and their unseemly actions towards competitors made them fair game.)

UPDATE: Other writers who are members of WAF were in attendance, and shared their reviews. Worth reading.

I Chew and Review

Brisket Bastard

Pitmaster BBQ | 343 Sawdust Rd., The Woodlands, TX | 281-419-3644

Pit Master BBQ & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Today we have a review from a guest reviewer, Hirotoshi Mugen. Hiro is a BBQ enthusiast and member of Woodlands Area Foodies, and he recently took the plunge and tried the new, smaller beef ribs (and other meats) at Corkscrew BBQ. He also makes an interesting discovery about the brisket Will Buckman is creating in his new Oyler pit.

Update: Corkscrew BBQ reports that the Dino Rib is back.

In Hiro's words:

Corkscrew BBQ (Woodlands). Review of the mighty riblet. Everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas.

 I was absolutely dismayed when I heard about the shrinking beef ribs here. Killen's used to offer the smaller beef ribs . They wisely upgraded to the dino rib. Between the Mueller brothers, Wayne at Louie Mueller BBQ uses the dino-rib and John at John Mueller Meat Co uses the smaller beef ribs. 

While the best beef rib I've encountered was from John, that instance was an anomaly as every other time the riblets pale in comparison to the dino rib at Louie Mueller. Many of the little ribs I've had simply lacked meat for one.

Between Killen's and Corkscrew, the beef ribs are both on par with each other even though there's different rubs. Both are well rendered and superb. Second only to Louie Mueller. Better than heavyweights Pecan Lodge, Black's, and La Barbecue.

With the new riblet at Corkscrew, I breathed a sigh of relief to find that the meat ratio was still excellent unlike others I've had before. My riblet was well-rendered, but not quite as rich as it's dino rib predecessor. Has a great crusty peppery bark. Very tender and moist although not quite as pot-roast tender as the dino rib. Still an excellent tasty beef rib overall, but I can't help but yearn for the dino rib.

Yes, beef prices are through the roof. Considering I paid nearly $40 for ONE beef rib at Louie Mueller BBQ a few weeks ago, I would gladly pay a premium for a Corkscrew dino rib.

Since the new Oyler pit went in, something magical happened to the meats there. Before, the brisket has always been great. But it was never on the same tier as Franklin's, Pecan Lodge, or La Barbecue. I usually don't eat much of it when ordered with the dino rib. But this time (actually 2 days in a row here), it was tender, moist, smoky, flavored, and expertly well-rendered.

Reminds me of La Barbecue.

Better than Killen's.

I ate more of it than the beef rib. This was not the same brisket I had a month ago before the hiatus. Sausage has been a bit weak in the past, but there's so much more flavor and spices now. It's still a little dense and would be nice if it was a bit more coarse. I almost never order sausages. Now it's must here (ask for a whole unsliced link).

Does Corkscrew have what it takes to be Top 5 BBQ in Texas? I laughed at that seemingly impossible notion in the past. Dunno if Daniel Vaughn would see it that way, but they're definitely in the same league as the heavy hitters. Bring back the dino rib!

Corkscrew BBQ on Urbanspoon

Update: More Information!

WHAT: The 2nd Annual Houston Barbecue Festival will celebrate and recognize what is unique about Houston barbecue. Specifically, we want to:

Recognize the talent, hard work, and dedication of the owners and pitmasters that make Houston barbecue great.
Make the citizens of Houston (and Texas, and the U.S., etc.) aware of the long history of barbecue here and that the quality of Houston barbecue is comparable to other regional styles of barbecue.
Make Houstonians true connoisseurs of barbecue by offering samples of great barbecue so they can choose to patronize those barbecue joints committed to only the highest quality of barbecue.
Celebrate the diversity of Houston barbecue by including the many styles of barbecue found here.

WHEN: Sunday, April 6th, 2014 from 1:00-5:00pm. VIP Admission at 12pm.

WHERE: Reliant Park, Purple Lot. Parking entrance on South Main Street.

COST: General Admission ($50) includes entry into the festival and unlimited sample portions from each participating Houston barbecue joint. VIP Admission ($90) includes entry into the festival one hour early (at noon) and unlimited sample portions from each participating Houston barbecue joint. A T-shirt and one (1) drink ticket are also included. To ensure a quality event for everyone involved, ticket sales are limited. All tickets sold in advance, online at http://houbbq.com. No ticket sales at the door. A bar (beer and wine) and live music will also be included.

About the Houston Barbecue Festival
In its second year, the Houston Barbecue Festival will build on the success of the inaugural festival by including more Houston barbecue joints for a larger audience of Houston barbecue lovers. Expecting 20-24 barbecue joints and 2000-3000 guests, the event has moved to Reliant Park, one of the most prestigious and recognizable event venues in Houston.

This year's festival will feature most, if not all, of last year's list of the who's who of Houston's best barbecue. Currently confirmed are: Blake’s BBQ, The Brisket House, Brooks’ Place BBQ, CorkScrew BBQ, Fainmous BBQ, Gatlin’s BBQ, Gerardo’s, Killen's BBQ, Lenox Bar-B-Que, Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue, Ray’s BBQ Shack, and Tin Roof BBQ.

Additionally, the festival will include a few newcomers to the Houston barbecue scene: Feges BBQ, Oak Leaf Smokehouse, and Pappa Charlie's Barbeque. Baker's Ribs, a veteran of the Houston barbecue scene, will also be a new participant this year.

Also new for 2014 will be a lineup of select out-of-town barbecue guests who will be rolling into Houston to showcase their barbecue side-by-side with Houston's best. More details on this at a later date.

Additionally, staff from Texas A&M University's BBQ Genius Counter will be answering attendees' questions about all things barbecue, backyard or otherwise.

Returning as a founding sponsor, Texas Original Pits will have a selection of their Houston-made smokers, grills, and fire pits for sale.

Charitable Partner
The Houston Barbecue Festival has partnered with Vita-Living, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency in Houston, Texas that has supported people with disabilities for over 30 years. They currently serve almost 500 clients in seven counties through their residential, case management and foster companion care services. Vita-Living is recognized as a leading proponent of integrated community living and an expert in the care of individuals with complex disabilities and behavioral challenges.

"We were looking for a partner in an under-served charitable area," explained Chris Reid, festival organizer. "Public funding for care of those with disabilities has decreased considerably in recent years. So, on behalf of the Houston Barbecue Festival staff, restaurants, volunteers, and sponsors, we are happy to contribute a portion of all tickets sales and sponsorships to help Vita-Living in this important mission."

The needs of Vita-Living’s clients will not go away. They continue to be vulnerable throughout their lives and require lifelong services. For that reason, 88 cents out of every dollar donated to the agency goes towards the lifelong care of Houstonians with disabilities.

"I'm so happy that Vita-Living can support the local flavor of barbecue in this great city," said Jillian Day, Director of Development at Vita-Living. "We're very grateful for the opportunity to partner with another organization that represents the best of what this city offers; namely, opportunity and innovation. It will also be a great way to recognize our volunteers since everyone loves great food."


OK, BBQ fans. The event you've been waiting for is coming. The second annual Houston BBQ Festival is on its way, and tickets go on sale February 17.

The event will be held on Sunday, April 6, from 1pm to 5pm at Reliant Park.

The new venue for the festival is Reliant Park, which will allow a bit more elbow room - the 2013 inaugural festival attracted huge crowds and tested the capacity of the venue.

Scene from 2013 Houston BBQ Festival

The 2014 lineup hasn't been announced, but participating in the 2013 festival were Blake's BBQ, The Brisket House, Brooks' Place BBQ, Burns BBQ, Corkscrew BBQ, Fainmous BBQ, Gary Burns Old Fashioned Pit BBQ, Gatlin's BBQ, Gerardo's, Killen's BBQ, Lenox Bar-B-Que, Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue, Ray's BBQ Shack, Tin Roof BBQ, and Virgie's BBQ.

If you attended the 2013 festival, keep an eye on your e-mail: Rumor has it that a special offer for early tickets (at a discount!) will be sent to 2013 participants.

For more details, keep an eye on the official festival website.

From a very strong beginning, Corkscrew BBQ, the small, family-run BBQ joint on Budde road near the Woodlands, has drawn numerous accolades for it's world-class brisket. Many think it's the best in Greater Houston, and can hold its own against the hallowed pits of Central Texas.

So do they rest on their laurels?

Apparently not.

Will Buckman, the pitmaster who personally oversees the smoking of each brisket, has selected an even higher quality brisket: Pasture raised Black Angus Prime Brisket.

This premium beef promises to elevate Corkscrew's brisket beyond its current highly awarded (and highly delicious) state.

Aaron Franklin, better keep looking over your shoulder.

Sunday, March 24, 2013 will go down in Houston History as the first time over a dozen of Houston's best pit masters assembled and served BBQ to a devout congregation of over 1,500 BBQ enthusiasts. The Houston BBQ Festival was the first event of its kind, and hopefully not the last.

Despite unseasonably cold weather and strong winds, dedicated BBQ fans treked from all over Texas to south of the Astrodome to worship at the altar of grilled meat.

They were not disappointed.

Enjoying great BBQ with a thousand of my friends. Fortunately the lines
were moving fast.

Organized by BBQ gurus Chris Reid and Michael Fulmer, the event drew all sorts of enthusiasts from the Houston and Texas food scene, many of whom were volunteering to help the event run smoothly.

The media was in attendance: Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press, Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle, Eric Sandler of Eater Houston, and Robb Walsh of Houstonia were all devouring 'Q and comparing the offerings. Also making an appearance was Daniel Vaughn, newly named BBQ Editor of Texas Monthly magazine, who will be a major contributor to the epic BBQ issue expected out this summer.

The festival was perhaps the best run food event in recent memory, a tribute to the hard work of the staff and the organizing skills of Reid and Fulmer. And the staff, largely composed of the notable Houston foodies on Reid's and Fulmer's rolodex (OK, iPhone address book) was constantly in motion - we don't know how staff members like Gary Wise, Joanne Witt, and Nathan Ketcham each managed to be in four places at once. Their tireless efforts were impressive to behold.

Participating BBQ joints were Blake's BBQ, The Brisket House, Brooks' Place BBQ, Burns BBQ, Corkscrew BBQ, Fainmous BBQ, Gary Burns Old Fashioned Pit BBQ, Gatlin's BBQ, Gerardo's, Killen's BBQ, Lenox Bar-B-Que, Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue, Ray's BBQ Shack, Tin Roof BBQ, and Virgie's BBQ. Lines were long but moved fast as the BBQ pros served up samples of the meats and sides which made them famous.

Mother Nature and the Bayou City Event Center provided a beautiful but chilly backdrop for the event, and the high winds kept the crowds bundled up and gave the pit masters extra challenges. A handful of pit masters (Ronnie Killen of Killen's, Will Buckman of Corkscrew, and Jamie Fain of Fainmous) were on-site the night before and cooked their 'Q on-site, and fought against the winds to keep the fires low and the smoke just right.

Generous samples were provided by each pit master.

We sampled a wide variety of 'Q from the assembled Houston BBQ royalty. There wasn't a bad plate in the bunch - Reid and Fulmer demonstrated the value of expert curation for a food event. But a few items stood out from the pack for us:

Sausage - Houston generally isn't a sausage town, but there were some standouts. Our favorite was Fainmous BBQ's house-made sausage, with Blake's BBQ serving our runner up.

Pulled Pork - Traditionally not a Texas strength, we were impressed by the pulled pork from Corkscrew BBQ and Fainmous BBQ, with Corkscrew having a slight edge in flavor and Fainmous having a slightly more tender texture. These two pits confirm that Texans can do pulled pork that compares to the best to be had anywhere.

Beef Ribs - Killen's BBQ stunned us with a superlative example of this hard-to-find meat. Ronnie Killen hasn't even opened his BBQ joint yet, but he's shown that he's going to be a formidable presence on the BBQ scene in days to come.

Pork Ribs - Virgie's lived up to their reputation for stellar ribs - flavorful, tender, and with a delicious bark. Runners up were Gatlin's and Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue.

Brisket (Overall Best of Festival) - We concur with the sentiment we heard all over the festival - Corkscrew BBQ had the festival's overall best meat - their world class brisket. Pit master Will Buckman delivered his signature brisket:  Tender with great mouthfeel, and a masterful balance of oak smoke and beef flavor. Buckman took the risk of cooking it on-site, and it paid off for him. Runners up were Greg Gatlin's phenomenally tender slice from Gatlin's and the deeply smoky offering from The Brisket House.

There are worse ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon that walking around, talking with friends, and eating BBQ from over a dozen of Houston's greatest BBQ pits. We think that this first Houston BBQ Festival was a roaring success, and are already counting the days until Reid and Fulmer gather their tireless staff, the talented pitmasters, and thousands of BBQ fans for the second edition of this outstanding even.

We'll be there. You should be, too.

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