The Houston barbecue scene got a bit hotter last month with the opening of the highly anticipated Killen’s BBQ . The new Pearland restaurant has attracted hoards of carnivores from near and far with its signature take on hours-long smoked meats and classic home-style sides. What’s more, the Houston haunt recently welcomed former Underbelly cook Patrick Feges as the lead pitmaster.
Here, the new pitmaster talks about his decision to leave Houston’s well-regarded Underbelly, running his own barbecue pop-ups and his top five favorite barbecue stops.
Layne Lynch: You’ve recently become a more prominent figure in the Houston barbecue scene. What drew you to that type of cuisine?
Patrick Feges: I’ve always enjoyed eating barbecue, and brisket might actually be my favorite thing to eat. After high school, I joined the Army. Long story short, I was severely injured in Iraq and ended up Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. I spent almost a year there recovering and preparing for medical discharge. One of the guys who was also going through [discharge] had an old beat up Brinkmann Smoker. When I moved back home, he gave it to me. I started playing around on it and it just evolved from there.
LL: You started your own small pop-up barbecues with Feges BBQ . Do you plan to continue those?
PF: I’d like to keep doing them. It all depends on how busy we are at the restaurant. I’ll be doing Ronnie [Killen’s, the owner’s,] style of barbecue at the restaurant, but I would also like to do my style from time to time.
LL: Do you ultimately want to turn Feges BBQ into a brick-and-mortar concept?
PF: Yeah! That has been my ultimate goal since I started doing these pop-ups.
LL: Leaving Underbelly must have been a tough decision. What were the ultimate factors that helped you realize it was the right one?
PF: Leaving Underbelly was really tough. I love Chris [Shepherd, the executive chef of Underbelly]. Minus barbecue, that was the perfect restaurant for me to cook the food that I wanted to cook. I definitely did have some hesitations. Underbelly is only going to get bigger and better and I wanted to be part of that, but I talked to Chris and he helped reaffirm that this is the perfect opportunity for me to take the next step towards my goal.
LL: What is something you’ll take away from your experience in the Underbelly kitchen?
PF: Respecting the product. Getting to know who is growing your food – whether it’s produce or animals.
LL: Central Texas barbecue gets quite a bit of hype these days. Do you think Houston is often overlooked when it comes to recognizing great Texas barbecue?
PF: It is, but only because Central Texas barbecue has been around forever. Some of those places are almost a century old. Houston barbecue is pretty young compared to that. But we’re starting to get some recognition, and it’s only going to get better.
LL: Where are your top five Texas barbecue stops?
PF: Black’s Barbecue is my favorite go-to. Their brisket is on a whole other level. Kreuz Market and Franklin Barbecue are great all around. Corkscrew BBQ , up in Spring, is definitely helping put Houston on the map. John Mueller Meat Co . is great; they served the best piece of smoked meat I’ve ever had.
LL: What are some things you believe will set Killen’s BBQ apart from other Texas barbecue joints?
PF: Ronnie’s beef short ribs are right up there with John Mueller’s. The bone-in pork belly is genius. With both of us having a culinary background, we can bring it to a whole other level.