Ronnie Killen was born to be a restaurateur, but the passion it takes to make a name in Texas barbecue isn’t something that can be taught in culinary school. Killen is a perfectionist at heart, so it’s no surprise that Killen’s Barbecue made both the 2017 and 2021 Top 50 lists. Nowadays, he owns and operates three restaurants in Pearland and Houston: Killen’s Barbecue, Killen’s Steakhouse, and Killen’s STQ.
Who was the first person who taught you about barbecue?
Do you remember a backyard or a barbecue joint that started your obsession?
When I was in the third grade, my father made a brisket on a 55-gallon drum pit. That brisket sparked something in me and made me want to learn to do it myself. The fattiness, the lemon he had paired with it, the Worcestershire . . . all of those different flavors you taste. From that day forward, my dad always had a person to add wood or charcoal to the fire.
What message are you trying to share with your customers through your food?
To me, our barbecue is all about the ingredients. We buy the best ingredients we can get our hands on and try not to mess it up. We also try and give a fair price and value.
As a professional pitmaster, are you a BBQ Freak like the rest of us?
Even when I’m not cooking at work, I cook at home. I’m always trying to find that perfect combination of sweet, salty, smoky, and savory.
When was the last time you ate someone else’s barbecue besides your own?
It’s probably been about two months or so.
What’s the most surprising barbecue dish you’ve eaten?
Our short rib tamale
What’s the best beverage to wash down barbecue?
Ice cold beer!
What’s a tool you use in cooking that might not seem like an obvious barbecue tool?
My hands. We really don’t use tools—the only tool we use is a shovel to put coals in the firebox.
What recommendations do you have for someone new to Texas ’cue?
Burn a clean fire. Great barbecue is a byproduct of burning a clean fire and good fire management.
Want to connect with some of your favorite Texas pitmasters, like Ronnie? Join our members-only TM BBQ Club Facebook group.