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.