Houston guide: Gatlin BBQ vs. Killen BBQ

Texas has an obsession for BBQ. If you need proof, just head to our monthly magazine Texas Monthly and have a look yourself.
And, needless to say, Texas has the best BBQ of the whole world… but to be honest, this is something that Texans use to think of everything Texas!

(Credits: Texas Monthly)

Apparently, if you just need to sneak out of a conversation on an unwelcome subject or if you want to conduct a sociological experiment on how fierce a discussion can be, you need only ask a bunch of Texans where is the best BBQ of the State to be found… it looks like no true Texan would agree with a fellow Texan on this, and they can go on for days, arguing on the perfect combination of rub, meat and smoke.
Because that’s what it takes: rub, meat and smoke.
The rub is the seasoning that is rubbed (hence the name) into the meat before it is cooked, and it usually consists of salt, pepper, herbs and spices (dry rub). If these are mixed with oil, vinegar, citrus juice or mustard to make a paste, it is called wet rub.
The meat is mainly beef, the State’s cattle industry, but also pork and chicken are present on every menu. Brisket is the cut where the pit master truly proves himself, but also beef ribs are much appreciated.
The smoke comes from hickory or pecan (East Texas), oak (Central Texas) or mesquite (West Texas) and as the meat cooks on a low-heat fire for a long time (12 to 16 hours), the smoke infuses the meat with a rich, addictive flavour.
I did my research and found many interesting tips on where to eat BBQ in Texas and in Houston, and I swear that I’ll try them all. After all, it is said that a true Texan eats BBQ for breakfast!
So far, I have tried just two: Gatlin’s BBQ and Killen’s BBQ.

Gatlin’s BBQ is somehow surprising when you get there, because of its modern design with concrete floors, horizontal wood planks and brick walls. But the menu is very traditional, as is the way the place works: while you queue to the counter, you can study the menu, displayed on a large board over the counter. You have to choose between the various meats (by the pound) and sides, or if you want a sandwich, a plate (1 kind meat with 2 choices of sides included) or a combo of meats. Customization is possible.
On our first visit we had a brisket plate with coleslaw and potato salad and half spare ribs.

When you order the brisket, you will be asked if you want it moist or lean. I replied both, being my first time. But even now I am undecided as to what I like best. The spare ribs were meaningless compared to the brisket.

On a second trip, we tried the chicken (that is: half a chicken), and it was amazing!
Gatlin’s BBQ, 3510 Ella Blvd, Houston, TX 77018, Open 11AM to 3 PM and 5PM to 8PM, Sunday closed.

Killen’s BBQ is in Pearland, a city in the “Greater” Houston metropolitan area. It is a 40 minutes drive from my house, if it’s lunchtime of a working day… and this explains why we only visited once.

The sign

The place is definitely less stylish than Gatlin’s, but it has an outside patio. The menu also is more straightforward and easier to interpret
We ordered a brisket plate and a ribs plate, with the usual sides of potato salad and slaw. And we also ordered a beef rib to take away with us.

The brisket was very good, but no better than Gatlin’s in my opinion. The pork ribs were OK, but I have decided that I am never going to waste my time with pork from now on, because I like beef so much more!
But the best was the beef rib, that we ate for dinner the same evening.
Killen’s BBQ, 3613 E Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581, Open 11 Am to 8 PM, Monday closed.

Beef rib

In both cases, we did not explore all the possibilities of the sides, because I am partial to potato salad and I love coleslaw.
Also, it is very hard for me to leave some space for dessert when I see all that meat… but a cobbler would be the traditional thing to do.
And whatever you do, try to go a little before the opening times, or be prepared to queue.

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