Houston Barbecue Festival [Photos: Amber Ambrose]
Shitty weather is no match for smoked meats. The scent of red oak, hickory and pecan smoke wafting across a giant parking lot at Reliant Stadium was punctuated by occasional downpours, but the 2,000-plus attendees at the second annual Houston Barbecue Festival never seemed to mind. When it came to shielding their red-and-white paper boats of freshly sliced brisket, sausage, ribs and pulled pork, there were plenty of tents to retreat under when the unexpected and short deluges hit; and the mist only added to the hazy look, meshing with the clouds of smoke billowing out of the neat rows of pits lined up behind the serving booths.
Other than the rain, the festival was flawless. Lines moved quickly, the barbecue was smoky, the Sideshow Tramps were rocking and beer was flowing. Each of the twenty barbecue joints represented at the festival were as prepared as boy scouts which meant attendees had to worry about their stamina running out before the 'cue did.
Longest lines seemed to form in front of Killen's Barbecue for the beef rib and brisket, Ray's BBQ Shack for a full-on meal with various meats, battered-and-deep-fried corn on the cob (yeah, it's as great as it sounds), ranch-style beans and even a small sampling of bundt cake. Gerardo's, Houston's famous barbacoa stop, also attracted a crowd seeking their beef and pork tacos adorned with a sauce that turned mouths into temporary infernos. But happy, smiling temporary infernos.
However, the longest line spotted snaked around the Louie Mueller booth for a taste of pitmaster Wayne Mueller's handiwork. Not only was it worth the wait, it was a taste of what's to come when Mueller moves his pits into Houston for good. At an event sponsored by the Houston Barbecue Festival earlier this year, Mueller admitted that he's already got a site in mind for his Bayou City location. Also moving into town soon is pitmaster John Avila, currently of Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue, who came all the way from New York City to preview his barbecue at the event. And no, you're not the only one just imagined hearing "New York City?" in the voice from those Pace Picante commercials - but have no fear, Avila hails from Texas originally and once studied his craft under Austin's most recognizable pit master, Aaron Franklin.
In addition to the who's who of Houston-area barbecue establishments on deck - Gatlin's, Feges (whose pitmaster, Patrick Feges, is now working for Killen's and girlfriend and chef, Erin Smith was on hand to help distribute meat), Lenox, CorkScrew, Oak Leaf, Pizzitola's, Brisket House, Baker's Ribs, Tin Roof, Fainmous, Brooks' Place, Blake's BBQ, Pappa Charlie's, Spring Creek, The Wooden Spoke - as well as the handful of out-of-town guests were notable barbecue aficionados in attendance. Daniel Vaughn, aka BBQSnob, whose titles include barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, blog and book author was surveying the smoky landscape as well as Houstonia Magazine's food critic and author in his own right, Robb Walsh.
The organizers, Michael Fulmer and Chris Reid were buzzing about the property shaking hands and kissing babies - also doing lots of work in the process - and a large crew of barbecue-loving volunteers kept things operating as smooth as a wet wipe on barbecue-stained fingers. It was a day where the weather gods took part of the day off, but the barbecue gods worked overtime to pick up the slack.
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