From GQ to Food & Wine to Houston Texans' J.J. Watt, Killen’s Barbecue has gotten so much love since it opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in February of 2014. Now that plans are coming together for the Killen's Hamburger spinoff's hopeful location in an abandoned Pearland Exxon station, fans are wondering what a hamburger from Killen will be all about. Here, he shares some crucial details.
What sets your burger apart from other high-end burgers? This not going to be one of those burger places with lots of crazy toppings. Killen's Burger is all about the meat. We’ll offer burger choices based on the grind: a brisket and short-rib grind; a beef and pork blend with brisket, pork belly and bacon; a bison blend; a ground chuck blend. We’ll have at least five different grinds at any given time. People are going to flip out on our ground turkey and mushroom burger because of the flavor and how juicy it is. I’m looking at alternatives to a regular grinding process, which really kind of squishes the meat. There’s a machine called the Buffalo Chopper that has blades so it spins but it cuts the meat rather than grinding it and the texture you get is completely different.
How will you cook it? I want a nice crust and plenty of juiciness. So it’s all about the grill. I’m taking the Montague from the steakhouse. The top is about two and a half inches thick. I bought it at an auction in 2001. When I was with the Ritz, I learned there’s something about the way it cooks burgers and steaks. You have to have something thick enough where it stays hot and doesn’t cool down when you throw the meat on it. So you get that crunch. If the grill top isn’t thick enough, it won’t stay hot enough when you add the meat and so it starts to steam the meat instead of sealing it. I’ll put another one at the steakhouse.
Okay, now really. What about the toppings? We’ll have a nice cheese selection: a good aged Wisconsin cheddar for sure and I do like mushrooms and Swiss cheese. We’ll have fresh lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. I like the acidic element of a good tart pickle but all that stuff is secondary to me, after the meat. We won’t be doing housemade condiments or anything like that. I’m a Heinz guy – or maybe Whataburger’s ketchup. I love their ketchup. We will have a Whataburger right across the street and I was just talking to him the other day about ketchup. He said he’d be honored if we used Whataburger ketchup. And there will be barbecue influences with some of the sauces, of course.
I assume you’ve given a lot of thought to the bun. Yeah, the right bun is critical. We’ve tried a lot of them. It needs to be durable – to hold up to the juiciness of the burger without falling apart. I can’t stand a bun that falls apart halfway in. It needs to be soft, but not too soft. It has to have the right texture. I’m sure it will be Slow Dough. We’re just working on the details.
Sides? Hand-cut fries and onion rings, of course. We’ll have a fountain system with fresh carbonated sodas and hand-scooped milkshakes, served in a shaker cup.
When do we get to eat it? We’re still tweaking the lease. It should be easy but we’re at the mercy of attorneys and turning a 38-page lease into something that makes sense for us since it’s long-term: 20 years plus two five-year options for potentially 30 years in the old gas station space. I’ve known these people for years. They’ve been in Pearland even longer than I have but it’s just about making sure I’m protected in case TX- DOT decides to do something with the roads or if there are any existing issues with the land.
Why this spot in particular? I really want to be in this spot because it’s at the crossroads between my two restaurants: at the corner of 518 and Broadway. Obviously it would be easier if I owned the land. My banker said he’d find a spot and we could build a place that looks like a gas station. But hopefully we can make it happen here. I’ve had a pre-development meeting with the city to determine what needs to be done and how. It’s basically a remodel and shouldn’t take longer than 90 days once we get the lease finalized. Construction would start right away. I’m ready. I did all kinds of testing for this concept. I want for people to continue saying, "There’s a reason people are standing in line out in the rain to get to his food. It’s something different."