Pony up for VIP access at Houston BBQ Fest

Pony up for VIP access at Houston BBQ Fest
Pat Bell and Louis Mueller

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Houston BBQ Festival at NRG Park. I bought VIP tickets the day they were released and waited anxiously the morning of the event to set off on I-10 in search of Houston’s best barbecue. There were roughly two dozen restaurants providing a wide variety of smoky goodness. 

We arrived at the gates 30 minutes early with the VIPs and were glad we ponied up the extra money. The hour we had before the other 2,000 barbecue enthusiasts showed up allowed us to hit every single booth, and some multiple times, before the masses descended upon us. Not only did Houston’s best show up (Gatlin’s, Killen’s Corkscrew, Lenox, etc.), there were pitmasters from Paris, France (The Beast), and Brooklyn’s Hometown Bar-B-Que. Some of the legends of Texas barbecue were there, as well. Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller BBQ and the folks from Southside Market in Elgin were dishing out some of the tastiest smoked meats at the festival.

The vast majority of booths provided some form of the Texas trinity (brisket, ribs and sausage); however, some went outside the box. We had a boudin-stuffed pork loin, smoked redfish, and brisket-stuffed jalapeno poppers, to name a few. Some additional highlights of the day included getting an entire Wagyu short rib and beef belly from Ronnie Killen of Killen’s BBQ in Pearland, the lamb lollipops from Mueller’s tossed in a sweet jalapeno barbecue sauce and the barbacoa tacos from Gerardo’s. It didn’t take long for us to hit every booth and to put a short list of our favorites together. Already suffering from the meat sweats but determined to push through, we made a quick second pass of our favorites. After this second assault, my eyes wanted more but my body tapped out. I had to say, “No mas.”

After our feast we stayed a while and had the opportunity to visit with several of the pitmasters. One thing that I love about the barbecue industry is the people. Most are in the business as a passion or a calling and love what they do. The Houston BBQ Festival was a well-run event, and we thoroughly enjoyed every part of our day — except for the ride home. Putting oneself in a meat-induced coma (or MIC) and having to drive back from Houston is always entertaining. After getting to our truck, my buddy fell fast asleep and I had to make the traditional Buc-ee’s stop in Baytown for a little caffeine. I know it’s been open less than a year but somehow it has infiltrated my family’s traditions. After arriving safely home, we planned next year’s trip. It was a great day in my barbecue journey, and I look forward to attending many more festivals in the future.


Patrick Bell can be reached at patbell [at] bar-b-curious [dot] com.