Houston’s first families of barbecue gathered at Pizzitola’s for a meet-and-greet ahead of Sunday’s Houston Barbecue Fest at Bayou City Events Center.
The unprecedented event drew barbecue veterans such as Jerry Pizzitola, Jose Luis Lopez and Don Blake, and up-and-coming pit masters such as Greg Gatlin and Will Buckman.
Cleared of most of its furniture, the dining room buzzed with energy. Most of the restaurateurs had never met.
Blake, who opened his westside barbecue joint more than 30 years ago, showed off a copy of “Hamburger America,” which features his popular sandwich, and shared his recent taping of a segment for the Travel Channel’s “Burger Land.”
Gatlin socialized with fellow pitmasters while wrangling his two young children, stopping to create a nametag for his daughter.
“There you go,” he said to her as she admired his penmanship.
In a quiet corner of the room, the soft-spoken Jose Luis Lopez of Gerardo’s explained how his barbacoa differs from barbecue.
Lopez, who has had his store on Patton for 36 years, uses a steam process to cook whole cow heads for 11 hours. “It tastes like roast beef,” he explained.
Pizzitola and his partner, the gregarious Tim Taylor, were quite the hosts. A buffet was filled with cold beer, fried chicken and sauteed shrimp, with nary a rib in sight.
Pizzitola welcomed the other restaurant owners into the back of house to see his 70-year-old brick pit.
“It’s such a great thing for all of us,” Pizzitola said of the barbecue fest. “It’s not a contest. Everybody has different tastes, and there’s a taste out there for them.”
It’s only been about a year that Trent Brooks of Brook’s Place in Cypress has been able to cook full time.
“I’m just excited by the exposure,” Brooks said of Sunday’s event. “It’s a chance to showcase my food”
Will Buckman is a man in transition. He’s been selling his popular CorkScrew barbecue out of a mobile unit for a couple of years. Now he’s prepping to build a brick-and-mortar business.
“It’s a big step,” he said of the move. “And I have mixed feelings about it.”
As for the festival, Buckman said participation for him is a chance to build community. “My main goal is to meet all the pitmasters.”
Karen Fain beams when she talks about her husband, Jamie, pitmaster of Fainmous BBQ.
The festival is another opportunity for the Fains to school Texans in Tennessee-style barbecue. They’ll be serving their pulled pork and signature slaw on Sunday. Like everything on Fainmous’ menu, the dishes are family recipes.
Texas vs. Tennessee?
“The sauce is savory,” Fain said. “And the pork is cooked over hickory, not mesquite.”
The barbecue business is “Jamie’s dream,” Fain said. “We want to touch as many people as we can with Jaime’s food.”
OK, Houston, come and get it.