Posse members Jim Rossman & Gary Jacobson head up the line at Killen’s BBQ. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/fotobia.com)

In our recent travels to Houston, part of the scheduling involved knowing that two joints – Killen’s and CorkScrew – were places that would require a wait in a pretty lengthy line.

We hit CorkScrew BBQ in  Friday for lunch and did the same Saturday at Killen’s. Each place opens at 11am. I volunteered to be the line sitter each morning, arriving at 8:30 a.m. each day to secure the first spot in line.

Note to our fellow line-waiters – I was alone in line each day until at least 9:30am if you’d like to gauge when to arrive. I don’t mind the line if the food at the end of the wait is as good as we knew it would be, but frankly standing in one place for two hours or more is nobody’s idea of a good time.

There is a line culture that forms each day – a brotherhood of sorts — amongst the BBQ faithful. I enjoy the alone time early in the morning. I was greeted bright and early by the owners and employees of both joints and they were happy I was there.
But both places have instituted a number system for those waiting in line and I think it really makes the wait a much better experience. At CorkScrew, there’s a three-ring binder with 20 numbered pages inside. As customers arrive, they remove their number from the binder and find a table to wait.
There’s no standing around. You’re free to wander, run to the bathroom, go sit in your car or whatever you like, as long as you don’t leave (although I doubt anyone would even know you’re gone if you had to run a quick errand). Once the numbers are gone, the line forms under some umbrellas, but those folks have to stand (or sit) in line.

 

Customers stand in line as CorkScrew BBQ in Spring opens on a Friday. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

When 11 a.m. comes, holders of numbers 1 through 20 line up at the window and the rest of the line falls in behind them. It could not have been a smoother process. A word of warning for CorkScrew customers – at 11:45 a.m. when we were leaving, they were only serving number 15. But don’t worry, the food is worth the wait.

At Killen’s, it’s a different sort of line. When I visited on Father’s Day, the line was the traditional “snake around the sidewalk” version with folks just standing in one place. Last weekend, Killen’s introduced a “take a number” dispenser just like you find at the grocery store meat counter.

The number dispenser is put out around 9:45 a.m. when there were about 6 groups of people lined up. We each took a number (mine was 21, which was the first number available) and again once you pulled a number you were free to go find a shady spot under one of the dozen picnic tables and wait. Myself and the others who showed up early found adjacent tables and continued our conversation about where we’d eaten good BBQ lately and other important topics.

Killen’s has recently started offering free beer to people waiting in line. The keg of Lone Star was wheeled out about 10 a.m. and it was tended by employees who dispensed the beer and even carried some full cups around on a tray to offer up to the guests. There were also large decanters of ice water available.

Not everyone is ready to drink beer at 10 a.m., but I have to say it was damn good. Everyone seemed to be putting a dollar or two in the “donation” jar, which I hope ends up paying for the keg each Saturday.
Once the beer was flowing and as the last hour of waiting ticked away, the place took on a really relaxed feeling – more like a backyard gathering of friends and not at all like a long line of people waiting in the sun (or rain). I even saw owner and pitmaster Ronnie Killen manning the keg as I returned for a refill – talk about a good way to connect with your customers.

 

Pitmaster/owner Ronnie Killen mans the keg on a Saturday morning at Killen’s BBQ. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/fotobia.com)

There was no limit on the numbers at Killen’s, but once everyone lined up at 11am, I have to figure people stopped coming up to the front to take a number and just joined the end of the line. As a point of reference, when we were leaving shortly after noon, the number coming through the front door was 75, so they’d run through 54 numbers in just over an hour.

Overall, I really liked the number system, but probably a little more so because I was first in line each day. I tried to think about which other joints have a daily line, like Franklin or Pecan Lodge and wonder if a number system could work at those places.
Both Corkscrew and Killen’s have quite a few outdoor picnic tables in the shade, which gives number holders a place to enjoy the wait. Franklin and Pecan Lodge don’t have near that type of room outside, although Pecan Lodge does have a patio with a dozen or so tables.
I’m not convinced either of those places would benefit from numbers, but I could be wrong. As the Posse waited at Killen’s Saturday morning, the talk turned to what would happen if someone arrived early and grabbed half a dozen numbers and sold them quietly to late arrivers?
We agreed this (hopefully) wouldn’t be too big a problem, but other questions did come up. What’s the etiquette for showing up at 10:59 a.m. and joining someone already in line? The Posse did just that each day, but I‘d warned the group behind me that six other guys would be joining me, but I’d only be placing one order for all of us.
I’ve often arrived at Pecan Lodge when someone else had arrived earlier and joined them in line with no issue, but I have to wonder if there’s a limit to the number of people you can have join you in line without raising the ire of the rest of the line.
Of course, there’s always the Pecan Lodge express line…

CorkScrew BBQ, 24930 Budde Rd., Spring, 832-592-1184. Open Tues-Sat 11am-til the meat runs out. Website: http://www.corkscrewbbq.com (Texas Monthly Top 50)

Killen’s BBQ, 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, 281-485-2272. Open Tues-Sun 11am-until they run out of meat. Website: http://www.killensbarbecue.com

Posse member Jim Rossman was first in line at CorkScrew BBQ on Friday and first at Killen’s BBQ on Saturday.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Leave a comment



OKBBQEA

3 years ago

I can see how there might be people that try and profit from the number system…. Should probably be made a hanging offense if you get caught number rustling.

I'm mixed on people holding a spot in a line for a larger group. As you said you were ordering for 6 people regardless of whether they were in the line or not. That's perfectly acceptable in my opinion. I think it would only bother me if those others showed up and took the last available seating after I had stood in line for hours to place my order.

Once again, not much I can do about it but it would tick me off.

Jess | Scimitar Oryx Hunting

3 years ago

Some things are worth the wait especially Texas BBQ! It's no longer surprising to see people fall in line just to get a taste of it. The number system is a good way to avoid the problems and inconvenience of standing in long lines. For sure, the management finds it better to deal with hungry but happy clients. 🙂

Unknown

10 months ago

Truth BBQ in Brenham is on par with any of these places. There is a short line each day, but not unbearable. I typically have my order within 20-25 minutes.




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