Killen’s Barbecue Brisket Pizza Is Coming Soon to Papa John’s Houston Locations
From February 18 through March 31, barbecue-craving Houstonians and rodeo attendees can order a Papa John’s pizza topped with brisket from Pearland’s king-of-cue, Ronnie Killen. The pizzas are available at participating Papa John’s locations in the Houston area as well as NRG Park. A large regular or thin crust pizza is $17.99 and comes with brisket, housemade barbecue sauce, onions, pickles, mozzarella cheese and bacon.
Obviously, Killen’s Barbecue only has so much smoker capacity, so the brisket is being made by a third-party company, not at Killen’s restaurant. In a press release, he said, “We spent several months developing the recipes and finding the perfect company to cook the briskets exactly like we cook them at Killen’s Barbecue.”
We contacted Killen for more details about the brisket that will cover the pizzas. “We’ve partnered with J Bar B Foods in Waelder. They’re family friends. Their vice president’s father and my father were best friends, so I know they have our best interest and brand at heart,” Killen shared.
J Bar B Foods was founded in 1959 by Felix and Billie Mae Janecka in Waelder and is still family-owned. They produce the Earl Campbell brand sausages, Singletree Farms sausages, Cajun Hollar boudin and others, many of which are available at H-E-B.
“After I went into their test kitchen and showed them our trimming process and seasonings, we had them cook a test brisket and send it to us whole. I tasted it alongside our brisket at the restaurant and it was identical in flavor and tenderness,” Killen said.
For anyone thinking that the brisket could dry out during the pizza-cooking process, Killen said that Papa John’s puts their meats under the cheese, which helps insulate the brisket from the heat of the oven. “The way they Cryovac them actually injects steam into it so it stays moist,” Killen added.
Killen’s decision to partner with Papa John’s on the special edition pizzas stirred up some controversy. Eater Houston suggested in a scathing article that it may be a marketing tactic by a struggling national pizza chain meant to reposition itself away from bad press.
Specifically, in January 2018, John Schattner, founder and CEO of Papa John’s, was forced to resigned as CEO after he criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision regarding NFL players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem. Then in May when he used a racist word during a conference call, the company asked him to resign as chairman of the board. The company also decided to cut him from all marketing and branding.
Meanwhile, the company’s stock, while still valued at $1.3 billion, is down 30 percent over last year. Schattner still owns 26 percent of the company even after a recent investment by activist hedge fund Starboard Value invested $200 million, effectively diluting his shares.
Killen pointed out that he’s not working with the national-level organization. Instead, he’s working with Papa John’s Houston, a local company that owns 82 of the pizzerias. Killen believes that both he and Papa John’s Houston president Keith Sullins are committed to the “freshest ingredients” and that it’s a crucial factor that will make the Killen’s Barbecue Brisket Pizza a success. “They make their crusts. I went into their test kitchens and everything there was fresh including the meats and toppings,” Killen said. “They didn’t have any freezers. Everything was in walk-in coolers.”
In the Texas barbecue world, beef reigns supreme, so brisket makes perfect sense in this region as a pizza topping. Ultimately, when hungry Houstonians make the call to their local Papa John’s, they only thing most are likely to care about is whether or not the pizza is actually any good. In just a few days, they’ll be able to find out the answer for themselves. If J Bar B can cook the brisket consistently, the Killen Barbecue Brisket Pizza may indeed a much-needed facelift to the Papa John’s pizza brand.