Chef Ronnie Killen is one busy man. Not only is he working to open a new restaurant in The Heights, he’s moving his acclaimed Killen’s Steakhouse to a new larger Pearland location while turning the existing restaurant into a “competition style” barbecue joint – Killen’s BBB (which stands for barbecue, burgers and beer). All this will happen soon after the first of the year. I joked with the chef that he must not need much sleep, and guess what? He doesn’t.

Before and after the radio interview, I enjoyed chatting with the enthusiastic chef so much that there was more to tell than our allotted segment allowed. Killen is the kind of chef that makes Houston  a great food city. His namesake restaurant was named one of the top steakhouses in the country by Food & Wine Magazine, and the classically trained Pearland native has twice cooked at the James Beard House in NYC.  Schooling at Le Cordon Bleu in London, combined with a passion for cooking that began as a child, has kept the hometown chef raising the bar for himself.

Killen’s new CK Steakhouse — which he is opening with burgermeister Ricky Craig — will debut soon after the first of the year on W. 19th right next door to Craig’s Hubcap Grill. (Talk about a carnivore’s dream come true.) The concept will offer a reasonably priced menu including some of the favorites from Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, such as the legendary fried gulf shrimp, creamed corn, roasted bone marrow and beef from Strube Ranch (grass fed, all natural 100% wagyu beef) along with cheese plates from the Houston Dairymaids, and even the famous crème  brûlée bread pudding. It’s enough to inspire a girl to stand and clap joyously, really.

The barbecue I sampled as part of a recent preview dinner is also cheer-worthy. Created in a custom-made pit, using superior cuts of meat and pork along with skills he has continued to refine from the days of his family’s BBQ business, Killen has definitely taken barbecue to the next level. The brisket was tender and crusty with a beautiful smoke ring and a delicious chew; the ribs were sublime; and the sausage is the kind of stuff that legends are made of — noted food critic, author and BBQ authority Robb Walsh told me it was some of the best he’d ever had anywhere. If Killen is able to produce this level of quality barbecue on a daily basis, it will be the kind of place people will travel for. I know I’ll be heading down Highway 288 on a regular basis.

And there’s more news. Killen has just returned from an audition for the Food Network show, The Next Food Network Star. “It went well,” he says. Prompted to describe what his culinary point of view would be if chosen for the show, Killen lights up, talking about his desire to help home cooks utilize five ingredients or less to create healthy foods we would love to eat, along with general tips on ingredient substitutions to make things like healthy chocolate chip cookies and preparation tips – think grilled vs sautéed. “I lost 200 pounds, and this is how I eat every day,” says Killen. “If I can do it, anyone can.” Killen will keep us posted when he hears back on the status of his audition.

Click here to listen to Ronnie Killen’s interview on Livin’ Large! — a new weekly radio program spotlighting “the good life” in Houston on News 92 FM every Saturday from noon until 1 pm. Hosted by Jack Stevens and Jodie Eisenhardt with feature reporting from entertainment director Joe Leydon and others, Livin’ Large! embraces the restaurant, cooking, wine/spirits/beer, fashion, events, and performing and visual arts scenes with news, reviews and interviews.