Earlier this year, the Houston-based rapper Slim Thug received a call from his old barber telling him that Anthony Bourdain was coming to visit his hometown. The barber suggested Slim Thug meet the swashbuckling food and travel host at Burns Original BBQ to talk about Houston for his Parts Unknown television series.
Slim’s been a linchpin of the H-Town hip-hop scene since he broke through in the mid-2000s with his appearance on the woozy, slow-rolling southern anthem “Still Tippin” and his own debut album, Already Platinum. Being that he’s also friends with the family that owns Burns BBQ, he stood out as an authoritative figure who could show Bourdain the ropes.
But there was one problem: at the time of the call, Slim Thug admits he had no idea who the globe-trotting adventurer was, never having laid eyes on his show.
“I was really kinda shitting on Anthony Bourdain!” he says in his baritone growl of a voice before letting out a deep laugh, adding that he told the barber he could maybe spare a quick 45 minutes as a favor to an old friend.
It was only after Slim Thug posted a picture about the upcoming meeting to his Instagram account—which quickly garnered hundreds of likes and comments—that he realized the significance. Looking back, he says, “It was real funny, man, I was kinda pushing him off as I had no idea who he was until I saw everyone on Instagram being like,'Oh, wow, Anthony Bourdain!'”
When they finally caught up at Burns BBQ in person, the two chopped it up over a platter of brisket, ribs, and super-loaded baked potatoes, with Slim digging into Houston's local food and SLAB car culture, while Bourdain regaled him with tales of chowing down with Obama in Vietnam. Slim says Bourdain came off as “real cool, real laid back, easy to talk to and was just real from the jump.”
The scene at Burns was all too fitting: Thug knows that aside from the pleasures of tearing apart smoked meat, barbecue in Houston also breaks class boundaries, with a place like Burn's attracting doctors and other professionals into its orbit. "It's very important for the community," Slim Thug says. It's a reason why the rapper took time out from readying the release of his latest project, Hogg Life Vol. 4: American King, to talk behind the scenes of filming with Bourdain, the communal power of barbecue, and his own upcoming line of craft beer that he's hoping will shatter the club barriers.
Why was Burns such an important place for Anthony Bourdain to visit in Houston?
If you want BBQ in Houston, that's definitely the place you need to be. There's no other place like it. Well, there's Burns BBQ and then on the other end—like the high-end—there’s Killen’s BBQ—but those are the two number one BBQ spots in Houston. Burns is some of the best BBQ I've ever had in my life—it's just delicious and I don't know where I'd go to find anything like it.
What do you usually order at Burns?
They’ve got this baked potato that's about the size of my head! It's got everything in it, it's just so damn delicious. I also might get the chicken links, but I'm trying to stay away from a lot of the crazy stuff this month. For July I've done a little challenge where I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I eat healthily every day through this company out there called Bee Fit Food. But if I’m going to cheat and be bad and I don’t care about my diet, I’d just get anything that’s available. I mean, I’m trying to be as good as I can, but that baked potato? Damn!
How long have you been going to Burns?
I've been going there since I was a kid. One of my good friends actually owns it now and he got it from his grandfather. I used to go when his grandfather owned it. It's in the middle of the ‘hood but you'll see so many different doctors and people of all races and all kinds going there. They come to the middle of the 'hood just to get this BBQ, it's so crazy. It’s very important to the community. I don't know how to describe it, but it's like arriving in the middle of the 'hood and people would never be in that neighborhood if it wasn't for Burns BBQ. It ain't on no main street—you have to go inside in the actual neighborhood.
After you met him, Anthony Bourdain tweeted, “The local beverage here makes me strangely sleepy.” What did you give him?
Ha ha, nah, we didn't give him any of the real drank! He was just kinda breaking down to me how with him coming from New York, he was saying you'd think Houston is one of the most white and conservative cities, but we're actually one of the most diverse cities in America. He wanted to know about all of the cultures of Houston. That’s just part of it.
You also mentioned Killen’s BBQ. What’s that like?
Yeah, Killen's is killing it! I live near there now, it's like the suburbs of the south, and it's like the total opposite of Burns, which is on the north side of town. Houston is humungous so there's at least a 45 minute wait at Killen's. They have a steak house that's ranked probably number one in Houston, and their BBQ probably ranks number one, and they just opened up a burger spot. I don't know what the dude puts in his burgers, but every time I pass by it never fails to be a line all the way out of the door. Every single day he sells out. It's like when the new Jordans come out. People are out there in line patiently waiting for his food.
Do you have to wait in line at Killen’s?
Yeah, I definitely did at first! But I'd met the owner before and he came out and was like, "Hey, man, I recognize you." I still haven't had a chance to get to his BBQ spot, but he keeps the line long and always looks out for me.
Beyond Burns and Killen’s, you also post a lot of brunch pictures to your Instagram account.
Yeah, there's a place out here that's one of my favorite spots in the world and I love it to death. It’s called Max's Wine Dive and the brunch there is amazing. I probably made it famous by posting about it so much. They've got quotes from my songs on the wall. The line is all the way out of the door every damn Sunday because they got this fried lobster tail. Oh my god, I travel a lot but I've never had a brunch as good as when you get that fried lobster tail with that French toast that tastes like donuts, and the shit comes with greens and potatoes and eggs and grits, and it kills me on my workout side but it's the best brunch I've ever had in my life.
Beyond food, you also recently went taste testing at the 8th Wonder Brewery. What was that about?
Yeah, I actually sat down with them and we're coming out with my own beer that's coming out around Superbowl. We're calling it Boss Beer. It's gonna be so exciting.
How did you find the taste testing process? Was it hard to tell them how you wanted the beer to taste?
I'm not a normal every day beer drinker so, yeah, it was, but at the same time they broke it down to me by giving me the light beers and then the more dark beers and I could taste the difference. We came up with a happy medium. A lot of the time when you go to the club it's mainly Latinos and white people who drink beer, so we're trying to come up with a cool beer that you can drink on our side too. We're known for poppin' bottles of champagne, but I'm trying to put something out where you won't look crazy drinking a beer in the club, you know? I think the people are going to like it.
Does the Boss Beer pair well with BBQ?
Ha ha, we're going to have to work that out! We'll definitely have those available at Burns BBQ.