Saturday, August 30, 2014

BBQ at the Beach

Spending Labor Day weekend this year at my brother's in Santa Cruz. Between hiking in the redwoods and napping on the beach today I happily came across a BBQ joint called Mission St. BBQ. They keep their smokers right out front proudly displaying the fact that they do indeed smoke their meats with wood and fire.

I was one of the first in line at 11:45 am but by noon the entire place had filled up with locals. I guess it's far enough away from the boardwalk that they don't get the tourist invasion. It's counter service so you place your order with the cashier and they bring it out to you when it's ready. Pretty big menu including plenty of good choices of craft beers and wine. I opted for the 3 meat combo which usually means you end up with a trash can lid full of food no single person could ever eat, but at Mission St. BBQ luckily this was not the case. I was able to choose from items like 1 rib, a bite of pulled pork, a bite of tri-tip, 1 chicken drumstick, ect. I thought the idea was brilliant. Especially for a person like me who never just chooses one meat.

Here's what I grubbed on......

The St. Louis style pork rib had a bright pink smoke ring, a light glaze of their bbq sauce (which was really tasty St. Louis style) and a cracked black pepper rub. They were still slightly chewy not coming clean off the bone but were definitely not dry. All in all a good rib.

The tri-tip was surprisingly good. Not because I didn't think they could pull it off, just because most of the tri-tip I've tried in the past has been tough to chew and dry. Their's was not melt in your mouth but it was moist and not tough. Again with a vibrant pink smoke ring and that nice crunchy black pepper rub. They didn't put sauce on the meat and it didn't need it.

The Chicken thigh was nice and moist and tender with a good glaze of sauce that I appreciated. The skin was a little chewy but you can tell it was probably nice and crisp when it first came out of the smoker. It had really great flavor that I kept wanting to come back to.

The sides don't hold a candle to the meats but were good for a little palate cleansing. The slaw was basically just chopped cabbage with maybe a little vinegar on it. I didn't taste much seasoning. The garlic bread I believe might of been on a ciabatta roll and was prepared Texas toast style.

If you are in the area or a local I definitely recommend this place. There's even parking, a city girl's dream!

Mission St. BBQ
1618 Mission St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 458-2222

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Turkeymania in Greensboro,NC!

It just goes to show you that you don't always have to have a sit down, dine in, full service meal to receive great service. This was exactly the case at Hickory Tree BBQ. We left there, got back into the car to drive home and eat our food and said "that was so much fun, I can not wait to eat this BBQ!".

Hickory Tree BBQ has a long history. It was founded by Joe Rountree who unfortunately went through a heart attack, surgery and transplant right before the restaurant was about to get franchised. Because of these events Joe had to close up his smoker. Luckily for us Joe's wife Joan encouraged Joe to get back to it after he started feeling better. He started with a food truck (which he still operates) which eventually grew to him opening up another brick and mortar location in Greensboro. Joe is known for his eastern Carolina style turkey BBQ.

On the day that we came in pitmaster Rhonda was manning (or "wo-manning") the smoker and taking orders. Her outgoing and warm personality led us right into a conversation about where we were from, why we were there, how is the turkey cooked?, what's your specialties?, ect. She proudly opened up the smoker so I could take pictures. I even ended up on the phone with the current owner Mike who was equally as nice to talk to and (thankfully) talked me into getting the turkey ribs. Talk about going well above and beyond to give your customers great service. To reinforce this they have a poster on the wall that says "smiles and conversation for free", right above a photo of founder Joe Rountree with comedian Mike Epps, who got Hickory Tree BBQ to cater for him backstage before the Greensboro comedy concert.

It took us 15 minutes to get home before we could eat. The smell coming out of that to go bag was intoxicating and I could not wait to tear it open.

As I said this is a turkey BBQ joint so pretty much everything on the menu has to do with turkey. Menu items include turkey BBQ sandwiches, smoked turkey legs and wings, fried wings, fried livers and gizzards and even turkey ribs! Never in my life have I heard of a turkey rib. Basically it entails removing the scapula bone and its associated muscles (meat) from the turkey carcass. And even though technically it is white meat it had a moist tender texture reminiscent of dark meat. These were smoked with hickory and finished with a delicious tangy BBQ sauce. A very memorable first turkey rib experience.

Next we tried the smoked turkey wings. A beautiful almost pink hue compliments of the hickory smoke, tender meat that still had some bite to it and a deliciously salty flavor. Maybe they brine them first?

The turkey BBQ sandwich is also really good! I could totally see myself annihilating a couple of those on a night when I have knocked back a few. It's finely chopped smoked turkey, slaw and vinegar BBQ sauce on a squishy bun. So simple and satisfying.

And just for good measure (and to eat our vegetables) we got some turkey collards. Collard greens slowly stewed with pieces of turkey. We added a little bit of the vinegar bbq sauce to give it an extra kick.

Rumor has it they will be at this year's The African American Cultural Festival of Raleigh & Wake County with their food truck. So if you are going to be in that area during labor day weekend check them out! And if you are ever in Greensboro definitely check out their take-out restaurant. Tell Rhonda and Mike Sarah and Spencer sent you!

Hickory Tree BBQ
2804 Randleman Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27407
(336) 392-3680

More Sweet Tea Baby?

Back in North Carolina for some more of that Carolina BBQ! The first place we hit today was called Country Barbeque in Greensboro specializing in Lexington style Carolina BBQ. It's one of those cozy no frills BBQ shacks with exposed brick walls, a long counter to order at and a dining room full of booths. The waitresses all have that southern charm and call you "baby" when confirming your order or asking if you would like a refill on your sweet tea (or unsweetened if you are us).

I thought the food was great here (some things more than others but all in all pretty solid). We ordered the 3 meat combo and chose coarse chopped pork BBQ, BBQ chicken and pork ribs. It came with hushpuppies and two sides. We chose baked beans and the traditional BBQ slaw.

My favorite of the 3 meats was the chicken. We chose dark meat so we received a whole leg which had delicious salty skin and super moist and tender meat. I would come back just for that.

The pork ribs were also very moist and tender. Not a whole lot of smoke flavor but they were glazed with a really nice flavored BBQ sauce. Sweet and vinegary with a touch of black pepper.

The course chopped pork consisted of nice big chunks of slow smoked pork shoulder. Although it was a little on the dry side it still had nice flavor, especially when dunked in their Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce.

The hushpuppies were the bomb! I have never put those two words in a sentence before. Usually hushpuppies are my least favorite side on the plate. These things were super crunchy but soft in the middle, salty and sweet.

The baked beans were also really nice with chunks of yellow onion and jalapeƱos studded throughout and a nice sweetness that wasn't to cloying.

The BBQ slaw was basically chopped cabbage marinated in their Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce.

All in all I think a great neighborhood spot run by nice people. And don't forget the BBQ chicken baby :)

Country Barbeque
4012 W. Wendover Ave.
Greensboro, NC 27407
(336) 292-3557

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DIY Hawaiian Style Pulehu Short Ribs

As some of you may remember, back in May I traveled to Honolulu, HI and had some amazing BBQ off a food truck called Mahalo Kau Kau Grill. The stand out for me on that truck was their Pulehu beef short ribs and I've been dreaming of them ever since. As soon as I got back to the mainland I started researching Pulehu short ribs so I could recreate them myself. Although they will never be the same as Mahalo Kau Kau Grill's (just can't seem to crack their code!) they are pretty damn good. Here's how to do it....

#1 - Find Kiawe wood. This took some digging on my part. The first three websites I came across that carried it were sold out with no sign of restocking. Kiawe wood is native to Honolulu. It is like  mesquite but sweeter. This is the wood used to smoke most Hawaiian BBQ. I was finally able to purchase it in chunks online from Guava Woods Farm Hawaii. They chunk it to order and only ship out once a week so make sure you order this plenty in advance.

#2 - Find a good butcher shop. We are very fortunate in San Francisco to have several but for this project I went to my buddy Dave the butcher over at Marina Meats. There are a couple different ways to describe the cut of meat you need for Pulehu ribs. You can either say you want beef short ribs cut "kalbi" style (which is a korean preparation of short ribs) or flanken style (the original name for short ribs cut across the bone). We ordered ours to be sliced a half inch thick but some people do it even thinner, like in the case of korean BBQ. We got about 3 lbs which came out to 12 pieces.

#3 - Marinate. After doing a little recipe research I created this marinade. It was just the right amount for the 3 lbs of short ribs we had. I marinated the ribs overnight.

1-2"in. piece of ginger, peeled and smashed
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup

#3 - Dry out ribs. The next day I pulled the short ribs out of the marinade and placed them on a rack over a sheetpan in the refrigerator to dry out for about 6 hours.

#4 - Rub. Season the ribs on both sides with granulated garlic (it took about 4 teaspoons), kosher salt and course cracked black pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

#5 - Prepare your grill. We have a small charcoal powered smoker that worked perfect for this. First start your fire with mesquite (or kiawe if you can find it) hardwood lump charcoal. I get mine from Lazarri Fuel Co. When the coals are grey and smoldering add your kiawe wood chunks. I added 4 pieces. Close the lid and let the smoke build up in there a little before grilling your short ribs.

#6 - Grilling. Over medium-high heat grill the short ribs 5 minutes on each side. That's it. The easiest part of the whole process. Remove from the fire and let rest a few minutes before serving.

They really don't need anything once they come off the grill. But I enjoyed mine with a little Shichimi Togarashi sprinkled over the top. Traditionally they are served over sticky rice. I also put a scoop of kimchee on the side as a nod to the Koreans.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Wrangler Family Barbecue

I grew up in East County San Diego. Until a recent visit back I had never known about a restaurant called The Wrangler Family Barbecue , thats been around since 1965. Wrangler's has a wood fired pit and specializes in brisket, pork spareribs and surprisingly, ham. They also put out beef stew on mondays and pulled pork on thursdays and saturdays.

Upon arrival we were introduced to JR, one of the owners. He was nice enough to take us back into the kitchen to take a look at the smoker which was loaded with spareribs, briskets and a big metal container filled with pit beans. He revealed that they use oak wood, which you could smell all throughout the restaurant. 

Wranglers, we are told has stayed very consistent over the years. Everything is in plain view at the ordering counter, including all smoked meats sitting on a counter ready for slicing and cases of fresh baked pies, beverages and side dishes. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. 

We ordered the beef, ribs and ham sampler with a side of baked beans and mac salad. A towering plate of food at a great price and the kitchen was even nice enough to give us a sample of the days special, pulled pork. 

Pork spareribs had a predominate smoke ring, nice chewy texture and light smokey flavor. Mac salad was vinegary with chunks of carrot and celery. Beans were smoky with just the right amount of sweetness and spice. 

Ham was moist, tender and juicy. Brisket wasn't falling apart tender but wasn't tough either and had good beefy flavor reminiscent of pot roast. 

Pulled pork had good texture, a smoky flavor and was tossed with just enough bbq sauce to cut the fattiness of the meat. 

Our experience at Wrangler's all in all was a good one and I look forward to coming back next time we are back in town visiting mom. 

The Wrangler Family Barbecue
901 El Cajon blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92020
(619) 442-1170
open 7 days a week lunch & dinner

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mahalo Kau Kau Grill

On my most recent food trip I not only discovered how amazing Honolulu is but also that it has a totally legit BBQ truck. Right downtown, completely unassuming, would of walked right passed it if it were not for a friend who told me how good it was. He was right, but the food wasn't just good it was some of the best BBQ I've ever had.

Kau Kau's menu consists of 6 either grilled or smoked meats and shrimp, 2 kinds of poke, 3 styles of rice, your obligatory mac salad and a cheese burger (I'm assuming for the kiddoes). You honestly can not go wrong with any of it. And the best part is it's consistent every time. (I went twice and my friend has gone 3 times)

Let's start with the Pulehu beef short ribs. These things blew me away. First off they have this rub that consists of course ground black pepper, course sea salt and granulated garlic (and probably some other stuff too). It was addictive and crunchy. I basically ate them like this... I sucked the rub off the meat, then sunk my teeth into the wonderfully charred, smoky flavorful beef and thin lining of perfectly rendered fat cleaning it from the bone. Heaven.

Next is the baby back pork ribs. Equally as good as the short ribs. These suckers had me feeling like a total hypocrite. I have always preached how ribs should NOT just slide right of the bone. Reason being is because most often when you see this the meat is mushy with no texture or integrity left too it. Kau Kau achieves this paradox of having rib meat that you honestly just suck off the bone in one swipe and that has a perfect texture all at the same time. And not only that the house made (or should I say truck made?) BBQ sauce is really really good! It's sweet but not to sweet, its vinegary, it has just the right amount of heat and is seasoned perfectly. I'm talking this dude can rival some of the joints I've been to in St. Louis. Crazy.

Another tasty local option is what they call "smoked meat", which is char siu and grilled onions. Char siu is sliced and skewered pork that has been seasoned and smoked. Their version is very good and was sort of crispy which gave a niece texture against the soft sticky rice.

Kau Kau makes spicy and shoyu ahi pokes as well. Both versions are just as good as some of the best poke shops I've had on the island. And they add tobiko to them too which gives them a nice crunch.

Sides include: Brown rice, white sticky rice, "krazy" rice (which tasted like it had old bay seasoning on it), green salad and mac salad (they use spaghetti noodles in their mac salad in Hawaii). The mac salad was hands down my favorite.

If you ever find yourself in Honolulu you gotta track this baby down. It was on Kapiolani street across from 24 hour fitness when we were there but apparently it moves around sometimes. If you are lucky enough to spot it don't pass it up!

1637 Kapiolani blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 284-8293
Mon-Fri 11am-7pm

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Good local BBQ alert

The city of Hayward, located in the east bay, is full of 50 year old (plus) restaurant gems. It took me a few years of driving through to finally walk into one and now I want to try them all. If your into burgers Val's and 1/4 Giant burger are as good as it gets for simple no fuss burgers and shakes. But to my surprise Hayward is also home to an awesome rib joint, Emil Villa's Barbecue.

I was a little skeptical walking into a BBQ restaurant that coined themselves as "California BBQ". In my experience that term either ends up meaning grilled meats or half assed bbq. But to my delight it actually meant really delicious!

The style of BBQ that Emil Villa's acquired 60+ years ago was introduced to the founder by native americans (the technique was invented by the Kiowas, Arapahoes and Utes indians). Heavy on the smoke and mopped during the cooking process with a solution they called "lassyemma". Emil's serves their meats sauce on the side to showcase the bark and smoke ring they work so hard to produce.

The smoker at Emil Villa's

Ribs - Besides the pies this is the number one reason you come to Emil's. They serve three styles: Emil Villa's signature ribs (which are spare ribs), st. louis style ribs and baby backs. Their signature ribs are the most moist and flavorful out of the three. Although, all three styles are properly cooked. Tender pork that still has a little bit of chew so that it comes clear off the bone but doesn't fall off the bone. The bark is there, the smoke ring is pronounced and the smoky flavor is heavenly.

Tri Tip - Called "sliced beef" here was surprisingly good. In my experience with tri tip it is usually tough and chewy. They ask you which temperature you would like it. We said medium rare and it came out exactly that and wasn't at all chewy. Not sure if it was because it was slow cooked or very thinly sliced but it gave me a new appreciation for the cut. 

Smoked Pork Loin - Unfortunately the slices we received were extremely dry. Not their best showing.

Brown Sauce and Red Sauce - Your server will ask you if you would like these sauces to accompany your smoked meats. The brown sauce is a thick au jus that tastes of beef bouillon cubes. I didn't find a need for it anywhere in the meal. The red sauce however is a very tasty BBQ sauce. Sweet, smoky and vinegary with a hint of black pepper. Good for dipping ribs into.

Sides - Ive tried three sides here. All good. Pit smoked beans are nice and smoky with just the right amount of sweet and spice. The coleslaw comes with a horseradish-honey dressing ladled on top so that you can mix it in right there at your table leaving it nice and crunchy and not wilted from hours sitting in a reach in. Potato salad is also great here, red potatoes mixed with mustard, mayo and relish. Simple and well balanced.

24047 Mission Blvd
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 537-0734
7am-8:45pm daily