By Anni Caporuscio
Chicken in a Barrel is truly a family affair. Their story is about doing what they love: bringing great food to people and having a great time doing it.
Speaking with Pepper, the charismatic BBQ-loving face of the Kapaʻa location, I was taken in by how passionate he is with the people portion of his business. He is certainly a people-person and he strives to make everyone feel a part of the family. Case in point, three regular customers sat at the table with us, and we all had some BBQ (or, Mexi-Q, an homage to the South of the Border influences of their menu) and a chat.
The atmosphere is an outdoorsy Hawaiʻi-style lunch and dining site filled with big, bright colors and foliage making dappled shadows on tables and umbrellas. Highway-side fills it with a bustling energy and the scents of the current cooking permeate the area. It’s a backdoor barbecue, and everybody comes by; a healthy mixture of people came around, local characters, visitors, professionals — all seasoned BBQ lovers.
Pepper, a former painting contractor, moved to Kauaʻi from Calaveros County in Northern California to work with his father-in-law, general contractor Mike Pierce. On the weekends, they would take barrels to Black Pot Beach in Hanalei as an outreach, a way to feed people and share a little aloha. After a while, people began to suggest they start a restaurant, so in 2010 they opened up on Kuhio Highway on the Eastside. Now they’ve got the Hanalei Chicken in a Barrel, run by family member Brent Biema, and a slew of franchises starting up in various locations, including at the Coconut Marketplace and on the Mainland in Santa Barbara, South Lake Tahoe, Oregon and Charlotte.
BBQ is a much-loved regional cuisine in the U.S., and different areas take their recipes and methods quite seriously; it can get quite heated. The Chicken in a Barrel family uses a dry-rub base (as opposed to a marinade) and then hangs the meat in the heated barrels. The heating element for the barrels is kiawe and briquettes. The barrels are simple yet innovative surround-cooking devices. It takes a few hours (two for chicken and ribs and four for beef and pork roast) in the barrel, and then the roasts get oven treatment to “break it down,” a term for getting super tender and falling apart in their own juices, about a 14-hour process.
Dry rub. Heat. Smoke. That’s how you get great BBQ.
Your choice of meat, you can get various combinations, comes with a collection of available side dishes that have for generations complemented a BBQ meal. All the recipes are family contributions; there isn’t just one mastermind behind the menu, rather a conglomerate. Anne provides the chili beans (a little spicy and chunky). Pepper brought the coleslaw (a sweet and slightly tangy sauce with crunchy cabbage). The dry-rub mix is from Big Mike, and it’s a surprisingly simple blend of spices massaged into the meat.
Find Chicken in a Barrel on the Eastside at 4-1586 Kuhio Hwy, across from the Neighborhood Center, in Hanalei at 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy in the Ching Young Village, and in Waimea at 9400 Kaumuali‘i Hwy. Also check out chickeninabarrel.com for history, franchise information and recipe insights.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.