Chicken in a Barrel

Chicken in a Barrel

By Anni Caporuscio

Barbecue chicken is so tender! You can grab some sauce (hot or mild) for dipping, but you don’t even need it. You can order whole chickens to take home for your own meal prep, or devour them on the patio.

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.

A few racks of ribs ready for the barrel. The meat gets rubbed all over with a custom mix of spices that get soaked into the meat with its natural juices. There’s no marinade to burn or thicken. After hanging in the barrel for a few hours the meat is tender and delicious with a hint of sweetness from the kiawe wood and a hint of spice.

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.
By |2018-06-12T15:08:21+00:00June 26th, 2018|0 Comments

About the Author:

Léo Azambuja, editor of For Kaua‘i, has won multiple journalism awards in the state of Hawai‘i, including investigative and enterprise reporting, spot news and feature writing, photojournalism and online reporting.

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