Local restaurants perfect the art of delicious, slow-cooked meats.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Savory sauces coupled with smoked or barbecued meat can make any carnivore’s mouth water. And there are plenty of options at Laguna Beach restaurants to satisfy a craving for everything from ribs to brisket and tri-tip.
As local chefs share, the trick is slow, low-heat cooking, which decreases the temperature between the outer and inner portions of the meat to produce a tender and juicy final product.
“When meats are cooked low and slow, [the insides] are infused with comfort food flavors,” says Angel Velazquez, executive chef at Skyloft Laguna Beach and Mozambique.
Lumberyard chef Josue Tavares, who goes by one name, Primo, says the slow-cooked barbecue meats can also be flavored with a seasoned rub and then finished with a sweet and tangy sauce—or not, depending on your personal taste.
“At my previous restaurant, Oysters, where I was the chef, we created our own rubs, sauces and technique,” Primo says. “I have utilized that research and experience in developing our signature style for Lumberyard.”
To create lip-smacking barbecue dishes, Skyloft’s technique is to use a smoker. Velazquez begins by trimming the cut of the meat he’s using and makes sure it’s properly rubbed. He recommends using a great dry rub, as well as variations of oil and mustard, to ensure every piece of meat is properly covered prior to the cooking process.
Some barbecue delights that Skyloft offers include smoked brisket, smoky chicken wings tossed in barbecue sauce and fall-off-the-bone ribs. You can even build your own barbecue plate and choose brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken andouille or wings in half pound increments along with various side dishes. Out of all the options, Velazquez says his favorite is the brisket.
“With its smoky flavor and buttery texture, you can just pick it up with your hands, dip it in some hot barbecue sauce and enjoy,” he says.
Over at Lumberyard, slow-cooked baby back pork ribs are offered with sides of sweet potato fries and coleslaw. Primo describes these as the most tender and flavorful of the ribs with a naturally sweet taste. Primo says it’s important to buy the highest quality meats available and develop your own or use a store-bought rub. Lumberyard also suspends its ribs over pans of draft lager beer for a steaming effect, which keeps them moist and juicy.
Several other Laguna Beach restaurants offer a variety of barbecued items, including Oak’s Asian-inspired baby back rib appetizer that has roasted sesame seeds mixed in a sambal-honey glaze, pickled fresno pepper and cilantro.
Starfish Laguna Beach offers Slow-Cooked Baby Back Wet Ribs, which are cooked in the restaurant’s five spices and rubbed in katsu barbecue sauce, and Cantonese Coastal Baby Back Dry Ribs, which are dry rubbed and cooked in a seven-spice mix; both are available in half and full rack and served with Asian slaw or rice. The restaurant also boasts the Braised BBQ Pork Buns that combine soy, ginger, pulled pork, pickled red onion, cucumber and cilantro, and are a great shareable barbecue option.
Meanwhile, Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico offers a Mexican flair on its tender, smoked ribs, smothered with chipotle barbecue sauce and served with roasted corn. Reunion Kitchen & Drink offers a variety of barbecued foods, including the baby back rib stack served with Thai peanut slaw and warm potato salad; Barbecued Glazed Meatloaf, which is applewood-smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf served with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes with gravy; and a Barbecued Chicken Cobb salad.
Tips & Tricks
The key to great barbecue is a balance of temperature and time, and Primo says you don’t need fancy or expensive equipment or tools. Instead, spend your money and time on ingredient quality and experimentation with rubs and sauces.
“Start with a good-quality rub for flavor, slow cook in the oven or smoker, and finish with sauce on the grill—[be] careful not to burn [it],” says Primo, who also recommends having a quality grill or smoker, a good set of tongs and a spatula designed for use on the barbecue. “I am constantly exploring new cooking techniques and cuisine along with our owner to come up with new menu items and recipes.”
Velazquez advises letting the meat rest before cooking for a minimum of six hours, so the meat absorbs as much flavor as possible. He says barbecue is meant to be a slow process and resting the meat overnight is optimal for the most delectable outcome. His technique is to then put the meat in a smoker, depending on the weight of the meat, for eight to 10 hours. He also says it’s good to have a dry rub, mustard, brine or sauce on hand to further flavor the meat throughout the cooking.
“Using a smoker is the best approach, or a makeshift smoker—which, in theory, could be a barbecue with wood chips—to get the enhanced smoked flavor. Cherry chips or almond wood chips can further enhance the flavor,” Velazquez says. “I usually stick to brisket and tri-tip because they are tough and can withstand a slow and longer cooking time without losing their tenderness.
“Always barbecue with confidence—any wild idea you come up with, you should try it,” he says. “It will not be perfect the first, second or third time, but, eventually, you’ll hit the nail on the head.”