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Holiday spirit by the barrel

KAPAA — Mike Pierce and his family spend Christmas Day together as a family, but not like others gathered at home around their own dinner table. 

Instead, this group of barbecue enthusiasts get up early and gather at their Kapaa restaurant, Chicken in A Barrel, to spend the day giving back to their community by divvying out hundreds of free holiday meals.

“We’re gearing up for it right now,” Pierce’s son-in-law Patrick Pepper said Monday of the tradition they’ve been doing for five years.

On Christmas, Pepper will be in his usual spot — hovering over the restaurant’s 50-gallon barrel smokers. However, instead of chicken, beef and pork, the restaurant’s usual fare, he’ll be preparing turkey — and a lot of it.

Consider it a holiday makeover for the restaurant — “Turkey in a Barrel.”

“We’ve got probably close to 400 pounds of turkey,”

Pepper said. “And then I’m guessing around 300 pounds of mashed potatoes this year.” 

And that’s not to mention all the fixings that will go with it.

Last year, Pierce and his family distributed more than 600 meals. They prepared 24 turkeys, six ham roasts, 250 pounds of mash potatoes, seven trays of stuffing, two large pots of corn, green beans and five pounds of salad.

People often wonder whether the food is meant only for those in need. The easy answer is, “No.”

“It’s for everybody,” Pepper said. “It’s not just for people without.”

Each year, Pepper said it seems like there is a calm before the storm; one in which the Pierce family wonders if they overdid things this time and prepared too much food. Then, word gets out. The smell of barbecued turkey takes over Kuhio Highway. And people realize they simply can’t help but take the family up on its generous offer of a free holiday meal.

“All of a sudden, it just goes off,” Pepper said.

This year, the family is expecting more of the same. There is already a buzz in the air, according to Pepper.

Those who stop by the Kapaa eatery on Christmas aren’t the only ones who win. Despite the large amount of work, the Pierces look forward to spending the holiday as a family perpetuating exactly what Chicken in A Barrel was founded on back in 2010 — spreading the love of God and this extraordinary culinary joy. 

“It’s fun,” Pepper laughed. “We throw chicken guts at each other.”

Chicken in A Barrel, 4-1586 Kuhio Highway, will begin serving meals at noon and continue until the food runs out, usually around 3:30, according to Pepper. 

Originally from the foothills of California, Pierce started smoke barbecuing meat in large drums, or barrels, more than 30 years ago. The idea for opening his own business on Kauai dates back to when he used to barbecue for church gatherings at Black Pot Beach in Hanalei.

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