HANALEI — Juicy barbecue chicken and ribs that practically melt off the bone await Chicken in a Barrel diners who’ve worked up an appetite perusing the stores at Ching Young Village, the shopping center in the heart of this famous North Shore surf town.
“It’s a meat lover’s paradise,” said co-owner and manager Brent Bierma, a 27-year-old Colorado native who made the Garden Isle his home nine years ago.
On a recent afternoon Bierma traced the lineage of the recipes on the menu — all family trade secrets — as he lifted the hood on one of the restaurant’s namesake barrels to reveal a dozen crisp, perfectly browned quarter chickens spinning in the smoker.
“We say it’s off the hook barbecue because we literally cook our meats on hooks in the barrels,” Bierma said with a smile.
This is authentic barbecue cooking — a two to three hour process — and it’s what makes Chicken in a Barrel’s meats so good, Bierma said. The meats are smoked with charcoal and a local kiawe wood that enhances the flavor.
“Just seeing the faces of the people who eat our meats who love barbecue makes all the hard work worth it,” he said. “People who know good barbecue love us because we do it right.”
The no frills family-owned restaurant is the Chicken in a Barrel brand’s second location. The first location opened in Kapaa six years ago. The open-air Hanalei restaurant has been smoking chicken, ribs, pork, beef and local buffalo in barrels for half as long.
The chicken and rib plate — a quarter piece of chicken and two baby back ribs for $15.55 —is by far the most popular menu item. There are also Kauai beef burgers, tacos, burritos and delectable sides like the homemade chili beans.
Prices range from $5.95 for a classic Kauai beef hamburger to $16.50 for a half rack of baby back ribs. There’s a kids menu, with staples like grilled cheese, as well as two kinds of salads.
The meat rubs and barbecue sauce offerings are all homemade and sold by the bottle at the restaurant’s Hanalei and Kapaa locations. Soon, the company hopes to sell them in local stores as well.
Though Chicken in a Barrel is a Kauai-born and based business, the company has big plans. Bierma, a former constuction worker, said he and his family are looking to expand on Oahu, plus add a second Kapaa location and new eatery in Poipu.
“We have so many people that want to franchise our brand in Costa Rica, Japan, California, Oregon — all over the place,” he said. “For now we’re looking at expanding nationally, and first here in the state.”
The Hanalei spot is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 3 p.m. on Sunday.