Big Beach BBQ: Get Your 4th of July On
By Vanessa Wolf
What says “Fourth of July” quite like attempting to blow up your yard, passing cars and/or your person; all while inhaling the smokey siren song of sweet, sweet barbecue?
Although we can’t help you in the procuring and igniting of said boom, if you’re looking for some ‘Q today – and don’t want to cook it yourself – get your belly down to Makena.
Big Beach BBQ came highly recommended by a couple readers, and the much-lauded food truck can be found parked just outside the pseudonymous stretch of South Maui shore during peak tanning hours.
When you approach, the friendly proprietors’ dog, Bully, jumps up in greeting. Soon thereafter, you can chat with someone from the truck about canines for a while (Bully is a Staffordshire terrier, French bulldog and English bulldog mix, for example) if that’s what you’re into.
The folks running the truck are as sweet as Mom’s apple pie – the kind of people you want to see succeed – but does their food have what it takes?
We started our exploration of that question with the Fish Tacos ($9.95).
The haul of the day varies (we happened to catch marlin) and is then grilled over kiawe wood.
The fish itself is clean and simple, but nicely seasoned and the strong smoke flavor leads.
A plentiful portion of the ocean protein is loaded into two, cabbage-filled corn tortillas, and smothered in a generous melange of mango, tomato, jalapeño, and red and green bell peppers.
We loved the contrast of the sweet salsa and smoky meat: savory, bright and all-around excellent.
This is the reason barbecuing was invented.
So who can we thank for that anyway?
That’s less clearly defined, as it turns out no one really knows where the word “barbecue” came from.
Some folks look to the French phrase “de la barbe a la queue” (“from beard to tail”) as proof that barbecue can only be defined as a form of whole hog cooking.
Others argue that American barbecue requires wood smoke, while general consensus among academics links “barbecue” to barbacoa, a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean with the Taino people.
The good news is this: whether you feel barbecue requires an entire hog, which much then be raised above the ground and cooked over wood smoke… Big Beach BBQ fires on all noted cylinders.
The Pulled Pork Sliders ($9.95) function as a case in point.
One Alexander Hamilton nets you two pig-filled taro buns.
A lavish portion of tender, smoked swine is slathered in BBQ sauce and loaded onto the lavender-colored rolls.
Unfortunately, our bread seemed a bit stale – and then became soggy – and we found the flavor of the sauce overpowering.
However, the meat itself is outstanding: moist, rich and imbued with unmistakable kiawe wood flavor.
If that sounds tempting, the Pulled Pork Tacos ($9.95) feature the same tender meat.
Generously filling two corn tortillas, it arrives with a lovely salsa similar to that found on the fish tacos, but made with pineapple this time.
If you need some fire, sample one of the chef’s several creative – yuzu often appears – and expertly made hot sauces.
Personally, we vastly preferred this vehicle for the succulent swine.
Seeing as the pork is truly the highlight of both offerings, the thin tortillas make it much easier to get down to the (delectable) meat of the matter.
Just when you think you may have stumbled into some sort of culinary King Midas situation, instant karma rears its ugly head.
For everything Big Beach BBQ does right with fish and animal proteins, hot wood, and smoke; an innocent vegetable is seemingly punished.
The Big Island Slaw ($3) takes the brunt of this abuse.
Unless you’re looking for an excuse to eat lackluster raw cabbage in the sun and/or produce silent but deadly farts… why?
First off, the moniker: what makes it “Big Island”?
We’re pretty sure the isle of Hawai’i would protest to so flagrant a taking of their name in vain.
Where’s the lilikoi, pineapple, mango, chili pepper, papaya seed, guava, Spam, grains of black sand… ANYTHING that would make this Hawaiian, let alone Big Island-y?
We wish we could say we hit an off day, but our later visit produced the same lackluster mix of cabbage, carrots and red bell peppers offering no other flavor beyond the vague but unfulfilled promise of vinegar.
We propose renaming this Slawn (as in slaw + yawn), but it’s probably just easier to hope the chef intervenes and makes this vegetable side dish worth the energy expended chewing it, let alone $3.
Otherwise? Skip it.
If you’re dying for a side or a vegetarian snack, the Mac Salad ($3) is by far the better choice.
Granted, it’s not a life-changing mac salad – light mayo, celery slices and carrot provide the predominant flavors – but compared to that slawn it’s a blue ribbon winner.
Last up, we tried the Pineapple Sausage ($6).
It is what it is, and what it is is store bought (we appreciate that the owner didn’t try to pass it off as house made) sausage that is split, grilled and topped with pineapple.
It was perfectly fine, but didn’t hold a candle to the pork or fish smoked on-site.
Hey, it’s a food truck.
With a focus on barbecued pig and local fish.
Stick to those guidelines – or stick a lit sparkler in it – and you pretty much can’t go wrong.
Big Beach BBQ parks on Makena Alanui Road outside the Big Beach/Makena State Park. The kelly green truck arrives by noon and is often wiped out and peeling away by 2 p.m.