Iron Imu BBQ Company Brings Texas to the West Side
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
Authentic Texas-style barbecue is not something you’d expect to find on the shores of Maui – Napili Bay, to be exact – but if you find yourself at the cleverly named Iron Imu BBQ Company, you can expect to find the unexpected.
Case in point: the restaurant itself is located in the lobby of the Outrigger Napili Shores Resort.
This is the same unassuming resort that houses the Gazebo Restaurant, and the two seem to have coordinated their schedules to avoid competition: The former serves only breakfast and lunch, while Iron Imu is open just for dinner.
Originally a food truck, our guess is that they are still smoking the meats from the two (impressive) mobile smoker units parked in the lot.
Moreover, on all five of our visits to the Outrigger (three for the other restaurant, admittedly), we never smelled so much as a match burning, so we further presume the meat is cooked up one or two times a week and reheated as needed.
That stated, we endeavored to try it all.
“Full Tray” meal options ($13-$23) are vast, so we started with the Iron Imu Combo ($20) – a veritable Whitman’s sampler of meats and sides.
Meat-wise, it comes with a chicken leg, two slices of andouille sausage, two pork spare ribs and a helping of pulled pork.
The Sausage was our favorite; moist and zesty with a mild burn that comes on late. Of all the offerings that day, it tasted the freshest and packed the biggest punch of flavor.
The only downside is the portion size. Reminiscent of a “free sample at Costco” ration, it’s a culinary tease.
The spare ribs are prepared with a dry rub and have a light smoke flavor. If you’re used to baby backs, the cut can be a little more challenging (a euphemism for unladylike gnawing around cartilage, bone, etc.), but is typical of Texas barbecue.
If you’re the kind to get up in arms about “the right way” to smoke meat, then you know properly cooked ribs don’t fall off the bone.
Rather, those that do are ribs that have been boiled and steamed, a practice that often robs them of flavor and renders the meat mushy.
In contrast, properly cooked ribs will pull cleanly off the bone with your teeth, but they will still have some resilience and chew, a la a piece of steak.
That stated, these ribs nailed it, exhibiting excellent texture and just enough toothiness.
The chicken leg, unfortunately, bordered on dehydrated.
Once again we detected a mild smoke flavor, but the bird itself was like a relic exhumed from Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Figure out what days the chickens are freshly prepared, and you’ll probably enjoy yours a whole lot more than we did.
Last up, the pulled pork was moist, but very fatty.
The flavor was fine, but we yearned for a little something extra.
Texas barbecue is always dry rubbed and the sauce is typically a “mop,” which is more like gravy than the sweet vinegar or tomato ketchup-based offerings from Kansas and North Carolina.
Alas, the two house-made sauce options were tremendously sweet, and we didn’t note any real heat in the spicy one.
Stick with just meat or plan to whip up your own concoction from the vast international array of commercial hot sauces available.
Sugar became something of a theme, like when we gave the Tropical Five Bean Bake ($5) a whirl.
Iron Imu’s take on baked beans, our notes read “Swweeeeet. Super sweet. Heavy-handed molasses.”
Now you know.
Uncle Kunkle’s BBQ Bacon Green Beans ($5) were also quite sugary. It’s sort of like a sweetened version of Southern green beans with the addition of chopped canned tomatoes. Not our favorite.
Grandpa Ford’s Mac & Chz ($6) will make your inner child swoon.
Large, doughy noodles are loaded with real cheese and baked to melty, crunchy, gooey perfection. The crisp top layer contrasts with the moist depths underneath: carb-loving, comfort food enthusiasts unite.
The Texas theme is strong throughout the restaurant. This stretches from decor to ambiance.
Did you know there’s a country western version of Foster the People’s ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ sung by a lady?
Service is knowledgeable and very friendly, toppling a bit into pushy territory at times.
Our dining companion was put under considerable pressure to order a combo and attempts at chivalry may come across as touristy gimmicks.
A homemade lei is a nice touch, but comments about being “properly lei’d” and requests for kisses in exchange may not fly with everyone.
Same goes for the plumeria forcibly placed behind our ear on the second visit. Maybe inquire if diners are local – and offer a related discount – to better determine who might appreciate these extra touches?
One thing we always appreciate, however, is well-prepared brisket.
With our Brisket Tray ($21), we could see the smoke ring and once again picked up that faint barbecue flavor, but clearly we missed the actual cooking day.
We had the choice between ‘lean’ and ‘moist’ and picked the latter, which resulted in a fatty yet dry portion. Disappointing.
Still, the look was there and we have a feeling this is a must-order on the days its fresh, we just don’t know when that is.
Regardless, one thing is certain: Iron Imu clearly has its feet planted firmly in Texas barbecue soil.
Although we can’t quite tell you when to make the trek, should a steady smoke signal suddenly beckon from Napili Bay, we recommend you answer its call.
Iron Imu is located at 5315 Lower Honoapiilani Road in Lahaina. They are open from 5 to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week.