May. 09, 2012 - Issue #864: The Barbecutionist
One-man grilling machine
Bubba's BBQ and Smoke House gives a taste of the south
It's only accessible from the east side heading north on Gateway, and it may take a couple of attempts to actually make the turn in time, but once you make it in, you'll be treated to some of the most mouth-watering southern barbecue north of the border.
Bubba's called 8525 Davies Rd homeprior to moving north and re-opening at its current location in late November 2011. At the original location, Bubba's built up a loyal following of regular customers in search of a reprieve from standard lunch takeout. It's taken a little time, but since the lot is between two of the busiest streets in the city people have begun to notice the line ups, where customers come from all over the city, and even as far as Sherwood Park, to get a taste.
There's no seating available, so everything is packed to go, unless you plan to eat in your car, which many do.
The man behind all the buzz is Rand "Bubba" Petersen, whose hunting buddies coined the nickname, which seems fitting, as the moniker is a common one among men in the southern US, which is the inspiration for Bubba's menu.
Petersen started Bubba's as a retirement hobby that's now evolved into a full-time job with no signs of slowing down. He worked in the construction industry doing exterior repairs, but his love is cooking, which he was able to put to good use as a cook at Hy's Steakhouse prior to that.
"Barbecue is my favourite style of food," Petersen says. "It goes extremely well with takeout and it's cattle county. A lot of people like their beef and pork around here, so southern barbecue fits in extremely well. It's very much in need around here."
Each day, Petersen mans the joint solo, offering a single, hearty dish that's been smoked and slow cooked for hours prior to serving. Everything's done in traditional southern style with flavourful sauces, seasonings and rubs. Customers are served a hefty portion along with side dishes like baked beans and rice for $11, cash only.
"I do most things on my own. It's hard to find people that want to work and you trust on their own when you're not there, so you have to start yourself and build from there," he says.
If you want to get in on the goods, plan to get there early. The takeout window officially opens at 11:30 am, but the line up often starts around 11 am. Closing time is technically 2:30 pm, but as Petersen says, it goes until the food runs out, which is usually earlier.
The menu features chicken and ribs on Mondays, Tennessee pulled pork on Tuesdays, Carolina pulled pork on Wednesdays, beef brisket on Thursdays and finally, Bubba's pork ribs on Fridays. Beef brisket and Bubba's pork ribs are the crowd favourites so far, but the rest aren't far behind.
"It takes a lot of work and there's not very much of it around because it's difficult to do right. It takes a lot of dedication," Petersen says of southern barbecue dishes.
Petersen is a self-taught barbecue expert. He credits his knowledge to many years of poring over cookbooks, eating at various barbecue restaurants in the states coupled with a love of meat. He says the secret to great barbecue is patience and taking the time to do it right; no cutting corners. Good southern barbecue is much more than slapping some meat on the grill and hoping for the best.
He adds that finding a good barbecue book is the best way to start.
"I sort of gathered information and styles from a bunch of different sources and kind of melded them together into my own," Petersen says, adding he still stays true to traditional styles.
A common mistake, aside from rushing the process, is using too much heat and not understanding the texture of the meat and fat content. Reduced fat may be good in some areas of a person's diet, but not when it comes to barbecue.
"It's a moisture thing primarily. The more fat something's got on it, the more easily you can make it tender when you cook it, if you cook it properly," Petersen notes. "It's a good thing for cooking. You don't have to eat all the fat."
Currently, Petersen is working to gather investors to expand Bubba's with franchise locations. Regardless of how big it eventually gets, Petersen prides himself on delivering a high quality product to customers, and the feedback he's received reflects that.
"It's not a way to get rich," he adds. "But it's very satisfying and you can still do well if you do the right things and work hard at it."
Bubba's BBQ & Smoke House
4903 Gateway Blvd
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