They’re lawyers by profession, town council members by civic duty and barbecue pit masters by passion. Together, Bob and Paul Shalhoub have built Smokin’ Gator BBQ, a Memphis-style ‘cue business with a local cult following.
But because the Lake Clarke Shores father-and-son team have demanding day jobs, their prized brisket and dry-rubbed ribs are as elusive as they are popular. Locals can catch them on holidays, special catering events or at rare brewery appearances when the Shalhoubs roll up in their Smokin’ Gator food truck.
On Tuesday night, however, fans can enjoy their smoked meats and fixings in a proper, sit-down setting. The Smokin’ Gator guys are popping up at The Regional Kitchen in West Palm, smoker and all. They’ll be cooking alongside executive chef Lindsay Autry during her “Pig Pickin’ Tuesdays,” a summer series during which the James Beard Award semifinalist pays tribute to tangy North Carolina barbecue. (See details below story.)
“We’re taking some of our recipes over there – we’re doing baby-back ribs, our pork belly and bacon bites, our prime beef brisket,” says Paul Shalhoub, who serves as president pro-tem of the Lake Clarke Shores town council. (His father is the town’s former mayor.)
Also on the a la carte menu: sweet tea-brined grilled chicken, a nod to chef Autry. “I was inspired by her sweet tea-brined fried chicken thighs at The Regional,” says Paul.
Since much of Smokin’ Gator’s barbecue business involves pick-up orders, Shalhoub says he and his father relish the chance to interact with diners, as they do during catering events.
“My dad and I really enjoy watching people enjoy the food we cook. It’s one of the best feelings,” he says.
Their joint barbecue endeavors began in the early 90s, before Paul was a teenager.
“My dad was really the catalyst. He’d say, ‘Come on outside so I can teach you something (about barbecue),’” says Paul Shalhoub.
Around 1994, Bob Shalhoub started an annual town barbecue gathering that’s still popular today. He also started to make his own rubs, sauces and seasonings. In 2005 and 2006, he and his son were invited were invited to participate at the prestigious Memphis in May competition. Inspired by the experience, they joined the Florida BBQ Association.
“We’d do an event to get money, then we’d go compete,” says Paul.
Gradually, the hobby turned into a side business – barbecue catering with an online shop that sells Smokin’ Gator’s branded “Swamp Dust” and other seasonings and rubs. And the name? What else would barbecue fans from a die-hard University of Florida family call their business?
“From birth I was a Gator,” says Paul.
“We do a sweet but dry rub on our meats," says Paul Shalhoub. The flavor is "sweet but very flavorful with some back-end heat.”
One priceless byproduct of the barbecue venture: spending time together.
“Without a doubt, having this hobby and passion together has made our relationship better than it could have been without it,” says Paul. “It’s been so cool to build a company together, make decisions together. My dad calls it his therapy. I just enjoy doing it.”
SMOKIN’ GATOR BBQ
About the ‘cue
Father-and-son barbecue crew, Bob and Paul Shalhoub, specialize in Memphis-style smoked meats.
“We do a sweet but dry rub on our meats. Our ribs, for instance, have no barbecue sauce – if you want sauce on your ribs, you’d add some after they’re smoked,” says Paul.
- The flavor: “Sweet but very flavorful with some back-end heat.”
- The best-seller: The brisket. “It’s peppery, not sweet.”
- The method: The meats are smoked with a mix of mango and cherry woods.
“The fruit wood gives a nice, lightly smoky flavor, as opposed to the harsh, smoky flavor that comes with oak. When you’re done with our barbecue, you’re not going to be tasting the smoke long after you eat it,” he says.
About the dinner
Smokin’ Gator BBQ will join Chef Lindsay Autry at The Regional Kitchen for a special “Pig Pickin’ Tuesday” event. The a la carte menu will be offered through the evening.
- When: Tuesday; dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. and goes to closing time.
- Where: The Regional Kitchen, 651 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm
- Reservations: Strongly recommended; call 561-557-6460
- On the menu: Shareable bites like barbecue pork belly with shaved summer salad, hush puppies with green tomato tartare, and a smoked sausage plate. Pit specialties including Creekstone Farms prime brisket, Duroc baby-back ribs, sweet tea-brined grilled chicken thighs and eastern Carolina pulled pork. Plus side dishes like collard greens and black-eyed peas, creamed summer corn, Lebanese coleslaw and fried Kai-Kai Farm okra.