Chicken In A Barrel

Whether you're going North to South or vice versa, it's hard to miss the plumes of smoke floating off the roadside near Kapa'a, and it's even harder to miss the unmistakable scent of smoked barbecue wafting up and down Kuhio Highway. A quick glance out the car window will reveal a red and yellow shack with a sign of a cartoon chicken...complete with Hawaiian board shorts...surfing in the barrel of a wave. That's Chicken In A Barrel BBQ. I would advise you to immediately pull over and gobble up some good grub!

But, first! While we're on the subject of chicken, I thought now would be a good time to mention...well...chicken. Kaua'i chickens, to be exact. These birds are all over the island, and one can't help but notice the "Please Do Not Feed Feral Chickens" signs. I mentioned before how a picture of a chicken here is just as obligatory as a photo of the beach, and I wasn't kidding. Ask around and you'll hear different stories, but here are some that I found to be the most common: 1) The first Polynesian settlers brought these feathered fowl with them as food supply. Over the years, they just flourished on the island. 2) Hurricane Iniki in 1992 damaged many of the chicken farms, so a large number got loose and multiplied. 3) They have no natural predators on Kaua'i. It's the only island where the mongoose does not roam freely, so chicken eggs (as well as other ground-nesters like turtles and the state bird nene) are safe. So, if you're on the beach, sunbathing, and enjoying the sounds of the surf, and a cockle-doodle-doo rings out...don't worry. That's perfectly normal. And, quick, take a picture! :)

Before we start talking about barbecue, I don't want you to get any ideas. No, Chicken In A Barrel does not pluck wild chickens from anywhere they see fit. I repeat, feral chickens are not on the menu. The menu does include hefty plates of smoked meat and delicious sides. This cozy establishment is owned by Mike Pierce, who's had over 3 decades of experience in this style of cooking, and is run by him and several family members. There are wide, umbrella-ed picnic tables for groups to sit and enjoy their meals, and a small sink is right by the pick-up window for patrons to clean up at.

This barbeque joint's name is not just a play on a surfing term, though. All of the meat is hung and smoked inside barrel drums, with a layer of charcoal on the bottom and a layer of local kiawe wood that they cut themselves. It all started when Mike cooked a pig at his sister's wedding by using a barrel drum, and then he carried the method over to gatherings with his church groups.

Now, the food...My dad ordered the sampler plate with "a little of everything"...chicken, ribs, beef brisket, and pulled pork. My mom had the chicken & rib plate. Both options came with homemade chili beans and brown rice on the side. As for me, I ordered a portion of beef brisket and a side of macaroni salad. (I know, I know. Who comes to a chicken joint and gets beef?) I figured everyone would be getting chicken, and I could pick off of their plates. The beef brisket was just a bonus. All of it, I must say, was moist and fall-apart tender!

I can't say that I've had barbecue from every well-known spot, but I can tell you what I like. A) I like smoked meat that has depth of flavor but doesn't choke you with overbearing notes of charcoal or burnt wood. B) I like slow-cooked meat that's tender and juicy. C) I like sweeter barbecue sauces that have a little bit of tang. Chicken In A Barrel BBQ is D) All of the above. Everything gets a rub down of "Big Mike's Off the Hook" rub, which isn't overpowering in the least. While he won't share any other ingredients, Mike has said that the rub includes peppers that are only grown in Hawai'i. The sauces come as mild or spicy, and bottles of shoyu (soy sauce) and sriracha (favorite!) are available as well.

It wasn't until after the meal that I noticed the John 3:16 scribbled onto every box. It was a nice touch. We were also able to talk to the two guys manning the food and register that evening. We were there for a late dinner, so it was almost closing time and they had a couple of minutes.

The service was quick, the staff was friendly, the prices were reasonable, and most importantly, the food was hearty and satisfying. I would definitely come back to Chicken In A Barrel, whether as a pit stop while driving on Kuhio Highway or to fill up after walking around Kapa'a!