Grab and Go: Veteran’s tasty barbecue brings people together
By Pat Gee firstname.lastname@example.org
July 9, 2019
Barbecuing big hunks of meat low and slow is as close to the heart of pitmaster Frank Diaz as helping dozens of disabled veterans stand on their own, and he has managed to nourish both desires under a food truck enterprise.
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Barbecuing big hunks of meat low and slow is as close to the heart of pitmaster Frank Diaz as helping dozens of disabled veterans stand on their own, and he has managed to nourish both desires under a food truck enterprise, anchored by Tin Hut BBQ.
Diaz, a Persian Gulf War Army veteran and former intelligence officer, still suffers pain resulting from his military service, so he easily identifies with disabled vets. His empathy, however, extends to the homeless, as many ex-soldiers end up living on the streets.
“I do love to help others that have limited capabilities or are shellshocked. I’ve hired many homeless guys who were willing to work and helped them transition into a better life,” he said.
Since 2012, his Tin Hut BBQ truck has parked at various military bases, with a smaller truck added in 2016 to meet demand for his dry-rubbed, “mainland-style” barbecue.
Civilians have had a chance to lick Tin Hut’s sauces off their fingers at pop-up events off base, like Eat the Street. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser readers named Tin Hut best food truck in the Hawaii’s Best poll in 2017.) These folks have been nudging him to set up somewhere they don’t need a pass to reach, leading to Diaz’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant, opening at Pearl Highlands Center’s food court later this month.
His fondness for cooking, especially barbecue, and the way it brings people together in a relaxed way, has long been in his blood. “There’s such a camaraderie that occurs, and in the military it’s even deeper with your brothers- and sisters-in-arms.”
“Way back when, I just loved hosting them, even the single soldier who didn’t have any home to go to — well, yes you do, you can come to my house — on any holidays or weekends. I just don’t like to see people alone.”
The business: Tin Hut BBQ really started at a family gathering around 2006, when his recipe for Smokin’ Ribs was voted the best in a friendly competition. “My son said, ‘Dad, that is a keeper and you need to start a business.’” Those sweet and savory Kansas-style pork ribs, tweaked to perfection over the years, can be found on his menu.
Diaz chose the name “Tin Hut” as a play on the military term “ten-hut!” — “come to attention!” — so all military people would recognize it.
His support for military families has included donating food forwelcome-home ceremonies and memorials. On the website, tinhutbbq.com, Diaz has posted an Honor Wall of a special group of military heroes, living and deceased.
In 2014, Diaz formed Aloha Gourmet Food Trucks of Hawaii in partnership with about 35 other trucks. Many of his catering clients like the range of cuisines that food trucks can provide for a function. Under Aloha Gourmet, he handles marketing and subcontracts for the individual truck owners. “I’m like a one-stop shop for these food trucks.”
In December 2018 he started a new truck, Franks Burgers, to join the Aloha Gourmet fleet. The truck is covered with a design of fighter jets, and features gourmet burgers for $10, each one made with a third-pound of Angus beef sirloin. Chicken and fish are also offered for $8.
Diaz calls his fare “mainland-style barbecue,” offering specialties of various regions — Texas-style brisket, with a pepper-based rub; Tennessee/Carolina pulled pork, with a vinegar/mustard base; Southern-style chicken, seasoned with spices, not coated with batter; Kansas City ribs, spicy and sweet, with a tomato-based sauce; and California tri-tip beef, rubbed with coarse pepper, salt and other spices.
Diaz works from a commercial kitchen in Pearl City, with a number of smokers outside. All his meat is fully cooked in a smoker — “we don’t use the oven at all.” A brisket can take up to 14 hours.
Making his original Smokin’ Ribs involves so many steps, “it’s almost like an engineering process,” he said, but he relishes every mouth-watering moment.
First he rubs the St. Louis-cut pork ribs with 18 spices, like cayenne pepper, cumin and thyme. “We smoke it for three hours, but in the middle of that I put some honey and brown sugar on it and cover it with foil … that honey and brown sugar just starts saturating into the meat itself, just starts infusing into the meat and making it nice and tasty and juicy,” he said.
After the meat is cooked it goes on a hot fire — about 750 degrees — to charbroil, topped with Tin Hut’s own barbecue sauce.
WHAT TO ORDER
The brisket is his top seller, offered in a plate with two sides for $12, in a sandwich for $10, or in options of two- and three-choice platters, $12 to $14.
But the best-selling item by far is not even on the menu, he said. “It’s on our secret menu everyone knows about” — a jumbo grilled cheese sandwich with pulled pork or brisket for $10. Rest assured, it will be written on the menu at the new restaurant, and include variations with buffalo chicken or jalapeno.
Of the signature sides, $3 each, the more tempting include smoked BBQ beans, green beans with bacon and onions, mashed potatoes with brisket gravy, and mac and cheese. At the new restaurant, Diaz will offer different toppings on the mac and cheese, including one made with crushed garlic toast croutons. Another option: “You crumble up some spicy Cheetos, throw it in the broiler oven and boom! You get a nice, spicy crust on it!”
TIN HUT BBQ
>> Food truck schedule: Visit Tin Hut’s Facebook page daily
>> New restaurant: Opens this month in Pearl Highlands Center, 1000 Kamehameha Highway; 492-8676. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.