The tantalizing scent of barbecue smoke wafts through the streets of Gold Beach early in the morning. Who’s barbecuing at this hour?
The smoker and grill in the parking lot at Wild Oaks Grill, 29545 Ellensburg Ave., is packed with tri-tips, ribs, pastrami, chicken, hamburgers, beef briskets and pork at 7 a.m. Even the mac and cheese, not to mention the backyard chili with beans, go into the smoker.
Robin Dunn said he originally began cooking tri-tips in his food cart on a street corner in Humboldt County, California. That’s where he perfected his recipe.
After 13 years, he decided to open a brick-and-mortar store in Port Orford, “which did okay,” he said. “It had great reviews, but Port Orford was just too small of a town for us.”
Then, Leonard and Diane Phillips came along.
“They appreciated what I do,” Dunn said. “They traveled for a little bit and tried barbecue in other places and came back and said, ‘We have to find a better place for you.’”
So they created a partnership and opened mid-April in Gold Beach.
“Grilling and smoking are two different styles of barbecue,” Dunn said. Santa Maria barbecue style originated in the central California coastal town of Santa Maria, which is where Dunn lived early on. Santa Maria style always utilizes an open-fire grill.
Smoked meats are a Texas-style barbecue technique, which the restaurant also serves.
The other two styles of barbecue, which are NOT found at Wild Oaks Grill, are Carolina style, which uses a vinegar sauce on pork; and Kansas City barbecue, which is neither grilled nor smoked, but rather smothered in barbecue sauce.
“Tri-tips are part of the sirloin,” Phillips said, starting to flavor a large tub of tri-tips with their special blend of seasonings. “And what a tri-tip is, and how it became famous, is a triangular piece on the end. It wasn’t used a lot and it was usually ground into hamburger.
“The people around Santa Maria were mostly Hispanic and didn’t have a lot of options,” he said. “They started using it and roasting it whole. It’s actually developed into a barbecue style.”
Wild Oaks leaves the “fat cap” on the top of tri-tip while it is being grilled, to keep the meat moist and give it flavor. The meat is trimmed before it’s served.
The barbecue grill in the parking lot was “custom built to handle 100 tri-tips at a time,” said Dunn. He expanded from tri-tips to other meats because he wanted to enter competitions. So he learned how to cook ribs, briskets, chicken and pork. Dunn compares his pastrami to Katz’s Delicatessen in New York.
For Dunn and Phillips, it’s all about the meat. “We don’t put sauce on anything,” Dunn said. They provide sauces on their customers’ tables “but we always recommend that customers try their meat first.”
At the grill, Dunn showed off a motorized grate, which can be raised or lowered to regulate the temperature for the grilled meats over the live fire. “The smoke goes up and gets trapped in the chambers, where it rolls over the food,” Phillips said. “We have two chambers, with the chickens, ribs and everything in there.”
Meantime, “We have a couple of different things we do here. We have our POW chair and the Missing Man table, where we pay deference to our POWs,” Phillips said, as he showed a place setting on a table with a sign saying “Reserved.”
Phillips also pointed out their world map on the wall, which has different monies displayed with their locations. “We are world famous because we’ve got people from all over the world who have traveled through here,” Dunn said with a grin. “To a person, they love our food.”
For that matter, the duo won first place in this year’s Curry County Parade. “We hooked the barbecue to the back of the van and towed it down the parade route while we were smoking.”
After the barbecue is loaded, the two men sit outside the restaurant. “It has to be watched when it’s going,” said Diane Phillips. “It will catch on fire; you have to keep an eye on it.”
Their menu focuses on the meats as plates and sandwiches, which come in generous helpings. The offerings include six styles of fries, from sea salt to habanero-garlic parm cheese, chili cheese and garlic.
The dessert menu includes candied bacon cheesecake - made with their bacon.
Wild Oaks Grill, 29545 Ellensburg Ave. in Gold Beach, is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon-8 p.m. on Sunday. Call 541-425-5460.