But these days, some of the city's hottest smoked meats are coming from a pop-up with a pedigree.
You'll find it down a one-way street in a North Miami-Dade neighborhood, where a simple setup attracts diehard barbecue fans at one-year-old Drinking Pig BBQ. The pop-up is among the latest to hit the streets of Miami, a joint effort among Kyu executive chef Raheem Sealey and his wife, former Kyu chef Yohanir Sandoval, and former Kyu sous chef Mark Wint.
Drinking Pig BBQ launched last July as a no-frills, front-yard operation at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Like most COVID-19 success stories, the enterprise was born of boredom, creativity, and — in this case — a love of smoked meats. On weekends, the three-person pit crew offers its take on brisket, pulled pork, chicken, sausage, and pork ribs, plus sides like mac and cheese, cornbread, and collard greens.
Sealey tells New Times it began with a trip to Austin, Texas, where he became fascinated with the flavors and textures Texan chefs were able to create with their own unique smoking methodology.
"During the pandemic, we were only doing takeout a few days a week at Kyu," he says. "I thought it was a good time to do something of my own. One day I was on the line and I asked Mark [Wint] if he wanted to start doing barbecue with me."
What began with just a smoker and a few tables is now a semi-permanent outdoor eatery that runs Friday through Sunday from noon until they're sold out. Over the past year, business has steadily grown, building from 60 customers over the course of the weekend to as many as 100 orders a day.
The trio say they tapped into their collective cultural roots to bring Drinking Pig's menu a unique South Florida flare, from Wint's Jamaican heritage to Sandoval's Venezuelan touches. The pop-up's name comes from the beer-drinking swine that hung aroung the Mt. Pellier Hut Domino Club in Sealy's home of St. Croix.
"As a kid, I remember watching my grandfather pour a Heineken beer on top of the pig he was cooking," Sealey recalls. "I asked him, 'Wouldn't it be better to roast one of the pigs that drinks the beer?' That childhood memory of my grandfather and the pig came to mind when we were thinking of names."
Sealey, now a seasoned chef, emphasizes that every element of Drinking Pig is a team effort. The process begins midweek, when deliveries are made. Meats are cut, trimmed, and prepped by hand. The sides are prepared from scratch, using only fresh ingredients.
"We use the same low-and-slow technique you'll find everywhere else, but we changed it up with the flavors we remember from growing up," Sealey says.
It begins with the brisket, cuts of chicken, and pork butt, all seasoned with Caribbean spices but most redolent to fresh thyme and aromatic sofrito. It's brined for 24 hours before hitting the smoker, meats emerging moist and delicately flavored, the edges tinged with a deep red-pink smoke stain — the hallmark of slow-cooked barbecue.
Drinking Pig's sides are equally well-executed. Collard greens are rich and savory, cooked in a stock made from smoked chicken bones. Beans are sweet and stewlike, soaked before cooking in a pot with herbs, aromatics, and the leftover scraps of brisket and short rib. The coleslaw is light and tangy, courtesy of Drinking Pig's secret spice blend.
The first item to sell out, however, isn't meat. It's Yohanir Sandoval's cornbread.
Sealey says he nicknamed his wife the “queen of cornbread." Her two-day process creates a cake-like treat. Full of texture and flavor, the simple combination of corn cut fresh from the cob, burnt butter, honey, and sea salt yields a sweet-and-salty take on the classic barbecue staple.
Right now, the operation is driven by social media. For now, at least, the Drinking Pig Instagram account is the only way to connect with the chefs, who operate their mobile smoker at 845 NE 151st St. every weekend. Place an order via DM, or risk showing up too late for the game.
Eventually, says Sealey, they'll open a permanent location and expand the menu. For now, though, this weekend pop-up is exactly how Miami barbecue should be: homemade, outdoors, and part of the neighborhood.
Drinking Pig BBQ. 845 NE 151st St., Miami; instagram.com/drinkingpigbbq. Friday through Sunday noon until sold out.