John Lim Hing, the pit-master and co-owner of Hog Shack Cook House (160-3900 Bayview Street), spends his days barbecuing everything from pulled pork, to beef back ribs, to beef brisket, to pork side ribs, to chicken quarters. “I’ve done fine dining. It’s not for me. Barbecue is more fun. People are friendlier. Everybody eats BBQ,” he explains during a chat at the restaurant.
Lim’s preference for accessible, delicious food partly derives from the Chinese Filipino food of his upbringing. Lim, ethnically Chinese, was born in Manila in the Philippines and grew up eating home-style dishes, like braised pork hock, that his mother lovingly cooked.
After moving to the Lower Mainland when he was 12-years-old, Lim went to school here and then went on to study plastic engineering at The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). “The first few years were interesting, but after the last semester, I just got bored of it. I knew I had always liked cooking, so I enrolled at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts on Granville Island.” There, Lim Hing completed a one-year culinary diploma while simultaneously working as a cook for Grouse Mountain resort where he got to try his hand at catering, as well as pub food and finicky fine dining cuisine. Plus, free lift tickets sweetened the gig.
Lim Hing was hooked on the restaurant industry. “I like cooking and creating food. It’s different everyday. It’s not an office 9 to 5 job,” he explains. His resume includes a six-month cooking stint in Australia, in addition to working at UBC Food Services, Sammy J’s Grill & Bar, and the Richmond Country Club.
In 2004, Lim Hing and business partner Allan Yeo took over Corelli’s Mediterranean Grill in Steveston. They continued its existing concept for three years before they decided it needed an exciting rebranding. “At the time, nobody else was doing barbecue, besides Memphis Blues Barbeque House,” Lim Hing says. In October 2010, they spent five “insane” days renovating the space into a southern barbecue haven, complete with checkered tablecloths and rustic wood and metal siding accents.
Before opening, they also did extensive research (aka gorging) during trips to Kansas and Texas in search of authentic Southern barbecue, which is very different from the grilling that most people here do at home. “Southern style barbecue is cooking with wood, low and slow. It’s pretty much cooking less desirable meat, like tough brisket, for a long time to tenderize it and make it good.”
Lim’s most lip-smacking meals involved devouring really good brisket at La Barbecue in Austin, Texas, and waiting in line for three hours for equally amazing brisket at Franklin Barbecue, also in Austin. In the South, barbecue is eaten primarily at lunch, with restaurants often running out and then closing for the rest of the day.
Lim Hing brought back a wealth of knowledge that he could then apply to slow barbecuing at Hog Shack. For example, he learned how to use local hardwood, like apple, cherry, and maple, in the smoking process to impart different smoky aromas. Softwood, which has more resin, tends to burn too quickly.
There was also a lot of experimenting with cooking times, as well as various rubs and sauces before tender and tasty barbecue perfection was reached. The process begins with the application of different rubs to the various meats. For example, a sweet rub, which contains a host of ingredients, such as brown sugar, cayenne pepper, garlic, coriander, and cumin, is used on the pulled pork.
The pulled pork is then put in the smoker for twelve long hours for optimal tenderness and caramelization. Brisket goes in for twelve hours while ribs stay in for around six. Once removed from the smoker, Lim Hing applies barbecue sauce, as well as more rub to the meat for added flavour. Hog Shack uses the same sauce for all their meats, giving the classic Southern combo of molasses, tomato, and cider vinegar a Filipino twist with the addition of fruit juices, like pineapple.
The result is a complex combination of textures and flavours. “Our texture is not overdone. There’s still chew. And, there’s a good hint of smoke. It’s sweet, tangy,” says Lim Hing, who adds that barbecue preference is very subjective.
In order to ramp up their barbecuing prowess further, the Hog Shack team competes in numerous competitions, including the Bulleit Bourbon Canadian National BBQ Championships in Whistler (Top 5), Canadian Festival of Chili & BBQ Competition at the Cascades Casino in Langley, and Tree Top Skewered Apple competition in Selah, Washington. Last year, they were the champions at the BBQ Off the Bypass Championship in Langley.
With the help of their competition mentors such as Andy Groneman of Kansas City’s Smoke on Wheels and Angie Quaale from Well Seasoned in Langley, Lim Hing has learned how to perfect the “one bite tale,” basically exaggerating flavours so that judges are wowed in a single sampling.
Lim Hing is a barbecue master, but he’s quick to add that home cooks can replicate southern-style barbecue with a gas grill. Hog Shack also sells their rubs (10 oz for $9) and their barbecue sauce ($7.50 for 350mL or 3 for $20) to help you out. He shares his recipe for barbecue ribs to get you started this summer.
Once you’ve taste this style of succulent barbecuing, you’ll want to eat nothing else. “There’s something about barbecue food that makes it taste better than anything else,” says Lim Hing. Amen to that.
Recipe for BBQ Ribs
- Racks of ribs (either St. Louis style side ribs or baby back ribs)
- Hog shack sweet rub
- Hog shack BBQ sauce
- Biota fermentation mustard
- Preheat smoker or barbecue to 250F.
- Using a fork, carefully peel the silver skin off the back of the ribs.
- Spread a thin layer of Biota fermentation mustard all over the ribs.
- Apply a nice coating of the Hog Shack sweet rub onto the ribs and let them stand for about 30–60 minutes.
- Cook ribs indirectly, low and slow.
- Depending on thickness of ribs, they can cook from 3-6 hours.
- Use a toothpick to check for doneness. (if it pierces through the meat like butter, then they are done)
- Apply Hog Shack barbecue sauce with a brush evenly.
- Let the sauce set for another 15 minutes in the smoker.
- Let the ribs rest for 10 min.
- Cut into individual ribs and enjoy.