By B.C. Manion
If you’re in the mood for a pulled pork sandwich, spare ribs or smoked salmon, you may want to check out the barbecue stand on the east side of US 41, just north of Crystal Lake Road in Lutz
At the small shack, the sweet smell of barbecue fills the air and smoke billows out, as spare ribs cook on a primitive grill over aged oak wood.
The secret to great barbecue is patience, said Todd Whaley, owner of Whaley’s Blazin’ BBQ, who operates the stand with the help of Ralph Johnson and Randy McKracken.
The three men put in about 150 man hours every week, cooking and serving ribs, chicken, pork sandwiches, brisket and salmon.
The meat is seasoned with a blend of 14 spices and is grilled on a fire at a heat of less than 300 degrees for several hours, said Whaley, who used to prepare the barbecued meats sold in the deli at Whaley’s Market in South Tampa.
One secret he shares with barbecue enthusiasts is this: About halfway through the smoking, take the meat out, wrap it in foil and puts it back on the grill. That way, it continues to cook, but is not overwhelmed by smoke flavor.
When his smoked pork is done, he pulls it apart by hand to make sure he can feel any fat or tough parts – which he removes before generously coating the meat in a sauce, that’s sweet with a bit of a kick.
Before the Whaley family lost its lease at its South Tampa store, it had been a fixture there — selling fruits, vegetables, meats and grocery items for decades. When the store closed, Todd Whaley decided to set up his shop in Lutz, in a community where members of his family have lived since the 1970s.
“It was just a no-brainer to come up here where we live,” he said.
“My customer base is local people who live in the area that have known the family name and are familiar with it, and people who are driving through that live in Land O’Lakes and, actually, even in Hudson.
The family’s Carrollwood store, which operated for decades, also made people living north of Tampa aware of the family’s reputation, he said.
“With the name recognition, people are stopping,” Whaley said. “Because the product is good, they keep coming back.”
The bulk of its business is walk-up trade, with the lunchtime crowd dropping by between 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and dinnertime customers stopping by between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Whaley said he’s not sure how long he will be at his current location, since he rents on a month-to-month basis. But with the economy still struggling, he doesn’t anticipate being forced to move any time soon.
When he does move, he said he’ll find another spot in Lutz, and eventually, he hopes, stands in Westchase, Tampa Palms and Odessa.
The barbecue chef said those locations would be stands; he has no aspirations to own a restaurant.
“Having worked in the produce-meat market for 30 years and having to work with up to 30 employees, I like to keep it simple,” he said.