May/June 2016 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Barbara Arciero
Portrait by Evan Woods
Food photos by Jennifer Morris
Former cowboy heats up Orange County barbecue scene
More Online: Recipes
Marty Wells, a former rodeo cowboy, serves barbecue at his San Juan Capistrano restaurant.
Plenty of cities are famous for their barbecue: Memphis and Nashville, Kansas City and St. Louis, Austin and Dallas, and spots throughout the Carolinas. But San Juan Capistrano? Not yet, but Marty Wells, owner of Bad to the Bone BBQ, wants to change that.
It goes back to his roots.
"My uncle has a barbecue joint in Oklahoma, so I learned some of what I know from him. But I always loved to cook and loved to barbecue," said Wells, an Oklahoman whose family was in the horse business.
He honed his craft on the road, as a professional rodeo cowboy.
"We went from state to state and town to town, and that's where I did a lot of cooking," Wells said, recalling meals he made and regional specialties he sampled. "There's a lot of barbecue places in the country and I found a style that I like."
He also found a wife. They met at a rodeo in Salinas, and in 1998, he moved to her home of Orange County.
"There wasn't much real barbecue around Orange County and that's kind of what got us started," he said.
Bad to the Bone specializes in pit-style smoked barbecue, with beef brisket and pork butt slow-cooked overnight, and chicken, ribs and tri-tip slow-cooked two to three times a day. Everything is smoked with hickory wood.
"Hickory is known as the king of barbecue smoking woods," Wells explained. "It gives you a nice smoke flavor and a hint of sweetness."
And then there's the barbecue sauce. Wells goes through 120 to 160 gallons of his special recipe each week.
His careers as a cowboy and barbecue restaurateur don't have a lot in common, he said, "but I've taken both of them very seriously and worked at both of them. I wanted to be the best in both."
Sweet 'n' smoky BBQ sauce
Barbecue baked beans
Classic baked mac 'n' cheese
Carolina pulled pork
Baby back pork ribs
Smoked beef brisket