BBQ That’s Worth A Drive To Wahiawa

One of Oʻahu’s most celebrated new restaurants is a (relatively) short drive away in Wahiawa.

Sunset Smokehouse opened its current location in April, and six months later is one of just three Oʻahu restaurants to earn a “rave reviews” designation from Star-Advertiser critic Nadine Kam.

What’s the fuss about? Small-batch, Central-Texas style barbeque, slow-smoked by native Texan James Kim … if you show up early enough to get it.

What: Sunset Smokehouse Texas BBQ [website, menu]

When: 11am until they run out, Friday-Sunday

Where: Wahiawa [location]

Like the wildly-popular traditional BBQ trucks of Kim’s native Texas, Sunset Smokehouse is open only on select days, and stays open only as long as they have meat to sell.

Traditional smoked meat is an overnight process — you can’t just throw a few more on the fire. So once it’s gone, it’s gone.

For several months, Sunset Smokehouse were selling out only a couple of hours after opening. So Kim made a big investment — ordering a new, 1,000 pound smoker from his home state.

Sunset Smokehouse Food, Cooking Style & Menu

Brisket is the main focus of Texas BBQ. Like all traditional Texas BBQ spots, Kim uses an offset smoker fueled by real hardwood (mesquite and hickory) to cook his.

Smoking takes 14 hours, and it’s a fully hands-on process of tending the fire throughout. “Set it and forget it” this is not. The result is a delicious “bark” of darkened meat on the exterior, a telltale red smoke ring just beneath, and tender — but not fall-apart — meat you see above.

Kim also makes pulled pork, pork spare ribs, and beef sausage. Beef ribs (in limited quantities) are available on Saturdays and Sundays only. Meat comes with Hawaiian sweet rolls, if you want to make mini sandwiches. Sides include coleslaw, potato salad, creamed corn, spicy pinto beans, and rice. Here’s the full Sunset Smokehouse menu.

sunset smokehouse coleslaw, pulled pork

Kim’s food is so excellent, he was invited to cook alongside classically-trained gourmet chefs at October’s prestigious Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival.

Getting To Sunset Smokehouse

I’ve been to a few of these famous Texas BBQ spots. People arrive hours and hours before opening to stand in line, bringing lawn chairs, coolers of beer, and umbrellas to protect them from the hot Texas sun. I didn’t expect anything like that, but I did show up a little bit before opening on a Saturday, and brought a book to read.

Finding Sunset Smokehouse is a bit of a challenge. The address is 23 Kamehameha Hwy., but they haven’t yet added a sign to the non-descript building they’re in. So even with the address, it’s hard to spot.

If you’re headed north on Kam Highway (which you will be, if you’re coming from Kapolei), it’s on the left side of the street, just before the Jack in the Box that’s on the corner of Kam Highway and California St. You can’t really turn into the parking lot because of oncoming traffic, so you have to circle the block:

Turn left onto California St., then take the immediate next left onto Ohai St. On your left, just past the back entrance to the Jack in the Box is a very small driveway — that’s the entrance to the small lot for the Sunset Smokehouse building.

Even if you get into that small lot, it may be full, and the stalls are really, really tiny. Instead of trying to squeeze into a spot, I just found street parking instead and walked. Next time I go, I’ll probably do the same thing.

So, a bit of a challenge, but no regrets. I only wish I’d gone the same day as Robocop.

Bright, Clean, And Efficient

I was the third person in line, two guys ahead of me were already waiting, and chatting about their favorite barbeque places on the island. The Sunset Smokehouse line is a good place to get info for your next island culinary road trip.

The door opened and we ambled into a very clean, brightly-lit space, dominated by a psychedelic Texas-themed mural.

sunset smokehouse mural

You place your order at a bustling counter. As is the case with most Texas BBQ, you can order by the pound or by the plate. I chose a selection of meats and sides.

You’ll have a 5-7 minute wait while James slices and plates your meat. Given that he had to wait 14 hours while it cooked, your wait is relatively short. Check out the cool mural in the meantime.

Whether you choose to eat inside or out, all food is packed to-go. Near the door is plastic silverware, paper towels, and the like.

There’s Sauce But You Don’t Need It

Kim uses a simple salt and pepper rub on his meat, which might make you think that you’d want to add sauce for more flavor. You don’t. “We just use a salt-pepper rub, keep it real simple, let the meat do the talkin’,” he told the Star-Advertiser.

The pure flavor of the meat and the smoke really shine thanks to his simple process.

But — Kim does provide sauces at the tables for people to add if they want. I skipped the sauce and didn’t miss it a bit.

Prices

Kim’s creations are sold by the half-pound or pound. Or, you can get them as a sandwich. I would budget about $15 per person for lunch once you include sides.

For drinks, they offer Texas Sweet Tea ($3.50) and bottles of soda for drinks. No beer.

Here’s the basic info again:

What: Sunset Smokehouse Texas BBQ [website, menu]

When: 11am until they run out, Friday-Sunday

Where: Wahiawa [location]