On The Line: Robert Setina Of Smoqued BBQ, Part One
Photo by Amanda DeFrancis

On The Line: Robert Setina Of Smoqued BBQ, Part One

With a foundation of culinary knowledge and experience that includes the kitchens of SideDoor and 370 Common, Chef Robert Setina has street cred to act like Ramsay in his kitchen over in Old Towne Orange. Just ask his team. For his employment interview, Setina even brought along a bottle of his own habanero raspberry BBQ sauce (which, according to manager Michael Hernandez, immediately made him stand out). It's now served alongside their house and California gold flavors.

What is your California influence on classic BBQ? We say California BBQ because, like all of California, it takes influences from several places. We take all the best meats and ideas from the great BBQ styles and offer them in one place. A little Texas, Northern California, Carolina's and Kansas City all wrapped up in one great place!

One food you can't live without: Garlic. It's practically essential for life itself.

What is your most popular item? Definitely our brisket! It is amazing, and no one in Orange County is doing anything like it. House smoked for 14 hours. You can also try our Burnt Ends, which are our double smoked brisket appetizer.

Does your restaurant still competitively BBQ? We have our Smoqued BBQ team that goes out once a month and competes.

Your best recent food find: My house. I get so busy at the workplace, it feels great to eat a home-cooked meal. Plus, I am getting ready to cook for the new addition to the family.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: OC has such a wide variety of local farms. It's great seeing communities supporting farmer's markets. Also, the craft beer available everywhere now is amazing!

So....what was the inspiration for the Chingaderas? We created the menu item, and couldn't figure out a name for them. We kept using Chingadera, so after an hour or so of thinking about it, the name stuck. Plus, they are spicy and mean!

Your earliest food memory: That would be of my grandmother cooking for large family gatherings.

Favorite meal growing up: My grandmother's "bullets". It's gnocchi that she would roll into a bullet shape.

What are the seasonal specials on the menu? We prepare daily specials, and they are always different. They depend on what's in season and what would be a fun twist with BBQ. We are always looking for a new way to throw a BBQ twist on a great food item-- like our Cuban sandwich that we elevate with our own smoked pork.

Most undervalued ingredient: Salt. It's an ingredient that you sometimes don't even think about. But it can either make or break your dish. Plus it's very versatile. I use it in my desserts, and of course, all of our ribs.

How long have you been serving brunch? We started serving brunch in December with our Santa Brunch. It was so popular, and the food went over so well, we kept serving it. It is such a unique twist on brunch that our guests love it! BBQ and brunch! What could be better?

What are your favorites on the menu? It is a toss up between our brisket and our St. Louis Ribs. Both are delicious.

What is your beverage of choice? I am a huge fan of California craft beer. Smoqued is dedicated to serving great CA craft beer on all of our taps, and the variety available is unbelievable. The level of brewing right now is fantastic. California offers some of the best beers in the country, and they are served in many different restaurants and bars today.

Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make? Authentic paella.

You're making breakfast. What are you having? Whatever I feel like putting in my NutriBullet. And black coffee.

Strangest thing you've ever eaten: Pig brains. Pretty delicious. Tastes like a pate.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): When people see a meat-based item on the menu and ask for it vegetarian. Although we would like to accommodate, we can't make the brisket vegetarian! Isn't bacon vegetarian?

Favorite chef. Gordon Ramsay. Ask my servers.

How long does it take to smoke a 100-pound hog? As long as it takes, haha. Usually about 20 hours, but it can be longer. The BBQ is ready when it's ready!

Where was your most recent meal? Lynn's Restaurant in Cambria. Their house burger and vanilla sweet potato fries were amazing.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own). I like local hole-in-the-wall places, a lot of taquerias and Thai food. Places that have good food and the price is right.

Tell us about your custom wood-fired pit, and how using different kinds of wood changes the flavor of the food. We've got an 'Ole Hickory SSJ; It's the heart and soul of our restaurant. She can smoke up to 1000 pounds of meat at once. There are a lot of differences in wood. The density of the wood depicts how long the wood will smoke for, and the amount of smoke it gives off.

Red oak is a hard wood, and gives a really heavy smoke. Good for dense meats, brisket or pork butt. Not suitable for chicken or ribs, which in turn gives a very heavy smoke flavor. One of our goals is to allow all of our meats to be influenced by the smoke in their own unique way. Adding flavor and depth without ever overpowering the product.

Best culinary tip for the home cook: Don't be afraid. Explore, experiment and have fun.

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