On the Line: Marty Wells Of Bad To The Bone BBQ

The thing about the restaurant industry is that a person can come from any profession to open a place. Whether they succeed is another story. In the case of Marty Wells, his childhood curiosity in the kitchen eventually led to a career in hospitality. If you aren’t familiar with his BBQ, it’s about time you learned more.

What is the secret to excellent BBQ?
Since day one, we have always taken pride in the fact that we start with the highest quality ingredients we can buy. And with our attention to detail, we have a product that we believe stands up to some of the best in the country. All of our meats are USDA Choice or higher, including our brisket that is USDA Prime. Our bread is baked fresh daily, and all of our side dishes are scratch made in-house. The extra work and staff it takes to produce a product like ours is well worth it, because our guests can tell that we put a lot of love in our product.

Who taught you how to cook?
As a kid growing up, I always enjoyed being in the kitchen. I experimented with different dishes and loved cooking. I learned some of the BBQ from my Uncle Joe, but I am mostly self-taught.

Most frequently asked question(s) by guests.
Our style of BBQ is real “pit” BBQ. A lot of guests want to know how long we cook our meats, at what temperature and what type of wood we use.

Favorite meal growing up.
My mother is a great cook and always had homemade meals ready when I was finished practicing roping or football. One of my favorites was chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, fried okra and cornbread, both cooked in a cast iron skillet. Delicious!

Tell us about your connection to the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo.
As a former PRCA cowboy, I have a lot of old friends that come into town for the rodeo. It’s always nice to catch up with them. We cater the food for the cowboys and their families on both days so they can have a good meal before competing.

What does it mean to be a PRCA tie-down roper?
Growing up on a ranch in Oklahoma and being around horses and rodeo for the early part of my life, I always wanted to be a professional cowboy. As I became a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, traveling the country and competing, I realized once my career was over that the food industry was what I wanted to do. The experiences I learned while traveling the country are some that I will cherish forever.

How did you come up with the concept?
When I moved to California from Oklahoma in the late 1990’s, I was looking for my next adventure. I realized that there was not much real “pit” BBQ in Orange County. I bought a mobile smoker from Texas and started a catering business. I knew eventually that I wanted to open a restaurant. Several years later (in 2005), my former partner and I opened the San Juan location, and have expanded three times since we opened to keep up with the demand.

Describe your style of BBQ:
I am from Oklahoma, and brisket and ribs are a staple in that part of the country. Our BBQ is simply dry rubbed, smoked over hickory “low ‘n slow” and served with our original BBQ sauce. If I had to pick a region, I would say that our product is more of a Midwestern style BBQ. However, we do have fire-roasted tri tip on our menu that isn’t typically found in the Midwest.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Fresh garlic.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Life is sometimes not fair, but every day brings something new.

Last thing you looked up online:
Internal Revenue Service.

We didn’t realize you had a happy hour! Tell us more.
Our happy hour is Monday thru Friday, from 3 – 6 p.m. in the bar and patio. We have street tacos, fried pickles, ribs and a lot more great items. Including our weekly “pit masters” special. We have 25 craft beers on draft, with five rotating taps, along with $5 well drinks and wine.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Don’t overcook your product, and use an instant read thermometer to check internal temperature.

Favorite places to eat.
We don’t get out too often, but our favorite place locally is Ricardo’s Place in San Juan. They have great food and service.

Tell us about the different bottled sauces you serve/sell.
Our most popular sauce is our original BBQ sauce that is bottled and ready for retail, along with our two lines of hot sauces that feature our red pepper and jalapeno sauce. We also have a sweet ‘n smoky, spicy, Carolina vinegar, Carolina mustard and a few others that we will be bottling soon. We make 40 gallons at a time, and use 160-200 gallons per week.

What makes Carolina pork different from other versions?
Different regions of the country have their style of “Q”, especially in the Carolinas, where it’s mostly pork. The distinct difference is the sauce. Like in North Carolina, it’s a vinegar-based sauce, and in East Carolina it tends to be a mustard base. We serve a traditional Carolina pulled pork at our restaurant.

Where did you grow up, and where’s home these days?
I grew up in Oklahoma and now live in San Juan Capistrano. My wife and I met through a mutual friend while I was on the rodeo circuit, and she happened to be from Orange County. The long distance relationship was very difficult on both of us. So I decided to move to California, and we soon married.

Favorite childhood memory:
Terry Bradshaw was once a customer of my father’s, and one day we were playing catch with the football at the ranch. I caught one of his passes up against my chest, and was bruised for days.

What are your favorite items on the menu?
We have a very extensive menu with a lot of great choices. But my personal favorite is our sliced brisket sandwich, served on a fresh toasted brioche bun with our original BBQ sauce.

Are there any new/upcoming menu developments?
We just recently added fried pickles, a pastrami burger and a Parmesan crusted sourdough ham & cheese to the menu. We have three to four different featured items every day for lunch and dinner that we offer, along with our “Pitmaster’s” weekly special. Our guests know when they dine with us that we always have something new to offer.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Cowboy hash. Red potatoes, smoked brisket, peppers & onions, smoked cheddar, roasted tomatillo salsa and flour tortillas.

Last book read.
The True Story of the Bilderberg Group. It was eye-opening, to say the least. And really shows how much corruption is in our government.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in this business?
I would probably be in the construction industry. I was always operating heavy equipment on the ranch, and like to build and tinker with projects.

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