Hector Garate may have the tools and drive to be the next great Charleston pitmaster, but that’s not his mission.
The Puerto Rican-born owner of Palmira Barbecue serves made-from-scratch Texas barbecue cooked in an offset smoker Garate welded himself — with a little something extra.
“I’m doing sustainable barbecue. Essentially, farm-to-pit — that’s my thing,” Garate said. “Now, do I use Texas cooking techniques to do that? Yeah, I do. I use the offset smoker — that’s a Central Texas thing. But it’s more than that.”
Garate moved to the continental U.S. as a kid, living in North Carolina and Texas before finding his way to Brooklyn, where he worked his way through professional kitchens. In 2019, he moved to Charleston with Texas-style barbecue on his mind. But before he could start cooking, he knew he needed an offset smoker, adapting a decommissioned propane tank that slowly burns wood, allowing the fat in the protein to break down over an extended cooking period.
“Two years ago, I decided to just buy this cheap offset smoker. I started getting into the scene a little bit more, and it became more of a hobby for me,” Garate said. “I needed to produce real barbecue, so that entailed getting a real offset smoker.”
According to Garate, there was a one-year waitlist for the offset smoker he felt was necessary to stand out in a city filled with barbecue — not to mention they cost upwards of $15,000. So, he decided to build his own.
“I bought this cheap welding machine, and I was like, ‘I’m going to start learning how to weld,’” Garate said. “Eventually, I just got good enough that I was like I feel comfortable enough to build this thing.”
Nine months later, Garate completed his smoker, which was filled with brisket from Creekstone Farms at his very first Palmira Barbecue pop-up at Hobcaw Brewing Company July 16. Along with the brisket, Garate served house-made sausage, Peculiar Pig Farm heritage breed whole hog and smoked beef cheeks, a cut Garate says is unique to the Lowcountry barbecue scene.
Garate brought his 50-pound smoker to the inaugural pop-up to showcase his handmade creation, but moving forward, he’ll cook briskets, hogs and more ahead of time. Accompanying him at the event was Peculiar Pig Farm owner Marvin Ross, who supplies Palmira Barbecue with pork.
“As soon as we met, we clicked, and we started working together because we knew that we both were in the same mindset,” Garate said. “They have the best pork that I know of. We work together, and without him, there would be no Palmira.”
Serving Texas-style barbecue usually means cooking less pork, but thanks to Ross, Garate is finding ways to incorporate Peculiar Pig Farm product into the menu with options like ribs and Carolina gold rice with pig-head hash. Beyond that, Ross has helped Garate learn more about sustainable farming, an essential component of Palmira Barbecue.
“The sourcing is so important for Palmira. The goal with Palmira is solving a problem, and that problem is getting everything sustainable,” Garate said. “So, the brisket is Creekstone — nobody’s serving that here. It’s as clean as you’re going to get, and that’s what we’re trying to bring. I think barbecue should be all about that. You should have a sustainable operation because it’s possible.”
Palmira Barbecue’s name is an homage to Garate’s grandmother, who grew up on a sustainable cattle ranch. The pitmaster doesn’t know where the pop-up will take him, but with a mission this grand, he’ll need supporters who recognize that barbecue can be sustainable.
“Palmira is just a poster child. Behind Palmira is so many people,” Garate said. “It’s a whole community behind it.”