Meet our newest Free Fly Ambassador: Hector Garate, up-and-coming pitmaster who burst onto the Charleston food scene recently with his unique take on BBQ. He opened his pop-up earlier this year, Palmira Barbecue, where you can taste the influence of his Puerto Rican heritage in menu items like sofrito-spiced sausage, beef cheeks, and arroz con gandules. In a city overflowing with barbecue legends, it’s a tough market to crack into—but once you’ve met Hector (and tried his show-stealing whole hog), you’ll see why he’s making waves. Keep an eye out—Palmira has a permanent restaurant location opening up later this year!
BBQ is such a style game and you have such a unique approach. What inspired you?
I started learning neo-central Texas barbecue, understanding how to create bark, building fires on an offset smoker, crafting sausage and smoking ribs. Then I started attending butcheries in the country and understanding the art of direct heat cooking. From harvesting the hog to smoking the hog and not wasting any of it. Then I started understanding the process of hash and South Carolina staples that I grew up eating in my teenage years.
I decided to implement my own seasonings, including sazón, adobo, sofrito and bringing those vibrant flavors of Puerto Rico into my process. You can find similar processes in Puerto Rico, like sausage making and whole hog cooking, so it wasn't hard to marry them.
Once I felt good with the process, I started moving forward with my own style, which is what you taste at Palmira now. The beauty of it is that it evolves and it becomes better and better. Sometimes you have to think outside the box and create your own path. If you want to achieve great things, you have to embrace who you really are.
Tell us how you got into smoking meat and what made you want to start a BBQ business.
My wife got me an offset smoker for my birthday a few years back. I got obsessed with the process of smoking meat and the culture behind it.
What would you say your BBQ superpower is?
“Feel” is my superpower. Feeling the pits for temp. Feeling the meat for doneness. Sometimes, you have to develop your senses when cooking. Technology, sometimes, can fool you.
How much does your cultural heritage play a role in what makes your food unique?
My Puerto Rican-Cuban heritage influences everything. We have deep barbecue roots. Barbecue is the vehicle I use to express my story through food.
What gets you most excited about the current state of BBQ? And what are you most excited about for the future?
Barbecue is changing in many ways, but the revival of only using wood—it's one of the best things to have happened. Barbecue is getting more complex. The food, the culture, and vessels. In the end, it takes passionate individuals to carry the flag.
What is your favorite thing to cook? Anything you’re currently experimenting with?
Pork steaks are my favorite to cook and eat. We’re also starting to experiment with more fish.
Any bucket list events/cooks/collabs?
You already know: HOT LUCK.