Locally, Aaron Patin has been known for his relationship with meat – namely, that he smokes it, to tantalizing effect – for over five years now. That is long enough to forget that the owner of Iron Grate BBQ (4125 S. Howell Ave.) – located inside an old Boy Blue soft-serve ice cream stand – started out as a fine dining chef.
He helmed the former Charro restaurant for SURG Restaurant Group and worked in Ardent’s innovative New American kitchen. But barbecue is now his passion, and the last year has only solidified how easily this business can run in a carryout capacity. Along with creating the succulent Milwaukee Rib, a special cut of spare rib with the belly attached, Patin has expanded Iron Grate’s raison d’être to mastering the sandwich.
He even started a soup-making ghost kitchen in winter of 2020 to fill a void in the South Side spoon scene. Catering festivals and special events is still on hold due to COVID, but the summer will still be no less, well, smoky.
Your smoker has a name and a reputation. How is Edna holding up these days?
She is long gone. We had her when we moved [from inside nearby Hawthorne Coffee Roasters in 2017] to the new spot. [But] we ended up trading 500-gallon Edna for two 1,000-gallon tanks that go by the names Hank and Nico. They allow us to do much more.
Define “much more.” What are your plans for the summer?
We’re launching a DIY menu with the Milwaukee Rib where you can order a kit and prepare the rib in different ways. [The kits] will expand to include pork shoulder or a slab of ribs and come with Iron Grate sauce and rub. We’re also going to do Beef Rib Saturdays. We’ll cut them smaller and serve them piled high.
You started with hot ham years ago. How has that evolved?
Now you can get pulled pork, chopped brisket, barbecued or spicy chicken or hot smoked ham and you can add on melted cheese, hot sauce, pickled onion and pickles to it. The sandwiches have really taken off to the point where we’re doing specials like smoked salmon salad on a marbled rye roll.