Uncle Tom's Barbecue has been a Miami institution for more than 60 years. The restaurant has had its fair share of ups and downs and several owners, and one man — Eduardo Diaz — has witnessed all these happenings and more first hand for close to two decades. Since 1998, Diaz has been overseeing the grill as head grill master, helping prepare and grill up some of the restaurant's signature dishes like its BBQ brisket, ribs and secret Uncle Tom's sauce.
In honor of Tom's Barbecue grand reopening tonight, we spoke with Diaz, with help from a translator, to learn more about his time at Uncle Tom's, some of his grilling tips and tricks and how the restaurant has changed in the past 16 years.
How did you first start grilling?
I've been in this industry for a long time, I started in Cuba back in the day. When I first started at Uncle Tom's I was under Lou, I was his prep guy and when Lou got injured I took over.
What do the duties of a grill master entail?
First thing we do in the morning is we prepare the wood. We get the hickory wood, start the flame, then wait for it to be a certain level and then put the ribs on the grill and chicken to get the process going to have food ready to go. I smoke them and precook them three quarters of the way and when the customers order we finish them on the grill.
Do you oversee preparation and butchering the meats?
I cut the chickens, sauté and season the wings, I also prepare a lot of the sauces and assist with Uncle Tom's secret sauce. I make the coleslaw also and the Texas Toast with the garlic on it. I prepare the brisket platter and the baked beans.
How has Uncle Tom's changed over the past 16 years?
We have changed 100 percent. We have gone back to the original American family style. There was a transition for about six years where they [the previous owners] took it into a Cuban barbecue scene that just didn't really work out well. When it was purchased about a year ago I was no longer there, I was working at the 94th Aero Squadron, and I came back about two months before it opened and I was ecstatic it was being taken back to its original direction, how Tom Fantis and his family did it.
What are some tips or tricks for grilling that you have learned over the years?
Sometimes the tricks and secrets you have to keep to yourself, but I'll give you a little one. To slow cook without getting it burnt, maintain the flame at a low level to make sure the food is getting smoked and cooked at a proper temperature without getting burnt or overcooked.
What's your favorite dish to make?
Baby back ribs, because the majority of the people that come to Uncle Tom's are expecting the ribs from back in the day and that's what we try to give them — the best baby back ribs in town.
Any crazy kitchen stories?
Sometimes you have to go to the top of the roof and turn down the chimney. You have to keep your eye on it and you need to make sure its clean, well kept and no sparks going up it, but we are prepared so that should never happen to us again.
When you aren't grilling, what do you like to do for fun outside the kitchen?
The majority of my life and daughter is in Cuba. I like to go home, relax, watch TV and talk to my daughter I have through Facebook and Instagram. She just graduated in medicine, she's a radiologist and now will be a pediatrician. I'm very proud her.
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