Chef Spotlight: Steve Hernandez (@mexibeastbbq)
Chef Spotlight: Steve Hernandez (@mexibeastbbq)
Self-taught pitmaster Steve Hernandez displays mad BBQ skills on his fast-growing Instagram account @mexibeastbbq, but his true passion is inspiring people and building community. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about why he’s not interested in food staging, why he started a mentor group for BBQers, and how the long cook is helping him heal from grief.
Tell me about your background. What’s @mexibeastbbq all about?
I’m Mexican and grew up in SoCal. Both parents worked, so as a young man, I had to cook for my siblings. I took care of everybody. But I always loved it. Five years ago, I discovered smoking meat. I have a Traeger. I’m a self-taught, backyard BBQer. I’ve just learned through trial and error.
What keeps inspiring you?
The process of the long cook is therapeutic. Three years ago, I fell into a deep depression and therapy led me to cooking to get me out of that dark space. Watching friends and family enjoy what I cooked brought me so much passion and joy. All the things I really needed then. Now all these years later, my dad passed away from Covid-19, and I was back in that space. He was my hero. I was locked in my home and grieving. I threw myself back into cooking.
A friend of mine said, “You need to share this stuff. Your passion inspires people on Instagram.” So in April I started my Instagram page and it took so fast. Within eight months I was at 10K followers, but it was about the relationships and the community.
Traegar reached out and opportunities began to open up, including partnering with Dalstrong. I started a mentor group online and got influencers, cooks, backyard BBQers involved. It’s been amazing, all the sharing within this group. This passion has led to tons of influence and I just believe the whole goal was to inspire people to cook and create.
It sounds like it’s more about relationships than anything for you ...
Some of the best moments happen around the dinner table. I love the reactions, that’s the payoff for me. Watching someone cook something they’ve never cooked before. I know it’s intimidating and vulnerable to put yourself out there online. People will attack and judge. But the payoff is way higher than the fear.
Every person has a story, and I take time to respond to everybody as best as I can. I do my best to make a personal connection with everyone. But still I’m just a backyard guy, and I love what I do.
People need to see your personality, people want to meet you, to know you, to hear your story. They want that connection. Partnering with Dalstrong has made a lot of what I do possible. Everybody asks me about my Dalstrong knives.
Do you have a favorite new recipe discovery?
Ribs, pulled pork, the big long cooks are my favorite. The challenge is always getting the color, the texture, the bark. It’s been a few months since I switched to Cherry Dr. Pepper as a spritz, the caramelization, the color, and the bark is absolutely phenomenal.
I will never not use it now. It's my go-to forever now. My go-to cook is tri-tip. We do two or three a week for steak slices for tacos and nachos. It’s so versatile. It’s a staple where I’m from. You can do it daily, it’s quick, just do a reverse sear on it (my favorite method).
I just tried sous vide with tri-tip. I was like, “What is this? I’m gonna boil meat?” But it came out pretty good. I’m still experimenting with it. Just trying to learn new skills in that way. Hopefully I’ll master that.
When you’re not grilling, how are you spending your time?
I’ve got two boys, ages sixteen and thirteen. So lots of sports and being outside. My wife and I are dual business owners, which is scary and crazy. We’ve been married for 18 years. We took a leap of faith eighteen months ago, and started both a salon and a media marketing content creation company. It’s really taken off.
We had so much success initially and were named one of the top three salons in Olympia, WA. We spend a lot of time mentoring local businesses and helping them with their systems and structures. We try to help the best we can. We don’t see it as a conflict of interest to help other salons — we call it holding the ladder.When someone comes alongside and holds the ladder for you, you feel safe and secure and you’ll keep climbing as long as someone’s holding you. We’re not here to compete, we’re here to help. There’s so much business to go around.
Is there a spice or ingredient you refuse to use?
Beets. Won’t eat them or cook with them.
What are the tools you can’t live without?
I’ve been wanting the Omega boning knife, but the Omega Chef’s Knife is my daily knife currently. It’s so beautiful, it should be an occasion-only knife. It’s my Traeger ranger and my chef’s knife. I’m a Traeger guy, it’s all I use. I’m not about getting free products.
I want to help people discover things that help them. If I’m going to partner with a company and be all in, I have to love them and believe in them. I’ve tried all the knives, all the brands, and I hear from them all the time.
I used my buddy’s Dalstrong knife for the first time and fell in love, and then I knew I only wanted to work with them. It’s a dream for me. There’s no other option for me.
Who are your cooking heroes?
It was my dad. And it was more than just cooking. My dad dropped out of junior high. He struggled with reading and writing all his life, but any job or position he had he was always the top, the leader, the boss. I asked him one day “How do you accomplish this?”
He said, “There’s always someone smarter than me, but they’ll never outsmart me.” He was a backyard propane guy, and we were always eating outside in SoCal and having backyard parties. He wasn’t fancy, but he always tried new things. His favorite treat was a soft boiled egg. He carved the top off, loved them so much.
One day I bought him this soft boiled egg holder, and it would crack the egg perfectly. It was like $15, you would’ve thought I bought him a Rolls Royce. He used it every day. I got it back when he passed away. It’s such a small thing, but it brought so much joy to him. That’s where I get inspired.
If you could cook a meal for one person, who would it be?
The Rock. I follow him, he’s so awesome. I’d just cook everything for him. Pulled pork, brisket, jalapeno poppers.
What is the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
Brisket, people overcomplicate it, people try too hard, you’ve got to keep it simple. It looks and feels challenging to hit the right temps. It’s so intimidating, but that's why people mess it up. That and steaks. How do I get the crust the sear correct? When it comes to searing, I use a duck fat spray, which is super fatty and makes a nice sear. But I don’t ever comment when I see it done wrong. Even trimming a brisket can takes practice. I understand everyone’s at a different place. My first one sucked.
What is the mark of a great chef?
Someone who’s willing to be in a position to learn. To grow and receive feedback, and you know, there are people who are super cocky. I just think you’re always learning, you’re never a master. There’s always room to improve with a good chef. And especially when it comes to this kind of art — BBQ — there’s always something to learn and improve.
Do you have any advice for chefs just starting out or home cooks who want to up their game?
Here’s the deal. You don’t want until you have your ducks in a row, you just start. The scariest thing is deciding what you want to do and the first step. You can be random and cook a bunch of different things and be good at none of it. Focus on one thing, whether it’s home cooking or BBQ or sous vide, start with one area, stay there and get good at it, then move on. Maybe it’s about seasonings or recipe development, just get started.
For me, my page is about inspiring, getting you going. I have a formula for posting. I tend to post in three phases: information, education, entertainment. I try to keep engagement on all levels. I even post my fails! I don’t stage food on a backdrop.
I want them to see it in action, what the current state of it is. I’m trying to make it easy for you. If it looks like a magazine centerfold, you’ll think it’s out of reach. A perfectly plated meal is hard to recreate. My target is the new guy who might be scared. Show him the steps, and “Here’s how you start.”
What would your last meal be?
Man, I just love everything so much! I’m a simple guy. Steak good ribeye, loaded baked potato, garlic bread, side salad. Coke Zero.
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Written by Abby Slate
Born and raised in the South, Abby lives by three things: bacon goes in everything, all food can (and should) be deep fried, and hush puppies are religion.