By Genna Robustelli | Special to The Tico Times
What do you get when you cross a retired police officer, an ex-dive shop owner and an experienced butcher? Uncle Earl Gibbs, master of all things BBQ.
“I’ve always enjoyed barbequing, cooking, smoking meats and making the different rubs,” said Earl, the owner of a meat and specialty shop in Escazú. “So when I sold the dive shop [in Playa Hermosa], I started up Uncle Earl’s.”
Despite his diverse range of past interests, it’s clear that Earl’s strongest passion lies in carefully preparing high-caliber, natural foods. His father, a big game hunter and sport fisherman, taught him how to gut and clean fish and wildlife when he was a boy. They would cure and smoke their own meats from start to finish – taking food from the forest to the dinner table, and turning this craft into an art in the process.
Fast forward a few decades to Earl’s first restaurant, which opened in Playas del Coco in 2010 and focused on specialty sandwiches, cooked delicacies and private catering services. He purchased all meat from Carne San Martin (renowned by many as the best source of beef in the country), a 30-minute drive away. Before Earl knew it, customers were asking for both cooked goods and standalone raw cuts in equal measure.
With this in mind for his second store, Earl decided to nix the sandwiches and concentrate on providing high quality, 100 percent natural products. Tired of the hot Guanacaste weather and gambling on the highs and lows of tourist season, he jumped at the chance for a change of pace in Escazú. His brand new “monster meat mangler” machine does everything from grinding and mixing meat and spices to making sausages, allowing him to get creative with his cuisine.
“We encourage people to use their imaginations in coming up with recipes for sausages and ground meats,” Earl said. “Or if you have a special family recipe, we’ll make it for you.” All imported meat is custom cut and made-to-order, from immense T-bone steaks to succulent legs of lamb.
Everything offered here is incredibly fresh – and often for as much as half the price that you’d find in a local supermarket. Rubs are homemade, with dried spices from local ferias, or fresh food markets – mostly from the one in San Rafael. Many spices, like juniper seed, come straight from the mountainside near Earl’s house.
Specialty items like Pants on Fire hot sauce are made right here in Costa Rica, using only locally sourced ingredients. And most importantly, cuts are vacuum-sealed and “wet-aged” for 23 days to create the perfect metabolic level of tenderness. They contain zero blood additives or saltwater injections.
Uncle Earl’s Specialty Fine Meats and Specialty Goods.
Golden Plaza before Escazú, 300 meters west of Multiplaza, across the street from the BMW dealership
“People are used to buying the super red meat at the store, which is pumped full of additives and colors,” Uncle Earl said. “Mine is vacuum sealed and with nothing added to it. This takes a bit of the color out [because you’re removing oxygen], but doesn’t affect the taste.”
Now that Earl’s got his mangler machine up and ready to run, he’s looking toward the future. “I’m experimenting with curing salami and pepperoni, and making handmade sausages, dried fruits, BBQ sauce and marinades,” he said, “and soon we’re going to start pairing wines with complementary cuts of meat.”
He still maintains the catering side of his business, and also serves as the only retail supplier of Carne San Martin meats in the Central Valley – convenient access for nearby bars and restaurants.