Toronto Barbeque has come a long way in the past few years. The city boasts a number of restaurants each competing for the coveted title of "Best Barbeque" - a loosely earned honour that has yet to prove it has any meaning, what-so-ever. It's not that there isn't some great places to get a decent rack of ribs in Hogtown, The Stockyards, Memphis, Highway 61 and even Phil's Original Barbeque (on a good day) are all plausible contenders for the title...
That is if you haven't already tasted what B
uster Rhino's has to offer.
For some time, I read numerous accounts of a small location in Whitby, Ontario where award-winning barbecue is smoked and served. Research led me to Darryl Koster, president, owner and pit boss of Buster Rhino's Southern BBQ.
The location isn't fancy, so don't expect table service, a large menu or a wine list. Buster Rhino's head quarters is first and foremost a production facility with a lunch counter anchoring the retail operation in front. Shelves sell their signature bbq sauces, spice rubs and ground chilies where the Scoville scale is clearly labeled. In the back, a pristine preparation area houses a fast freeze deep freeze freezer and one of the largest Southern Pride smokers I have actually been allowed to see in the GTA. With the ability to smoke nearly 135 racks of ribs at a time, Darryl has the smoker going 7-days a week, with fresh ribs available Thursday evenings from 4pm-8pm and Fridays 10am-8pm. The smoke does vary and it can include any mix of woods such as maple and applewood, but the scarcity of hickory in Upper Canada means that the recipe will never be identical to its original South Carolinian counterpart.
Since 1997, Darryl's family has been competing in the Southern U.S. Competitive BBQ circuit. The closely guarded smoking method coupled with the competition grade BBQ sauces has gone so far as winning South Carolina's State Championship three years in a row (1999, 2001, 2003). Originally developed by Darryl's cousins, the sauce and smoke were designed to compliment each other and have earned Buster Rhino's a spot as one of the Canadian BBQ Association's official vendors.
Ribs are cooked "slow and low" over indirect heat, true to the methods of Southern competitive BBQ teams and are never kept warm in steaming trays (which would effectively cleanse the meat of all smoke flavour). The dry rub ribs are all side cuts and are served with a side and a pop for $13.99 for a full rack. The delicately pink meat clings to the bone until a short tug separates the two. The distinct smokiness is the partner to the rub and is incredible with or without sauce; sauces are available on the condiment island. All of the sandwiches are $5 and are served on yeast scented soft rolls. The pulled pork does nothing to underwhelm, while the brisket, served without sauce is what I can only imagine it would taste like if beef and bacon had offspring. Hush puppies are crisp on the outside, moist and flavourful on the inside, golden fries are hot from the fryer and the potato salad is a two tone mix of sweet potato and Yukon Golds in a secret blend of egg, mayo and awesome. The coleslaw, in comparison to everything else just couldn't match; I didn't like it, so I didn't finish it.
Beyond taking to the competitive Canadian barbeque circuit, Darryl hosts BBQ classes for $75 and supplies many retailers on both sides of the border with his sauces and his preservative free, heat n' serve ready to eat ribs - coincidentally a product that has saved many a BBQ! Without a shadow of a doubt, Buster Rhino's produces what the majority of barbeque joints in the GTA could not - truly authentic Southern BBQ. It's a tall order to fill, but this small location does it and isn't afraid of what anyone might say. It is Southern BBQ and they've got the awards to prove it.