I’m not much of a paniolo. I’ve never mucked a stall or saddled a horse, but I can still romanticize the life of a cowboy. I picture long days wrangling the pastures on horseback, and evenings spent singing by the campfire over a hearty meal. When Mendes Ranch–located between Waihe’e and Kahakuloa–announced their inaugural Hawaiian Cowboy Barbecue with George Kahumoku, Jr., I put on my boots and packed up the family.
“The Cowboy BBQ has been simmering on the back burner for over a year,” says Kahumoku. “Allan Mendes is great friends with both Ron Panzo and myself, and after a very successful private event last year featuring Ron’s famous BBQ, my music and Allan’s family of talented rodeo riders, the idea for a weekly public event was born. We met right here on the dining lanai, overlooking the Mendes arena to the left, the stunning ocean cliffs to the right and the whales breaching in the distance and formulated a plan to allow Maui’s visitors access to this beautiful place.”
The Mendes Ranch is home to some of the most rugged ranch land on the island. Their pastures careen dramatically down the steep shoreline of the northeast-facing mountains, where they meet the deep blue Pacific. Their horses, goats and peacocks enjoy some of the best whale-watching on Maui.
“The welcome beverage feature tropical juices, some coming directly from George’s farm, just up the hill from Mendes Ranch,” says Nancy Kahumoku, George’s wife. “George’s own guava trees and lilikoi patch is one source for delicious flavors in Ron’s Panzo’s beverages. Ed Gazabat, a talented local musician, will be playing harmonica with George’s vocals, slack key guitar and Hawaiian vocals. Some country music with a Hawaiian twist will be featured.”
While sipping fresh juice from the Kahumoku’s farm, the Mendes ohana showed guests to their outdoor deck with Kahumoku and Gazabet playing lively music. The barbecue was just getting fired up with some delicious barbecue ribs and chicken. While waiting, there were plenty of paniolo activities to fire up a cowboy’s appetite. I tried my hand at branding–the Mendes Ranch sign is EX and I fired it into a souvenir piece of wood. It’s trickier than you think to press the brand into the wood and keep it even. The cowboys helping me said it’s even trickier getting it onto a cow’s butt.
There was also roping practice, a game of horse shoe, a hay ride and plenty of chickens, bunnies and sheep for the kids to check out. We played until the sunset while watching the Mendes family show off their rodeo expertise with barrel riding and roping. The smell of the barbecue eventually drew everyone over to the deck and grill. The spread was vast: pineapple cole slaw, li hing ribs, BBQ chicken, grilled corn on the cob, lilikoi baked beans and taro rolls.
“These are the best ribs I ever had,” said my nephew Kenui Fujiwara. “I ate a whole pile, the li-hing flavor is finger-licking ono.”
The Mendes’ family has owned this land since the 1940s. That’s when Manuel Mendes, known as “Red,” founded the ranch with his son Ernest. Now Ernest’s son Allan is carrying on the family tradition.
The Ranch offers trail rides and ATV tours doing the week, and you can also reserve the property for weddings and private rides. They do some lunch barbecues and have a gift shop. The Hawaiian Cowboy BBQ is their first evening event. Kahumoku says the rodeo demonstration is strictly for the Friday night barbecue guests.
“In general, the menu will be the same from week to week,” says Panzo. “Paniolo BBQ is the theme, using fresh local and seasonal ingredients. The side dishes may change slightly as different seasonal items become available. There will always be paniolo-style barbecued meats.”
After dinner, you can greet and pet the horses–and even get on one and take a photo. The serving of Smores for dessert is a social event with everyone gathering around the fire to roast marshmallows and sing along with Kahumoku.
The family friendly Friday night Hawaiian paniolo barbecue takes place every Friday night starting at 4:30pm. They’re pau at 7:30pm. For more information call 808-669-3858, or go to kahumoku.com or mendesranch.com/bbq.