Hog Wild BBQ Owner Has BBQ Obsession
Dean Wells, the owner of Lakewood’s Hog Wild BBQ Company, passion for cooking began when he was a young child. His special relationship with food began when his mother started teaching him to cook when he was in the second grade and by the time he was 15 he was working in a restaurant. He soon made the decision he would not work in a restaurant unless he owned it, but this was not to be for several years. He started his college years pursuing a degree in accounting, but soon switched to journalism. He was exposed to southern barbecue while working as a journalist and living in Eastern Maryland.
“I found that I really enjoyed it.”
Due to his love of and interest in barbecue, he began experimenting on a kettle grill in his backyard.
“I became obsessed with it,” he exclaims. “I’m a history freak and I love culture. There’s something primal about cooking meat over fire. It’s a very laid-back culture.”
The word got out about his cooking ability after he moved back to Warren, his native hometown and he was asked to cater on several occasions. He became the owner of a smoker trailer and more and more people asked him to provide food for their affairs. With the help of friends and relatives, he accepted the challenge, but admits he and his group didn’t know what they were doing.
He soon built a smoker that was larger than the one he had been using and then it happened! He found himself in a meeting where he was asked to cater a company picnic for 1,800 employees and their families. He accepted the challenge knowing he had gotten into something far bigger than he had ever done before but was determined he would not fail.
“I put an incredible amount of planning into it,” he remembers. “We’re in the food business, but we’re also entertainers. Everybody’s there to have fun and to enjoy the food and that’s our job.”
“We got involved in the Rib Fest circuit and that’s when it really blew up,” he says. “We won 18 trophies over five years and only did three events per summer. Our Hog Sauce is a four-time national award winner.”
The caterer opened a seasonal restaurant in Warren six years ago, but it didn’t satisfy his desire to own a year-round business.
“I knew I wanted to have more. The restaurant in Lakewood came up for sale and we bought it and redecorated it in a month.”
Wells, along with a lot of help from friends and employees, applied a fresh coat of paint to the walls and a unique paint job to the tables. Some of the walls were covered with rough-cut pine that had been treated with a homemade stain, giving them the look of barn boards. Several interesting pieces, including a 1930s Frigidaire refrigerator, were added before the new BBQ restaurant was opened in April 2017.
“We’re all foodies. Everybody that works on the creative side with me is a foodie,” he says. “It takes 15 hours to do our pork over hickory and apple wood at 250 degrees. We go through a ridiculous amount of pork, literally tons. We make our sauce and our slaw dressing and slice the slaw ourselves. We make our own pickles and we can’t make them fast enough. If you come to Hog Wild, you’re going to get Southern comfort food.”
“It’s a great place,” says John Osborne of Lakewood, who used to go to another establishment, but has made Hog Wild his new go-to place. “The food and service are great. The wings are outstanding.”
Osborne says he often stops in with friends and with him on the day of the interview was his wife and another couple.
“The ribs are excellent. Dinomite,” says Scott Schang during his second visit to Hog Wild BBQ.
The restaurateur describes himself as possibly “the most southern-northern man” and says his business has gotten into the habit of catering many corporate functions since the day he sat in that meeting where he took on the giant task of catering 1,800.
The love of cooking is high on his list of interests and he finds it relaxing, but he has other passions as well. He is an avid reader, who has a love of history and a fascination with the Civil War. He helps with annual seminars and tours in Chambersburg, Maryland.
“As far back as I can remember I was reading history books-Western history, Roman history and Civil War history. I’ve written articles for Civil War magazines.”
His interest in guitars began when he started lessons at age five and “wanted to be Elvis,” but due to a need for stronger fingers, the guitar lessons were replaced with piano lessons. Happily, he resumed lessons on the stringed instrument when he was 12 years old. He is “into” AC-DC and Def Leppard, has a recording studio in his home and sits in with bands occasionally but being a single father of 14 and 16 year-old daughters, he would rather be home with his girls.
He is the son of Don and Dorothy Wells of Warren and refers to his girlfriend, Marti Wheeler, as the best thing that ever happened to him.
“I tell her all of the time that she is like my right arm.”
Wells offers many delicious recipes.
“Not everyone has a smoker, which is a travesty. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying a rack of ribs over the weekend,” Wells says with a grin.
His Red Neck Taco recipe originated in Nashville, but he changed the slaw dressing, which adds a sweet, tangy crunch. The “tortilla” is made from Johnny cake batter, sometimes referred to as hoe cakes, ash cakes or corn pancakes. The Sweet Hog Sauce may be purchased from Hog Wild BBQ Company.
“My mother used to make the Country Rib Sandwich, ‘but we put our own twist on it. It is a nice comfort dish,'” he shares. “The Chatham Artillery Punch was created in Savannah in the mid-1700s and is often called the strongest punch in America. This will knock your head off!”
Hog Wild BBQ Company is located at 140 West Fairmount Avenue in Lakewood. The Warren, Pennsylvania location is open from March 20-October 31 at 386 Kinzua Road-Route 59. For catering call Lakewood-(716) 526-1281 and Warren-(814) 706-3239.
Memphis-Style BBQ Sauce
2 c ketchup
¢ c dark brown sugar
™ c cider vinegar
1 T onion powder
1 T chili powder
1 T black pepper
¢ tsp celery seed
1 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
¢ c yellow mustard
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T vegetable oil
Combine all the ingredients except for the oil. Bring to a low boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, whisk in oil and cool. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks. Yield: 3 cups
1 c flour
1 c yellow cornmeal (not corn muffin mix)
2 T white sugar or brown sugar
2¢ tsp baking powder
¢ tsp soda
1 tsp kosher salt
2 c buttermilk
1 T honey
2 large eggs
dash hot sauce
3 T bacon fat or butter, melted, plus more for griddle
Hog Wild Sweet Hog Sauce
In a medium-large bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside. In a smaller bowl, thoroughly whisk together buttermilk, honey, eggs, and hot sauce. Pour egg mixture into flour mixture and gently whisk just until there are no pockets of dry ingredients to be found, breaking up any large lumps, but not overmixing. Pour in butter or bacon fat, incorporating in just 1-2 stirs. Let mixture rest while the griddle preheats. Heat the griddle to 375 degrees or med-high heat, and brush with butter or bacon fat. Pour the batter onto the griddle to form desired sized cakes. When bubbles pop up all over the corncake, it is ready to be flipped. Cook 3 minutes on the second side or just till golden and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter. (Corncakes not to be eaten immediately can be placed on a cooling rack or in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool before being stacked in a large foil roasting pan, covered, and kept at room temperature for up to 6 hours before serving. Corncakes can be served at room temperature or reheated in the foil roasting pan in a 350-degree oven till warmed through.) Top johnnycake with hot pulled pork, slaw and drizzle with barbecue sauce.
Cherry Cola Glazed Ribs
4 cans cherry cola
2 c cherry jam
¢ c yellow mustard
¢ c brown sugar
3 T soy sauce
2 T cider vinegar
1 T hot sauce
2 racks St. Louis-cut or baby back ribs
Hog Wild Rib Rub (may be purchased at Hog Wild BBQ Co)
Add first seven ingredients to a sauce pan and bring to a boil and reduce to about 2¢ cups. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Season ribs with your favorite rub. Place ribs, meat-side down, in a baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven. Bake baby backs for 3-1/2 hours, St. Louis-cut for 4 hour. Prepare a grill for medium-low heat. Set aside 1 cup of glaze. Finish ribs on the grill with remaining glaze, 5-10 minutes, being careful not to burn the sugars in the sauce.
Country Rib Sandwich
2 lbs boneless country-style pork ribs
1 sweet onion, diced
2 c Hog Wild Sweet Hog Sauce
1 stick butter, cut into cubes
™ c cider vinegar
Season ribs and grill over direct heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a baking dish, top with remaining ingredients, cover with foil. Bake in 225 degree oven until ribs reach 200 degrees internal temperature. Serve on toasted sub rolls.
Oil for frying
™ c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
™ tsp black pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
¢ tsp garlic powder
1 egg, beaten
2/3 c sweet onion, small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded, finely diced
1 ™ c milk
1 ¢ c yellow cornmeal
1 ¢ c flour
Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer or a skillet. Mix sugar, baking powder, pepper, salt & garlic powder in a bowl. In a blender, blend egg, onion, jalapeno and milk. Whisk into dry spice mixture. Allow to sit until bubbles begin to form (about 5 minutes). Combine cornmeal and flour in a bowl. Whisk in wet mixture to make a cookie dough-like batter. Using a tablespoon, drop dollops of the batter into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.
28 oz Bush’s baked beans
15¢ oz pinto beans, drained
15¢ black beans, drained
15¢ butter beans, drained
16 oz kidney beans, drained
2 T yellow mustard
3 c ketchup
1 c sweet onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely dice
1 c brown sugar
5 strips uncooked bacon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix mustard, ketchup, onion, jalapeno and brown sugar in a bowl. Add beans and stir. Pour into a 9” x 12″ baking pan and cover with bacon. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes. Serves 10-15.
Chatham Artillery Punch
2 c sweet red wine
2 c iced tea
2/3 c spiced rum
¢ c brown sugar
¢ c rye whiskey
¢ c orange juice
1/3 c gin
1//3 c brandy
1/3 c lemon juice
1 bottle champagne
Mix all the ingredients except for the champagne. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. Add champagne just before serving.