PANAMA CITY — When the sun is shining, Back Porch BBQ food boat is on the water, bringing brisket, pulled pork and snowballs to hungry customers on Shell Island.
“I just go to Shell Island and stay in St. Andrew Bay,” said Carol McAdam, who owns Back Porch BBQ floating food boat and the companion concession trailer with her husband, Michael McAdam. “As long as the weather’s permitting, we’re out.”
Michael added, “If we’re not out, we’re cooking.”
Back Porch BBQ operates the waterways in a Sun Tracker 32-foot pontoon houseboat turned food boat, where the sleeper has been replaced with a counter and red cabinets accented with a red Hamilton Beach microwave.
“Red attracts, makes you hungry,” Carol said.
Across the aisle is a fridge and freezer, and there’s a steam table. The icing is the New Orleans Style Shaved Ice Machine that makes the base for 21 snowball flavors — from banana to wedding cake.
“I like sour apple; he’s a cherry,” Carol said. “I have a little piece of sour candy I put on the top of the snowcones. If I run out of the candy and someone gets to the bottom and doesn’t see it and asks, I know they’ve been here before. And we’re starting to sell ice cream, just got a shipment. I try to make them all happy; we have a great time out here. I love everybody.”
Michael admits, “She lights up,” when she sees the kids get excited about the sweet treats.
But cooking the best-selling brisket and pulled pork is done on land on the back of the 29-foot concession trailer, which goes dormant as summer approaches, except for neighborhood appearances — or when it’s smoking. The trailer’s “8-foot porch” features a 5-foot-by-4-foot smoker that holds 28 butts, Carol explained. “I smoke and flash freeze it, try to cook 300-400 pounds up when we smoke on that.”
And, of course, they have to taste for quality control.
“We have to slice a piece off every one of the briskets that comes out, and that’s good, melt in your mouth,” said McAdam, happy to make Texans fans. “Sometimes they’ll just get a sandwich to try and split it. While they’re trying it, I’m already making another one, because I know they’ll be back.”
Back Porch BBQ also serves all-beef hot dogs and pulled pork nachos — another favorite.
“On the trailer we do pork loaded fries, but I’m not taking a chance with grease out here,” she admitted.
Sometimes fans can’t wait till the food boat reaches Shell Island.
“I have drive-in windows on the side of the boat,” Carol said. “Boats pull right up. I’ve had seven pontoon boats in line to get food before I even made it to the island.”
When Back Porch BBQ reaches its destination, Carol first whets beachgoers’ appetites with the smell of the smoked barbecue.
“First, I do like a shark and go right up to them on my boat and wave. I have my pageant wave down,” said Carol, as she demonstrated. “I go right by and they see and smell my food and say, ‘Oh, I wasn’t hungry till I saw it.’ I’ll have 10 to 50 people waiting for me when I circle back.”
When the food boat is not out, it’s docked at the C.S.S. Yacht Basin by the Shrimp Boat Restaurant in St. Andrews. The McAdams’ home is located just two blocks away — on the same property where Carol was raised.
“I have the same address I had when I went to Lucille Moore Elementary School and still have all the same friends, 40-year plus friends,” said Carol, 57.
Back Porch BBQ was a restaurant first
After 17 years in Georgia, Panama City natives Carol and Michael McAdam moved back home and opened Back Porch BBQ in St. Andrews in June 2014.
Her late mother, Viola Cain, owned the building at 1316 Beck Ave., now home to Copper Tap Grille — which honored its history with a plaque.
Back Porch BBQ was named for where the McAdams smoked barbecue — low and slow with hickory and pecan wood — at their Woodstock, Georgia, home. The restaurant closed in December 2014, and the McAdams took their food on the road with the concession trailer in 2015.
“The restaurant had me in the back, but I’m more of a social butterfly,” Carol admitted. “I still do all my own cooking and do everything from scratch.”
Food truck rolls out at Mardi Gras
“In 2015, we started our first gig in the trailer for Mardi Gras,” said Carol, who set up the “Big Red” food truck in February 2015 during the Krewe of St. Andrews Mardi Gras Festival — selling pulled pork, brisket, and smoked Cajun sausage sandwiches, plus Brunswick Stew and pork nachos.
“Then, Jan. 5, 2016, our whole world was rocked and sent upside down,” said Carol, whose son, Blake, passed away at age 25 at their home. “I couldn’t run the trailer here in town and have people we know ask questions while we was working and trying to deal with the loss of our son. So we took the trailer to Destin for 2016.”
The commute began to wear on them by the next year. But, Carol said, it was while helping customer and family friend Randy Hunt, former owner of Hunt’s Oyster Bar, at the St. Andrews Farmers Market on April 10, 2017, that she heard her late son tell her to open a food boat.
“We were getting things ready to take our trailer back to Destin,” Carol said. “I could hear Blake say to me in my head over and over, ‘Mom don’t worry about going to Destin; get a food boat.’ Wow — I never had thought about a food boat.”
After “scowering 7,500 boats” just 10 days later, she found the right fit in South Florida. By August 2017, the transformation to a floating food boat and the necessary legal steps and paperwork were complete.
“We finally was able to set out along Shell Island and St. Andrew Bay selling our barbecue and snowballs, drinks and hot dogs,” Carol said. “People loved the idea and was so happy to see us. In 2018, we had the whole season and was a huge hit with all the locals and tourists that have boats and are on the water.”
Hurricane Michael destroys food boat
“Oct. 10, 2018, rocked our world again along with everyone in Panama City,” Carol said. “Our first boat was destroyed, very little damage to our home, but the boat was in pieces.”
But the food trailer didn’t have any damage, so they decided to take all the barbecue they had prepared to serve at a ukulele festival before Hurricane Michael hit and feed it to the community for free.
“We had about 400 pounds of meat cooked up and didn’t lose power. We was blessed to have a generator that plugs into the house and trailer. We pulled food out and Saturday, three days after the storm, we were at the county market feeding first responders. I fed police, jail. My house was Grand Central Station,” said Carol, who was awarded an honorary badge for her service. “God gave me the gift of cooking to share. I don’t have a lot of money, but I can fill your belly and I cook with love.”
Back Porch BBQ back on the water
By January 2019, Carol was on another mission to find the same food boat, and by Memorial Day Weekend of May 2019, Back Porch BBQ was back on the water.
“What a roller coaster ride it was — the four months getting a new boat and getting it all ready to start the 2019 season, and we was a huge hit,” said Carol, whose customers rejoined her food journey.
The McAdams named a sandwich after their son — “Biggen” — “the best of the best” piled high with brisket and pulled pork.
“The Biggen; that’s what they called him at the (Eastern) shipyard and he had the name on everything — every toolbox he had, it was on there,” said Carol, who showed the picture of Blake posted under the New Orleans Style Shaved Ice menu and the angel she wears around her neck. “When we’re out there on the water, we feel him. He’s with us.”
Last year, they shut down 44 days amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now we are getting to have our first Spring Break,” Carol said March 31. “We have met so many wonderful people from all over the states.”
No matter what’s going on, Back Porch BBQ customers always get a warm welcome.
“Yesterday and the day before, a lot were from Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota,” she said. “I always say ‘Welcome here and hope you enjoy your stay.'”
Carol said she’s so thankful she moved back to her hometown, where she was able spend a year and a half with Blake before he passed.
“He loved the idea when he was alive that we could take our barbecue on the road to the people. Now we can float the bay and feed people on the water. I’m at peace when we are on the water. We can’t bring our son back, but we can live the dream he planted in my head,” Carol said. “I’m now rocking it with my barbecue with a 29-foot concession trailer and a floating food boat. I’m so happy I’m back home in St. Andrews — spreading my love through my food.”
BACK PORCH BBQ
What: Food boat and concession trailer
Where: Boat services Shell Island, depending on weather; concession trailer parks at various neighborhoods and other locations during the year
Details: Facebook.com/backporchbbqpanamacity or 850-368-7370
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