Marion and Maurice Hill opened their business, M&M Ribs BBQ, 32 years ago in a stationary trailer. Fifteen years later — a decade ahead of the food truck craze — the Hills moved their little catering business into a truck. There was no Twitter, no food truck festivals, and the truck wasn’t even allowed to park on public streets.
But word caught on. Two generations later, M&M is still turning out barbecue and Southern sides, just like grandma Marion used to make. Ribs, chicken, and brisket are grilled over direct heat of hardwood charcoal, and turned constantly. Current head of operations Geovanni Lambert, the grandson of Marion and Maurice, acknowledges that he runs into naysayers who tell him that it isn’t true barbecue without that low-and slow indirect cooking. “I say you aren’t barbecuing, you’re just sitting there while it smokes. We stand over the heat turning and flipping the meat until it’s perfectly cooked.”
Today, the pitmaster is Lambert’s cousin, Jarrett Loatman. Wrapped in a puffy down jacket, headphones blasting, tongs in hand, he’s hovering over the grill in a cloud of smoke. He looks like a DJ, deep in a rhythm, but turning poultry instead of tracks. Lambert says it’s this work that makes his meat delicious. Ribs, chicken, and brisket have been rubbed with a simple garlicky spice mixture, the same formula his grandparents used. You can stop there, or get your meat mopped with their popular housemade barbecue sauce, with a tomato and vinegar base, a St. Louis/North Carolina hybrid. Purists may not approve, but there are plenty of hungry customers lining up for his untraditional method.
On an unseasonably warm February afternoon, construction workers, cops, and couples enjoying the weekend, line up for plates of grilled meat and sides of collard greens, mac and cheese, and candied yams. According to Lambert, the recipes are the ones his grandmother was making three decades ago, all from scratch in small batches. Desserts, when available, depend on the day. Wednesdays and Thursdays it’s banana pudding, Fridays and Saturdays, peach cobbler.
Home base is a gritty space in a Roxbury industrial park. In warmer weather, M&M makes the rounds to popular food truck spots, like City Hall Plaza, and the SoWa market. For now, they bundle up against the cold, and feed lunchtime crews in the otherwise deserted lot. Posted hours are 11 a.m. to
8 p.m., but if the frost keeps crowds away, they shut down early, so call ahead.
Make like a regular and park yourself in the back of a pickup truck, or dig into the steaming Styrofoam containers at the lone picnic table next to the warmth of the big-bellied grill. It’s the perfect spot to chase away the Northern cold with Southern tradition.
M&M Ribs BBQ, 91 Hampden St. (at Kemble Street), Boston, 617-306-0788, www.mandmribs.comCatherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.