Family Traditions and Exec Chefs – Barbeque At its Finest

Man standing at grill, barbequing with child.

Whether tried and authentic family recipes carried from generation to generation or top executive chef recipes, barbeque is still one of the finest summer culinary delights.  


In 1954 when Elton and Evelyn Johnson started selling cold-cut sandwiches out of their family-owned and operated gas station, they didn’t know they were on the path to becoming icons in the barbecue industry.

The Johnson family is known for gracious hospitality and scrumptious food, from barbeque diners to sit-down restaurants to buffets. As people asked for a more extensive menu, Mr. Johnson had his wife broaden the menu with some of her recipes. He built a smoker and started grilling chicken and hamburgers at the gas station. 

Plant City could tell by their noses that it was time for dinner (the noon meal in those days) when Mr. Johnson fired up his homemade grill with plenty of oakwood. They soon added a ten-table diner to the gas station.  

Owen Johnson, the owner of Grandpa Johnson’s Barbeque in Plant City, reminisced, “Grandpa liked to keep it simple. He used a little salt and pepper and kept the grill stocked with oakwood. He didn’t have any secret recipe.”

In 1972, almost two decades later, when they sold the gas station diner, they opened their first barbeque restaurant in Plant City. They named it, you guessed it, Johnson’s Barbeque. Just a couple of years earlier, they opened a buffet-styled restaurant filled to the brim with lots of delicious southern-style food and desserts. 

In the early years of the new millennium Owen, being a Johnson, wanted to carry on the “family tradition.” After working with his grandpa and dad, Fred Johnson, since he was old enough to wash a dish and wipe tables, he felt ready to open his own restaurant. Out of love and loyalty, he named it Grandpa Johnson’s Barbeque.

“When we opened, we could seat about fifty,” young Johnson said. “In 2008, we enlarged the dining room and can seat about 100 people now.”

When asked if he has changed the recipe over the years, he answered, “Not really. Grandpa said you should always be able to taste the meat. We just put salt and pepper and slow smoke it.”

The smoker is an industrial-sized smoker that can hold up to around 1500 pounds of meat at once. When Grandpa Johnson started catering, he built two pull-behind trailers that Owen still uses today. “Very little modification has happened,” Owen said. One of the trailers his grandpa built still goes to the Strawberry Festival every year.  

As the catering business grew and started catering statewide, they bought a third trailer. Additionally, they have two catering vans. Owen and his staff have catered events as far north as Palatka and as far south as Okeechobee.  

When Grandpa Johnson’s Barbeque first opened, it was a lot of trial and error,” Owen explained. “We tried a lot of different ingredients and came up with a dry rub made with salt pepper, sugar, garlic, cayenne pepper, and onion powder. The meat is marinated overnight for an irresistible treat.” 

On the menu, you will also find fried green tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, grits, collard green, applesauce, potato salad, and delightful culinary mouthwatering appetizers.  

Top Executive Chefs

Two Executive Chefs from Walt Disney World Resort share some of their finest grilling tips

Executive Chef Marc Kusche, a chef at the Space 220 Restaurant, serves his guest 220 miles above the surface of Earth while his guests dine inside the Centauri Space Station while suspended in orbit.  

Chef Marc selects a definite cut with ample fat. He makes sure that his grill is not overheated. “A common mistake people make is making the grill too hot.” He cooks the anticipated aromatic barbeque on a less heated surface. 

Chef Ike Takeshi, Executive Chef at the Morimoto Asia, likes his meat fresh. “Fresh meat is the best!” He carefully chooses charcoal of value while properly arranging the heat source. Opening the lid should be kept at a minimum, the Executive Chef explained. 

This chef likes advancing meats after grilling with marinades. One of his recipes he likes to cook with includes soy sauce, honey, vinegar, ground garlic, ground ginger, and oil, then marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Chef Takeshi’s cuisine includes tantalizing your tastebuds with a traditional version of Peking duck and dim sum. He makes a point to collaborate with Japanese Master Chef Masaharu. 


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Written by Joyce Bliss

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