“Unique and traditional in the south”: Clark’s Fish Camp offers a fully smoked gator



JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Living on the First Coast, you’ve probably tried the alligator at some point in your life.

Chances are you’ve only eaten the ever-popular Southern dish: alligator tail. But if the opportunity presented itself, would you try a fully smoked alligator? How about a fully smoked alligator wrapped in bacon?

If you answered “yes” and “yes” then you should go to Clark’s Fish Camp & Seafood Inc. on Julington Creek in Mandarin.

Although the 44-year-old seafood restaurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April due to damage from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, staff said it was fully open and still offering customers their unique and exotic dishes, like a whole alligator.

Ashlee Peoples, manager and granddaughter of founders Jack and Joan Peoples, said the idea of ​​serving the full alligator started about three years ago following a huge response from people on social networks.

“Our family, on a special holiday, smoked [a full gator] for family events, ”Peoples said. “We would post pictures of our alligators and customers would comment, ‘How do I get one? “Sounds awesome.” “You should offer this to your restaurant. “

At the time, Peoples said they only served their ever-popular alligator tail dish, as well as alligator rib and alligator wings, “so that only made sense,” he said. she declared.

“Because we are so unique in the restaurant industry to begin with that it made sense to go ahead and smoke all the alligator for people to enjoy, just like our family did. “said Peoples.

And this tradition also included wrapping the tail and legs in a few pounds of bacon.

“Everyone loves bacon,” Peoples said with a laugh. “No one is really against it.”

The peoples have also described that bacon is necessary because an alligator is considered a lean protein, especially when the alligator is smoked.

“When you smoke an animal, you don’t get a lot of moisture that is fed back into the animal,” she explained. “So bacon helps preserve some of the moisture in the animal’s meat and also adds good flavor. “

THE PROCESS

FROM DISCLAIMER TO SERVICE

The whole process of thawing the alligator to serve it on the dinner table takes around six to nine hours, depending on two things: the size of the alligator and the weather (as their smokers are located at the exterior), said Peoples.

She also described the process of preparing and smoking an alligator similar to preparing and serving a turkey.

“You smoke them slowly and slowly,” she said.

Thawing the alligator can take up to two to three hours, but once the alligator is thawed it only takes about 30 minutes to prepare.

Peoples explained that the first step they take is to give the animal a whiskey bath, usually with Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. Afterwards, she rubs the alligator in their homemade barbecue and mustard sauces, as well as their special homemade seasonings.

“Six to seven seasoning blends, and they’re all house seasonings, all personal secret sauces,” Peoples said.

After its seasoning, the peoples said they bring out the bacon! Usually a single alligator uses up to two pounds of bacon – one on the tail and one on its legs and arms – but they could use up to four pounds of bacon if a client requests that the whole alligator be wrapped in it. , she said.

The peoples said they also coat the bacon with brown sugar and more seasoning for added flavor, making it like “Cajun smoked bacon wrapped around the gator.”

“Then we stuff the gator with Andouille sausage which we also wrap in bacon because, like I said before, everything is better with bacon,” she said with a laugh.

After adding the sausage, Peoples said they put the alligator on the smoker, which is set at 250 degrees, for four to six hours.

Once done, the alligator is put on a wooden serving tray, then it’s on the display.

She said they usually place silent puppies near her stomach to represent the animal’s eggs as well as green onions to represent the grassy parts of the Florida swamps. The peoples said that they also put fried catfish in its mouth as if it were catching them. Finally, as a personal touch, two cherry tomatoes are added for her eyes.

“My grandmother came up with the idea,” Peoples said. “Some find it funny, some find it scary … it’s kind of a gimmick.”

Then you serve, says Peoples.

She compared cutting an alligator to cutting a turkey at Thanksgiving or even cutting pork or beef ribs at barbecues.

She said they first cut the two pieces of loin just behind the head and near the shoulders (“where the dark meat is”) before working on the tail (where the white meat is usually located. ).

“Alligators store their fat in their tails… you get a lot of meat on them,” she explained.

After cutting the tail, they cut the four legs “like you would a turkey or a chicken”, before finishing by cutting the ribs.

“You cut them in the middle and eat them like a regular pork or beef rib,” she said.

EAT THE GATOR

The alligator’s tail will always be the most popular part of an entire alligator, Peoples said.

“The cream of the crop is the tail,” she said with a smile. “It’s the most popular, lots of meat on the tail, easy to eat.”

While this is the audience’s most popular alligator part, it is not Peoples’ personal favorite.

“My favorite part of the alligator is right behind the back of the head between the neck and shoulders,” she said. “There’s what’s called the alligator oyster, just like you would have the chicken oyster. It’s two little fillets of meat that are super tender and that’s dark meat, and for me, it tastes really good of smoked turkey.

“It’s my favorite part, but the majority decide the tail is the favorite part,” she said with a shrug.

Overall, Peoples said all the alligators are delicious to eat. She also said that if you’re hesitant to try one, you shouldn’t be.

“The smoked alligator is actually delicious and a lot of people who are surprised to see a whole smoked alligator taste it, they say ‘Wow, this is pretty good’,” she said. “It tastes like smoked turkey. It tastes like turkey, but you can definitely tell after that it tastes slightly different than turkey.

“It’s unique and traditional in the south,” she said. “… It’s something that I grew up with that tastes really good. I haven’t known anyone who didn’t like it.”

Questions and answers :

What is the price of a fully smoked alligator?

“Alligators cost between $ 120 and $ 160 depending on the size,” Peoples said. “We wrap the tail and forelegs in bacon, but if you want the alligator to be completely wrapped in bacon, that’s an additional cost.”

How much bacon do you use?

“We use roughly 2-4 pounds of bacon on the animal, depending on the size or what you want to do with it,” she said.

Peoples said customers need to call and place their order days in advance, due to the time it takes to order, prepare and smoke a full alligator. (Their number: 904-268-3474)

Or: Clark’s Fish Camp Seafood Restaurant, 12903 Hood Landing Road, Jacksonville, FL 32258.

Hours: Monday to Friday 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Melissa Guz is a digital producer for First Coast News. You can contact her by email or follow her on Twitter @mguznews.



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