Tomahawk steaks star at Uncle L’s BBQ, the North Philly food truck smoked meat fans will want to know

Weekend afternoons get savory on a corner of Cecil B. Moore.

Uncle L himself, with one of his famous smoked steaks

Uncle L himself, with one of his famous smoked steaks

Louis Platt / Billy Penn
louisplatt

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Giant tomahawk steaks aren’t the only things sizzling on pitmaster Ellis Ravon’s grill, but the eye-catching dish helped bring fame to Uncle L’s BBQ.

Each weekend at 8th Street and Cecil B. Moore, the mobile barbecue joint opens for business, serving walk-up customers and patrons who place orders days in advance for the smoked beef ribs, chicken, brisket and wings.

The proprietor, who prefers to go by Uncle L, serves it all up with an enthusiastic grin. “Top of the mornin’ to ya,” begins one of his regular Instagram promos, posted live from the North Philly corner on a recent sunny July day.

“Do you see the smoke? If you get close enough you’ll smell it, and I’m here to tell it!” Uncle L shouts. “We’re doing what we do best. Because this — and dammit, y’all better know it — is what we DO!”

Smoked chicken, beef ribs, salmon and brisket are on Uncle L's usual menu

Smoked chicken, beef ribs, salmon and brisket are on Uncle L's usual menu

Louis Platt / Billy Penn

Inspired by watching “BBQ Pitmasters” on TV, the Philadelphia native had been doing his thing for a few years before vlogger JL Jupiter stopped by in October 2020 and blew up the spot. Jupiter’s YouTube video now has more than 120,000 views.

Lines began to wind around the block after that, Uncle L said, and people began to come from as far away as NYC.

Even after he raised the price of the tomahawk platter from $65 to $80 — it includes sides, and easily feeds two — the steaks sometimes sell out. Plenty else is offered on the ever-changing menu, including salmon cheesesteaks, corn on the cob, and a specialty: pineapples stuffed with seafood like grilled shrimp and crab salad.

Customers place orders and pay at a window in the yellow food truck, which pulls a giant smoker

Customers place orders and pay at a window in the yellow food truck, which pulls a giant smoker

Louis Platt / Billy Penn

Customers place orders at the window of a yellow food truck, and staff relays them to Uncle L, who stands by the smoker out back, slicing brisket, flipping chicken, and dishing out the goods.

The pitmaster himself smokes all of his meats and even some of the side dishes, he said, like the mac and cheese and green beans. Smoking begins a day in advance, and ramps up on Saturday mornings — hours before customers begin arriving.

Regular patron Tiffany Kamson lives a few blocks away, and said she’s been coming to Uncle L’s since it opened about five years ago, when it was just a couple of Home Depot grills on the sidewalk.

Her favorite is the smoked mac and cheese. She doesn’t like to eat a lot of meat, but her children enjoy their weekend treat, and she appreciates the vibe. “All of the food is made from the heart, ” Kamson said.

Uncle L starts the smoking process a day in advance for some of the meats

Uncle L starts the smoking process a day in advance for some of the meats

Louis Platt / Billy Penn

George Lewis and Theresa Wills said they learned about Uncle L’s through Jupiter’s YouTube video, and decided driving down for a meal of smoked steak, salmon, and chicken was the perfect splurge for Wills’ birthday.

They placed their order in advance, which Uncle L recommends doing by calling his phone number, posted often on Instagram.

Platters include one meat option and two sides, and most cost $20 or $25. Standard operating hours are 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (check social media to make sure), with more midweek hours potentially coming soon.

Uncle L working his smoker

Uncle L working his smoker

Louis Platt / Billy Penn

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