HARLINGEN — Ruben Balboa doesn’t consider himself a master barbecuer.
“I’m not. I wish I was. I just love to barbecue,” he said.
“If anybody asks me to help out with a barbecue, I never turn them down.”
That’s especially true for charity fundraisers.
For the past 10 years, the Harlingen Fire Department lieutenant has organized the annul Christmas parade barbecue fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club. He’s done the same for the United Way the past two years.
Each barbecue is an all-night affair, with no sleep. But Balboa, a 24-year veteran of the Fire Department, is more than happy to do it.
“The joy of it is helping the community,” he said.
“I played basketball at the Boys Club when I was in the fifth and sixth grade and I got to coach my son in basketball when he was in his elementary years. So the joy is knowing I’m giving back to them for everything they did for me and my son.”
For Balboa, it all started when the Harlingen Professional Firefighters Association volunteered to take over the Boys and Girls Club fundraiser.
“When we took over, we found out they were paying someone to go and keep an eye on the meat,” he said.
“We told them we would go ahead and take over and we won’t charge them at all. So, because I knew everybody at the Boys Club, the guys here at work told me to go ahead and I would be in charge of getting everything ready.”
Now, he plans his vacation around the time of the city’s annual Christmas parade. The day before the parade, a Thursday, he and anywhere from 15 to 20 other firefighters begin cooking at 3 p.m. on three barbecue pits.
They stay up all night, occasionally stoking the fire with mesquite wood. They finish about noon the next day.
It’s quite a chore. For the Boys Club, they’ll barbecue about 2,000 pounds of beef. For United Way, it’s about 1,200 pounds.
What’s the secret to preparing so much beef?
“That’s a good question. You have to make sure it’s cooked all the way through,” he said.
“Some people don’t like to see any pink. On chicken, pink is not good. But usually, pink is good on beef.
“To me, as long as you don’t overcook the meat, you’re OK. Leave all the juices in there so when you slice it, it’s just juices coming out of it. That’s where I think you get the flavor, from the juice itself.”
Balboa also volunteers for Harlingen Professional Firefighters Association cook-offs and this year for a Rio Grande Valley Firefighters & Fire Marshals Association fundraiser.
“I’m just giving a little bit back to the community,” he said.