Johnny Oak, in his tropical print shirt and woven fedora, is the antithesis of the intense barbecue pit boss. Even standing in his metal restaurant on wheels in a violent thunderstorm doesn't faze this guy.

Johnny Oak of Johnny Oak's Cajun BBQ

Age: 66

Years cooking barbecue: "Asking me how I learned to cook is like asking me how I learned to walk; I don't remember."

Fantasy barbecue plate: Rib tips, beans with pork sausage

What's in the dry rub? Black pepper, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes

Johnny Oak, in his tropical print shirt and woven fedora, is the antithesis of the intense barbecue pit boss. Even standing in his metal restaurant on wheels in a violent thunderstorm doesn't faze this guy.

"It's OK, as long as you're not touching metal," he says, as fingers of lightning shoot down from the Columbus sky. His accent is distinct but tough to place; his smile is generous, his manners are gentlemanly.

Oak's laissez-faire exterior and DIY habits - he built the truck himself and made a smoker from a commercial beverage dispenser - belie his cooking abilities. An alligator po'boy might be cooked to order while a customer waits, Oak slicing the onion by hand and adjusting the seasoning as the mix sautees away.

At 66, Oak is among the city's barbecue elders, though he just opened his barbecue food truck this year (his Po'Boy and Shrimp Shack near Campus has been around for years). He seems repelled by the notion of retirement.

Oak cooks from skills learned during formative teenage years in Louisiana; it was a tradition that included cooking for a family crowd of dozens and deep-frying just about anything. He spent years in the construction business ("Blech," he says.) before he opened the Po'Boy and Shrimp Shack and started making food trucks and carts for Columbus vendors.

So what is Cajun barbecue? It's what Oak makes of it: bold flavors, with three peppers (black, cayenne, red pepper flakes) serving as anchors. Meat is sometimes marinated. And it's smoked over charcoal embers, which are fed a steady diet of fat dripping from the meat above. Smoking over charcoal would be forbidden for most pit bosses, but what is anathema to one is sacred to another.

"Columbus has its own style of barbecue. We are unique guys, and we draw from all over the place," he said.

The menu here has multiple personalities, though it does give fair warning to customers that items may or may not be served. It might be best to open the conversation with, "Whaddya have today?" instead of digesting the long list of possibilities. The truck may not open on a given day, or it might close early if Oak sells out of food. The attitude: Just go with it.

But even the most relaxed guy in Columbus barbecue has his sacred cows.

"I've had a few idiots who asked for ketchup on my brisket. I told 'em to take a walk," Oak said. "Ketchup is for eggs and hash browns."