Best New BBQ: Pit Masters and Grill Geniuses
Best New BBQ in the West
B Side BBQ; Oakland, CA
Bobby Flay protégé Tanya Holland brought quality food to gritty West Oakland when she opened Brown Sugar Kitchen in 2008. The new B Side BBQ furthers her mission with spot-on barbecue. Still, the French-trained chef can’t resist adding upscale touches, like the thick-cut pain de mie for her pulled-pork sandwich. 3303 San Pablo Ave.; bsidebbq.com.
Copita; Sausalito, CA
Television personality Joanne Weir’s Mexican menu centers around chicken cooked on a spit over an open fire, plus the agave-nectar margaritas she perfected while writing a book about tequila. 739 Bridgeway; copitarestaurant.com.
French Blue; St. Helena, CA
Napa starchitect Howard Backen partnered with entrepreneur Leslie Rudd on this cozy restaurant, where customers gather around fireplaces. Chef Philip Wang mans a giant wood-fired grill, cooking Cal-Med dishes like chorizo and mushrooms over polenta. 1429 Main St.; frenchbluenapa.com.
Ox; Portland, OR
Gregory Denton and his wife, Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton (formerly of Metrovino), just opened this Argentinean-inspired spot. They use an adjustable grill in the middle of the dining room to prepare dishes as delicate as maitake mushrooms or as primal as whole lamb. 2225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.; oxpdx.com.
Insider’s Tip While waiting for a table at Ox, customers can pass the time playing bocce on the patio.
Itri; Los Angeles
The Tasting Kitchen’s Casey Lane has two new restaurants. At Itri, which opens this month, he will cook meats and seafood (including octopus) on a four-spit, Italian-made rotisserie and grill. 7274 Melrose Ave.; itrionmelrose.com.
Southpaw BBQ and Southern Cooking; San Francisco
At this Mission spot, the chicken is brined in whiskey, the hams hail from Tennessee pig man Allan Benton and beers are made in stainless steel tanks near the kitchen. 2170 Mission St.; southpawbbqsf.com.
CatHead’s BBQ; San Francisco
Pamela Schafer and Richard Park took over Big Nate’s space and remodeled it using old barn beams. Now they serve sweet tea-brined chicken and their namesake biscuits. “They’re as big as a cat’s head,” Schafer explains. 1665 Folsom St.; catheadsbbq.com.
Cedar Hill: Kitchen + Smokehouse; San Francisco
Chef Jon Rietz’s menu is autobiographical: The smoked chicken gumbo reflects his New Orleans training; trips to South Carolina inspired the pulled pork; and his Texas upbringing informed the brisket. 3242 Scott St.; cedarhillsf.com.
Best New BBQ in the Midwest
Masu Sushi & Robata, Minneapolis
Matthias Merges, the former chef at Charlie Trotter’s, owns this Japanese restaurant specializing in small plates, like beef tongue and veal sweetbreads cooked over long-burning, low-smoke pressed charcoal. 2853 N. Kedzie Ave.; yusho-chicago.com.
Eli’s BBQ, Cincinnati
After selling his signature pulled-pork sandwich at local markets, Elias Leisring opened this bare-bones spot. His signature move: using a pizza cutter to chop the pulled pork extra-fine. 3313 Riverside Dr.; elisbarbeque.com.
Best New BBQ in the East
Standard; Washington, DC
Co-owner Tad Curtz built this place by hand, from the wood bar to the picnic tables. The menu features barbecue classics, plus a few dishes with German inflections, like bratwurst with sauerkraut. 1801 14th St. NW; standarddc.com.
Pork Barrel BBQ; Alexandria, VA
Competitive pit masters Heath Hall and Brett Thompson use their signature combo of oak and hickory chips to smoke brisket, which they serve both on its own and as sausage. 2312 Mt. Vernon Ave.; porkbarrelbbq.com; 703-822-5699.
Merroir Tasting Room; Topping, VA
The owners of this seafood shack harvest their own Chesapeake Bay oysters, serving them raw, in chowder or grilled right on the porch, with a side of tomatillo cocktail sauce. One exception to the seafood rule: lamb ribs, sourced from nearby Border Springs Farm. 784 Locklies Creek Rd.; rroysters.com; 804-204-1709.
The BBQ Joint; Easton, MD
The Inn at Easton’s Andrew Evans competed on the barbecue circuit before opening the Joint in 2010; he serves ribs, brisket and smoked-turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches. A second location is due this year. 216 E. Dover St.; andrewevansbbqjoint.com; 410-690-3641.
The Smoke Truck, Philadelphia
Mark Coates smokes pork on the truck, mixes in North Carolina-style sauce and serves customers a giant portion on a bun. “Then I watch ’em struggle with it,” he says. thesmoketruck.com.
Best New BBQ in the South & Texas
Sugar & Smoke; Fredericksburg, TX
Nicole Davenport, one of the few female pit masters on the competitive circuit, bemoaned the dearth of great desserts at barbecue joints. So she opened this homage to meat (pulled pork in a peach-flavored sauce) and sweets (German chocolate cake, in honor of Fredericksburg’s Teutonic heritage). 249 E. Main St.; sugarandsmoke.com; 830-307-3051.
J Mueller BBQ, Austin
John Mueller is Texas royalty: He grew up in his family’s famous restaurant, Louis Mueller BBQ. At his new trailer, there’s a perpetual line and, often, free beer and live music. “When you’re standing in line, you’re going to have a good time,” says Mueller. 1502 S. First St.; jmuellerbbq.com.
Franklin Barbecue, Austin
The Franklin truck launched in 2009 to instant fame and moved into a small cinder block building last year. Customers know to arrive early: The brisket, sausage and smoked turkey sell out by 2 p.m. 900 E. 11th St.; franklinbarbecue.com.
The Woodshed Smokehouse; Fort Worth, TX
Tim Love’s sixth Texas restaurant, overlooking Trinity River, has custom-made spits, grills and smokers. The menu lists the type of wood used to smoke each dish; the showstopping beef shin is cooked over hickory chips. 3201 Riverfront Dr.; woodshedsmokehouse.com.
Little Donkey; Homewood, AL
A new Mexican quick-casual spot from the minds behind Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q restaurants. The tortillas are homemade from fresh-ground masa and the animals are smoked whole, then braised in a wood-burning oven. 2821 Central Ave.; thelittledonkey.com; 205-703-7000.
Heirloom Market BBQ, Atlanta
At this tiny storefront, Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee prepare dishes inspired by Korean barbecue (ribs rubbed with gochujang, a spice paste), which they say “predates American barbecue by about 3,000 years.” 2243 Akers Mill Rd. SE; heirloommarketbbq.com.
Wine Pairings for BBQ
Wente Vineyards hosts the Central Coast’s best cookouts. Here, winemaker Karl Wente’s favorite barbecue matches.
“I drink Syrah for its almost pork-like smokiness.”
“A big Cabernet has enough acidity to handle rich beef.”
“Pinot Noir is light but spicy, like good barbecued chicken.”