It's as close to barbecue season as we get here, so it's time to put down the fork and start eating with your hands.
While it's possible to grill in SF, it's nearly impossible to properly barbecue at home since it requires many hours at low temperatures to achieve a true barbecued meat, which normally requires wood smoke and indirect heat. Since you can't do it at home, you may be wondering where to go. Whether you prefer a sit-down at a classic joint or take-out for a picnic, these are your best bets.
Baby Blues BBQ
(Courtesy of Baby Blues BBQ, via Facebook)
The menu at Baby Blues reads like the greatest hits of regional BBQ: North Carolina pulled pork, Memphis pork ribs, Texas beef brisket, St Louis pork ribs, and Louisiana hot links. Rounding out their smoky selections are chicken, salmon, blackened catfish and, for those of us who like living low on the hog, pork belly. The restaurant is caszhe, as if your coolest southern uncle opened a grange supply mercantile in the Mission. A communal table and bar tops are outfitted with marble and wood slabs, and there are plenty of repurposed tables scattered around the room, making it a great place to hang back after your meal to enjoy one more beer. You'll wake up the next morning wondering why your hair smells like wood smoke—and then remember the leftovers in the fridge. It's all good.
// 3149 Mission St (Bernal Heights), babybluesbbq.com
(Courtesy of Southpaw BBQ)
Started by Maine native Ben Thorne in 2008, Sneaky's snuck around the San Francisco underground food scene for four years before Thorne went legit with weekly pop-ups and home delivery service. He later went brick and mortar with the restaurant Southpaw BBQ, but has since closed shop and returned to catering and delivery only.
Thorne describes his barbecue choices this way, "I prefer the Carolina style (North and South) because of the vinegar-based sauces and dry rub presentation. I grew up a fan of pickled and spicy foods, and Carolina pulled pork was right up my alley." Thorne buys all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, and he burns locally cut almond wood to smoke them.
Pre-arranged deliveries are available on Fridays only.
// For info on catering and delivery, go to sneakysbbq.com.
(Courtesy of Cathead's BBQ)
Cathead's BBQ—named after their buttermilk biscuits that are "as big as a cat's head"—offers the traditional meat trifecta of pork, chicken, and beef, all cooked in two old-school brick barbecue pits. Husband and wife Richard Park and Pamela Schafer each have rural cred, serious training (they met at culinary school . . . awww), and restaurant chops. Look for smart takes on traditional American BBQ: sweet tea barbecue chicken, Coca-Cola smoked brisket, and St. Louis cut ribs. They spin their sides, too: pimento mac 'n' cheese, dandelion green potato salad, and mustard slaw. Grab a seat at the counter (it's a bit tight), or call in a rezzie if your party is five or larger. Bonus: They have a free parking lot, so it's super convenient for carry-out orders.
Having a big party? Order $400 or more and they'll deliver it for free.
// 1665 Folsom St. (SoMa), catheadsbbq.com
Memphis Minnie's Bar-B-Que Joint
(Courtesy of Memphis Minnie's BBQ, Joint via Facebook)
Memphis Minnie's has been dishing up their "swine dining" since the '90s. You might think from the name that it's all about Tennessee barbecue, but you'd be wrong(ish). The joint was named for founder Robert Kantor's Jewish mother, Minnie, a Memphis native who loved pork. The meat here is oak-smoked, giving the meats a deep flavor, and like most well-prepared BBQ, sauce is available on the side. And it's certainly not required—a good dry rub, low heat, and time should be enough for y'all. Take your time walking down to the tail-end of the counter to place your order so you can look at the tender piles of meat being served. It's so much better than reading a menu. Expect pit-smoked beans, greens, and mac 'n' cheese (again), as well as a few surprises like their fried cheese grits sticks.
// 576 Haight St. (Lower Haight), memphisminnies.com
4505 Burgers & BBQ
(Courtesy of @4505bbq)
A sandwich, a plate, or by the pound? Doesn't make a diff cuz you win with any choice. Owner and cofounder Ryan Farr's 4505 meat empire took over this 40+-year-old barbecue joint and become an instant anchor on the Divis corridor. Weekend lines are long and consistent for good reason: Farr's Texas brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, pork ribs, and his self-titled "Best Damn Cheeseburger" [editor's note: he isn't lying] bring in the hungry and diverse crowd. Sides include posole, French fries cooked in tallow (Praise the Lard!), and Frankaroni—a hot dog tucked into a blanket of crispy fried macaroni. Seating options vary from two-top tables and banquettes inside a repurposed shipping container, to communal picnic tables on a covered patio.
The restaurant also runs the Feed the Pig program, donating a portion of profits every Monday to a revolving list of community partners. Guests are also welcome to donate at the register any day of the week. Also check out their latest location, complete with a chill patio, in Oakland.
// 705 Divisadero St. (NoPa), 4505burgersandbbq.com
(Courtesy of Rusty's Southern)
Rusty Olson, founder and owner of Rusty's Southern, has North Carolina's Lexington-style barbecue sauce in his blood. "Growing up in North Carolina, I had great-uncles on both sides of the family who were passionate about barbecue. On my mother's side, Uncle Buck ran the Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church Annual Fundraiser Barbecue in Concord, NC for many years. On my father's side, Uncle Jimmy ran a bait and tackle shop in St. Stephen, SC. He had a BBQ pit where he smoked shoulders and made sandwiches for folks headed out to a day of fishing."
Olson's kitchen pops out traditional Tarheel favorites such as hickory-smoked chopped pork shoulder, Lexington-style red slaw, hush puppies, buttermilk fried chicken, hoppin' John (Carolina peas and rice), cornmeal dusted catfish, chicken fried steak, braised collard greens, and shrimp and grits. The sleek and modern interior has enough communal tables and two-tops to make any sized party comfortable, and the well-curated wine and beer selections are anything but low-country. In addition to serving up great southern food in the Tenderloin, Olson and his family also are deeply and literally embedded at City Church, which focuses on prison ministry and addiction help. "Our neighbor upstairs is City Hope," Olson explained. "They are the outreach arm of City Church SF. We have worked with them on meals for volunteers, donors, and folks in the neighborhood. We are aiming to soon roll out a program where our guests can purchase a meal voucher for a needy person in the Tenderloin when they pay for their meal."
Seems Rusty brought along more than just barbecue recipes when he moved out West. He also brought some southern hospitality.
// 750 Ellis St. (Tenderloin), rustyssf.com
Smokin' Warehouse Barbecue
(Courtesy of Smokin' Warehouse BBQ)
In 2010, Bill Lee started a small catering company in the kitchen of his Bayview electrical warehouse. The company's initial success inspired him to offer regular pickup and delivery service as the Smokin' Warehouse Barbecue. Lee and his partners have since outfitted a food truck, and last year expanded into a restaurant in Presidio Heights. Sam Ong, who manages the Bayview location, explains, "Our barbecue is a Texas style. Some people are surprised to see our food come from a literal hole in the wall cut out of the side of an industrial electrical warehouse."
In addition to beef brisket, pork ribs, Louisiana hot links, and pulled pork, Smokin' Warehouse serves up beef ribs, a relatively rare cut in San Francisco. Both locations are open limited days and hours, so check the website before heading to either location.
// 1465 Carroll Ave. (Bayview); 3336 Sacramento St. (Presidio Heights), smokinbbqsacto/home
The Pub BBQ at Ghirardelli Square
(Courtesy of The Pub BBQ)
As you might imagine, The Pub BBQ in Ghirardelli Square does not look like a traditional barbecue joint. The banquettes are large and padded, the view of the Bay is gorgeous, and they have a full complement of beer, wine, and cocktails. But don't be misled by the comfort and opulence: Owner-chef Scott Broccoli uses his two smokers and rotisserie to good effect when putting out pulled pork, St. Louis–style ribs, roasted chicken, Texas-style brisket, and a succulent barbecued pot roast. Regular patrons also enjoy his jambalaya and the addictive Tommy Tots, which are deep fried tots tossed in buffalo wing sauce and sprinkled with crumbly bleu cheese. Better yet, their late night menu is served till 1:30am.
// 851 Beach St. (Ghirardelli Square), thepubsf.com
Let's Eat BBQ and More
This family-run barbecue joint in Bayview has developed a loyal following among BBQ fans. Let's Eat started as a volunteer fundraising organization for schools and community events in Bayview. Eventually, its reputation for great food and service inspired its expansion into a restaurant. The meats here are slow-smoked with almond wood in a brick pit, and the sauce is normally served on the meat, rather than on the side. In addition to the usual beef brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, burgers, housemade beef links, and chicken, the Let's Eat menu makes room for fried seafood such as catfish, tilapia, and tiger prawns. The restaurant looks and feels like it was transported from a small southern town.
// 5103 3rd St. (Bayview), letseatbbq.org