This is, no doubt, not your first time reading about Horn Barbecue. 2020, tumultuous as it has been for everyone, has thrown countless hitches into the giddy-up of Oakland's much-anticipated barbecue joint.
But, we're here—or rather pit master Matt Horn is here—to show that with enough determination (and smoked meat), anything is possible. Need proof? Just take a look at the socially distanced line of masked and hungry carnivores who arrive at 9am, camping chairs in tow, for a patient two-hour wait, in the tradition of Central Texas, to secure that just-right cut of 18-hour brisket before it sells out.
A mural of a steer by Oakland artist Steven Anderson graces the north facade of Horn Barbecue.(Photography by Sarah Chorey)
Around back, Horn himself mans the puffing smoker. Inside, the crew takes an ambling pace while pulling together batches of coleslaw and melting cheese for creamy mac. The scene is a striking contrast to the frenzied prep at many restaurants (especially new ones), but the laidback approach is purposeful: Good barbecue cannot be rushed.
Devotees who've followed Horn Barbecue since its 2016 debut at the Tracy Farmers Market are well-acquainted with the wait, and the air surrounding this new restaurant—opened in early November in the former Brown Sugar Kitchen space—is richly perfumed with smoke and fat and seems to explain Horn's cult following even before the first bite.
The brick-and-mortar restaurant, nearly a year-and-a-half in the making, is now the East Bay's It new spot. An epic mural of a steer by Oakland artist Steven Anderson signals the black-painted facade. Inside, the walls tell the story of Horn's rise to success, hung with photographs of his family, his achievements, memories, and newspaper articles. Hair-on-hide stools pull up to the counter, at one end of which is the restaurant's stage of sorts: the custom-made indoor smoker—the first indoor smoker in the state of California—where meaty magic happens.
No, there's no indoor dining yet, but several picnic tables outside have prime views of three more smokers, all of them working slowly but surely to produce Horn's signature style of "West Coast Barbecue" with influence from Central Texas, the Black South, and his own California roots.
Anyone who knows their 'cue knows that the key to the most tender meat is time—hours upon hours of time. At Horn, the smoker fires up in the wee hours of day, and the brisket cooks for a solid 18 hours to reach melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Other specialties include hot links, beef ribs, pulled pork, spareribs, and even turkey (you can order a whole smoked bird for Thanksgiving takeout). Everything comes by the pound or in sandwich form. For the sides, Horn shares his Southern favorites: corn bread, potato salad, coleslaw, collard greens, and his grandma's signature potatoes. Nina Horn, Matt's wife, takes care of dessert in the form of sweet rum cake and banana pudding.
It all comes together for a neighborhood gem we can really sink our teeth into.
"It's been surreal to be open and to see all of the love and support for what we do," says Horn. "People have been extremely supportive, and we do not take that for granted."
// Horn Barbecue is open 11am till sold out Friday through Sunday; 2534 Mandela Pkwy. (Oakland), hornbarbecue.com
*Things change quickly during Covid-19. Please check the restaurants for the latest hours and updates before visiting.