Should you find yourself in a barbecue joint anywhere in Central Texas, whatever you do, do not ask for sauce.
That sticky goopy stuff you call barbecue is sacrilege in those parts. And in those parts, the perfection of brisket—smoked for interminable hours over oak, at low heat, and finally finished with a basic salt and pepper rub—is akin to theology. And now, thanks to trending barbecue pop-ups, Bay Areans are finding religion.
Like prophets spreading the good word, a trio of Texas natives has arrived on our shores, and each is sharing his own brand of Central Texas–style slow-smoked meats to the delight of eager supplicants. Because truly there's nothing quite like a thick cut of fall-off-the-bone beef, presented simply on a sheet of paper with a side of onions and pickles (don't forget the white bread!), to have us licking our chops. Here's where to get you some.
Native Sons BBQ
It's a thing of beauty when something is born out of true ardor for living. In 2010, Marvin Lau was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), a rare type of cancer in the neck and head. While undergoing years of chemotherapy, he had time to think about what he really wanted to do. And what he really wanted to do was smoke some meat.
Upon finishing treatment, he had a now or never moment, and launched Native Sons BBQ with his foodie friend Eldo Chan, another San Francisco native who had moved back after years of living in Texas. In 2014, they set off on their journey to make the best barbecue; since then, Lau and Chan have garnered comparisons to one of the most famous joints in Texas, Austin's Franklin Barbecue. And the lines of people waiting to indulge in their Central Texas–style brisket, smoked over oak wood for 12 to 16 hours by Lau himself, at temperatures between 225 and 300 degrees, is testament enough. Native Sons pops up weekly at Triple Voodoo(2245 Third St., Dogpatch) or Speakeasy(1195 Evans Ave., Bayview) breweries. //facebook.com/nsbbq
Like all real pitmasters, Matt Horn got his start in the backyard—his grandmother's backyard. Having developed and refined his meat-smoking techniques in the Central Texas style, Horn took his barbecue to the local farmer's market for a test run and later worked a few festivals. But being a true barbecue
snob afionado, he wanted commune with other like-minded obsessives, and thus the underground pop-up Horn Barbecue came to be. But it wasn't until he caught the eye of Robert Jacob Lerma, a prolific Austin-based photographer who specializes in, what else, 'cue. Lerma took him behind the smoker, so to speak, in the promised lands of Texas barbecue: Snow's, in Lexington, TX, whose 82-year-old pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz earned a James Beard Award nomination in 2018; Lockhart's Kreuz Market and Smitty's; and Louie Mueller's in Taylor.
Back home in San Jose, Horn cooks all-natural, hormone-free meat with an all-wood burning, decommissioned 500-gallon smoker named Lucille, often pulling all-nighters to stoke the fire and maintain a consistent temperature throughout a 14 to 16 hour cookout. Currently, he's hosting a series of pop-ups throughout California and plans to host a whole hog event this summer. Look for Horn to pop up at Triple Voodoo(2245 Third St., Dogpatch) on March 29th. // hornbarbecue.com
Slow and Oak
The traditionally slow and meditative nature of tending a fire is one of the things Jordan Lavaughn missed about his native Texas when he moved to San Francisco in 2013. So in the summer of 2016, he bought an offset smoker, and began to zen out over brisket, barbecued over oak wood and low temps at the speed of molasses, and finished simply with a salt and pepper rub.
What initially began as a way to rid himself of leftover brisket became a regular pop-up at Provender Coffee & Provisions in Potrero Hill, and now you can find him cooking up an array of tasty meats in his smoker and roasting whole suckling pigs. Look for Slow and Oak at Black Hammer Brewing(544 Bryant St., SoMa) on Friday, March 9th (4 to 8pm). // slowandoak.com