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Barbecue: let's dispel some myths

Let's dispel some myths about barbecue.

First, ribs are not barbecue. Barbecue is pork shoulder, or if you're from Texas, beef brisket.

Barbecue is slow-cooked, preferably in a pit, at least overnight. If it doesn't fall apart, it's not barbecue. If you need a knife, it's not barbecue. Grilled meat is tasty but it's not barbecue. What most of us call "barbecue" is "grilling".

Barbecue does NOT come pre-sauced, ever. The sauce should be in a ketchup squeeze bottle on the table, or in a little container if your meal is to go.

Sauce composition depends where you're from. Around the Mason-Dixon line it's primarily vinegar based...further south it gets more tomato-based and much sweeter. It's usually not thick and smoky...smoke comes from the meat, not the sauce.

Memphis Minnie's is not barbecue. Everett and Jones is terrible, and it's not barbecue either. Even the place that used to smoke meat in old oil drums under the gas station canopy on Old Oakland Road in San Jose isn't barbecue (though it was tasty).

The only place in the Bay Area I've found that cooks real barbecue is Great American Barbecue Co. in Alameda. The pork shoulder and beef brisket are both fully legitimate, the sandwiches are huge, and the sauces are exceptionally tasty and not too sweet. (I prefer the medium, but they're all mostly the same.)

As has been said, it's really easy to miss the place. Drive over the High St. bridge and it's literally the first thing on your right. Their signage sucks...I drove by it hundreds of times before I noticed it was there.

No, I don't work there or have anything to do with the place. I was just happy to discover a place that served real barbecue after being disappointed so many times by places that claimed to but didn't.

Anyone know any other places that serve real barbecue?

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  1. Interesting and well said, don't know...

    The home smoker is my friend.. on Sunday at Thee Parkside does all you can eat bbq..I will check out and report back.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Lori SF

      Three Parkside
      1600 - 17th Street, SF
      5 pm Sunday - music with BBQ and beer -

      1. re: Cynsa

        opps...delete the "r"
        Thee Parkside

        Peter cooked today. The mac 'n cheese was two-helpings good. The chicken was moist and tasty. I didn't taste the fried chicken, the burger, or the pulled pork.

        1. re: Cynsa

          thanks for reporting back. I am sorry we did not make it we stayed on our side of town and went to Lime Tree which I recommend. Maybe we will go next sunday. Was the pulled pork and burger part of the all you can eat bbq price?

          Too bad the website does not tell what is going on. FYI, the chef from Universal Cafe is now at Thee Parkside this might explain the lack of info on their website. they might be revamping.

          1. re: Lori SF

            Yes, the burgers - both beef and veggie, and the pulled pork are "included" in the free all-you-can-eat bbq. Fill the Tip Jar to the brim, please.
            Good music. Busy bartender!

            Thee Parkside
            1600 - 17th Street @ Wisconsin

    2. You forgot to add that every mustard-based bbq sauce recipe should be thrown into a pile of fire. ;) Just overpowers the meat, instead of enhancing it. But on a more serious note, after moving back to the Bay Area after spending time in the midwest (St. Louis), and the south (Atlanta), I'm absolutely appalled at the lack of bbq joints in the South Bay. I'm currently in San Jose and the only bbq option is the local Armadillo Willy's chain.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Bunson

        Not true that Armadillo Willy's is the only bbq joint in San Jose. The AW in Capitola is terrible, BTW. I've had the below on my radar but haven't had a chance to try them. Let us know if you do!

        Texas Smokehouse BBQ:



        JC's on Saratoga

        1. re: Carb Lover

          Thanks a ton for the links...I'll definitely check them all out and let you know how it goes. The hunt for the best BBQ is back on!

          1. re: Bunson

            Sam's is great! Good value, tastes good! Chicken, brisket and yes even the ribs are good. Meaty with good tasting sauce.

            Lots of people love Andy's but tastes like lighter fluid to me. Their brisket is good as well.

            If you go all the way to Gilroy, there's a chain called Famous Dave's... and it's pretty good too.

            1. re: Bunson

              I was hoping that I'd spark a hunt for you! Look forward to hearing how it goes...

          2. re: Bunson

            Oh I so disagree! Mustard based sauces, commonly found in South Carolina (versus a North Caroline vinegar based sauce) can be wonderful. I like the regional differences in sauces.

          3. The myth that I would like to dispel is that there is no good BBQ in California.

            Here is the schedule for Kansas City Barbecue Society Sanctioned Contests in CA. There will be good BBQ there, if you can get it from a team, NOT a vender!

            06/30 - 07/01
            San Jose, CA
            State Championship Shake, Rattle and Smoke!
            Contact: Ben Lobenstein, 750 La Playa, Suite 912, San Francisco,, CA 94121
            Phone: 888-517-4150 Fax: 888-517-4150
            E-mail: info@shakerattleandsmoke.com

            08/03 - 08/04
            Thousand Oaks, CA
            Cancelled Thousand Oaks Kiwanis BBQ & Chili Fest
            Contact: Lee Westenhiser, 1710 N. Moorpark Road, Suite 190, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
            Phone: 805-777-4844 Fax: 805-494-0140
            E-mail: bosshawg1BBQ@verizon.net

            08/17 - 08/18
            Fairfield, CA
            State Championship West Coast BBQ Championships
            Contact: Ben Lobenstein, 750 La Playa, Suite 912, San Francisco, CA 94121
            Phone: 888-517-4150 Fax: 888-517-4150
            E-mail: info@westcoastbbqchampionships.com

            09/28 - 09/29
            Clovis, CA
            State Championship Master Cut Red Hot & Real BBQ
            Contact: Don Bean, PO Box 4278/1800 Standiford Ave, Modesto, CA 95352
            Phone: 209-574-6211 Fax: 209-577-3845
            E-mail: don@savemart.com

            IMHO the essence of BBQ is "low and slow" - I feel that almost anything, including bologna, cooked low and slow is BBQ - and you gotta have smoke! You can use LP gas (as shown by the KCBS sanctioning the LPQUE, on an experimental basis)

            I cannot understand saying that ribs are not BBQ - sounds like a silly regional preference to me.

            On the subject of regional preferences, I have been judging KCBS BBQ contests for the last few years around St. Louis - but soon we are going to Massachusetts to visit Mom, and we will judge at a KCBS BBQ contest in Vermont - I am looking forward to seeing the regional differences!

            1. ..then by your own "narrow' definition...Memphis Minnies IS Barbecue.....they smoke their brisket for hours, and don't presauce it.....they have a variety of sauces to self dispense (to me..unnecessary, since BBQ should be able to stand on its' own..)
              You may not LIKE MM's (that is your choice) but it is definitely BBQ...low and slow...

              1. Folks, the SF Bay Area board is focused on where to find great BBQ in San Francisco. If you want to argue about the definition of BBQ, please start a new thread over on the General Topics board (or look up one of the many previous threads on the subject). Posts that don't offer local suggestions of where to find BBQ (of whatever style) will be removed.

                1. Memphis Minnie's has good brisket, but presumably not your style. You might get better tips if you described the style you're looking for in more detail.

                  I prefer brisket tender but not quite falling apart. Slices should hold together, the meat shouldn't collapse under its own weight or the pressure of a sharp knife.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    "Slices" are the problem. If it needs to be sliced at any stage, it hasn't been cooked long enough and isn't tender enough to be barbecue. Memphis Minnie's has a good selection of sauces, and their food isn't bad. But it isn't barbecue.

                    rich in stl: I'm marking the Fairfield event on my calendar. Thanks!

                    1. re: Hollow Leg

                      One of Johnson's Bar-B-Que's slogans is "you don't need no teeth to eat our beef" so you might get overcooked brisket there.

                      1. re: Hollow Leg

                        I have to call bs here. If you get to the KCBS sanctioned event in Fairfield, you will see almost nothing but sliced brisket. In fact, one of the guidelines for judging is to be able to pick up a 1/4" slice without it breaking, yet be able to pull it apart with little effort. Barbecuing brisket beyond that point will lead to dryness and require sauce.

                        I am curious as to where you are finding crumbled brisket moist enough to not need sauce. It sounds to me that you are describing burnt-ends, but even Arthur Bryant’s in KC serves theirs tossed in sauce.

                    2. "The only place in the Bay Area I've found that cooks real barbecue is Great American Barbecue Co. in Alameda. "

                      Have you tried Uncle Frank's on the lower peninsula? Household name in that part of the Bay Area. Most people consider it very real. In Mountain View (formerly East Palo Alto). Cover story in local tabloid a year and a half ago:


                      4 Replies
                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I think this poster will not like Uncle Franks. Their smoke can be acrid as I have posted many times before (perhaps because of too much mesquite which should not be used in large quantity for long smoking). For, the OP, as for "real"- many parts of the US consider real BBQ as having sauce- it seems to get silly to define a BBQ orthodoxy- I think the best was to communicate is to say what you are looking for in your particular BBQ. Then it is easier to suggest places.

                        I have given up trying to find BBQ places, but I'm not so much a purist as the original poster seems to be. I love it when sauces taste different at every restaurant. I will add that I have just discovered Rendevouz Memphis style ribs (which are categorized as grilled, not BBQ) and they are finished with a rub AFTER cooking- and they are amazing, so I'm happy to be considered unorthodox.

                        Just to throw this out- does anyone have "burnt ends" around here?

                        1. re: P. Punko

                          As someone searching for it allow me to second this. Having grown up in Kansas City burnt ends (tossed in a nice thick, rich sauce) are where it's at.

                          Still, I'd adopt the opposite point of view: all good BBQ is pre-sauced. Yes, low and slow is important, but sauce is key. To me this is why Memphis Minnie's is a total failure: all of their sauces are terrible and basically just mediocre vinegar-based sauces. Say what you will about mustard-based sauces (not my cup of tea either, but hey, I sometimes will dip my fries in them) but there's a special circle of hell reserved for vinegar-based abominations.

                          1. re: belgand

                            I couldn't disagree more. I grew up in South Carolina where the sauce is mustard based & very vinegary. I love it. And I'm far from alone in loving it. I can accept your not liking a vinegar based sauce - it's simply not your taste. I intensely dislike sweet BBQ sauces, but certainly understand that there are people who prefer them.

                            1. re: belgand

                              That's just silly. I'm a Carolina boy, and vinegar-based sauce is what I grew up on. Very tasty when done correctly.

                              As for "rich, thick" sauces, they are fine, I suppose, if you're a big fan of ketchup. But many of us like to actually taste the meat, not the gloopy sauce....

                        2. Memphis Minnie's is not only real barbecue, it's usually very good (of course anyone may disagree with that part). That includes the brisket and pork ribs.

                          There are many other places around here serving real barbecue, although I don't care for a lot of them. And I don't think I've ever read here on Chowhound such an narrowly-opinionated and incorrect supposed definition of real barbecue as the OP wrote above.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: P. Punko

                            >that is the "traditionalist" definition you see in a lot of cookbooks describing the older BBQ traditions in America, i.e. the slow cooking of tough cuts to tenderize and add flavor.<

                            That would be fine, but the "ribs are not barbecue" is the prime example of what I meant.

                            1. re: Mick Ruthven

                              Ribs are a whole another thing unto themselves. There's a whole lot to talk about with ribs, but they're not barbecue.

                              As Punko said, if I were being a regional bigot, I'd be ranting about how brisket really isn't barbecue, let alone the unclean intrusion of mustard or tomato into the sauce.

                              As rich in stl said, it's the cooking technique: low and slow. 3-4 hours is not nearly low and slow enough. To get real barbecue, you have to go either all day or overnight. And the only place I've found so far that actually does that is Great American.

                              As far as the sauce: yes, sauce is important, but it had better not come on the meat. That just means that you've got a pile of tough or burnt meat that you're trying to disguise. The proper amount of sauce is a very personal decision, and it also depends on the fat and end/surface content of the meat on your plate.

                              I guess I'm a traditionalist. If you've eaten real barbecue you'll understand. I love grilling meat, but I can do that myself at home.

                              eatzalot: I'll have to try Uncle Frank's...sounds like the brisket could be the real thing.

                              Meanwhile, anyone wanting to know what I mean should come up to Alameda sometime. If I'm around I'll meet you for lunch or dinner.

                              1. re: Hollow Leg

                                >There's a whole lot to talk about with ribs, but they're not barbecue.<

                                By whose definition? Yours for sure, but not anyone else I know. Do you dismiss as "not barbecue" the pork ribs prepared and served in more barbecue joints and restaurants than I can count in Kansas City and many other places?

                                1. re: Hollow Leg

                                  >>"To get real barbecue, you have to go either all day or overnight."

                                  Again, you have described Memphis Minnie’s brisket. They slow smoke theirs over 100% hickory for 18 hours.

                                  1. re: Hollow Leg

                                    You won't like Uncle Franks, except the fact that they serve brisket in chunks instead of slices. Tons of Texas places in Texas serve their brisket sliced and you might get run out of town if you say it isn't 'cue. Uncle Franks also puts the sauce on it, so you have to ask for it on the side. Also, I have eaten sauce BBQ lots of places, and asked for the sauce on the side, and the meat was magically unburnt and untoughed as soon as I got the sauce on the side. I think the people on the board get mad at the word "real"- it is all "real" because traditions evolve. Why not just say "traditional North Carolina barbecue" or whatever it is that you mean.

                                    1. re: P. Punko

                                      P. Punko: "You won't like Uncle Franks ..." Just for the record, many people do. It has a devoted following. I even know people who go there weekly or so.

                                      The meats definitely are smoked, but not as strong as I've had. Conspicuous "smoke ring" into the big cuts. Massive portions of lean meats (which is why I marvel at going there often). And very genuine, like Uncle Frank himself, who may stop by and ask how you like it.

                                      Also -- unadvertised -- gumbo specials periodically (Frank is from that part of the US). They vary, and they can be outstanding, by New Orleans standards.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        eatz- I was replying to the OP about whether he would like it. Uncle Franks breaks a couple of the OP's rules about BBQ- they serve their stuff sauced for one thing. I like Uncle Franks myself OK, but to repeat myself- their smoking wood is too acrid and imparts a taste that some people would describe as "lighter fluidy"- maybe it is mesquite, maybe it is too much oak for too long, but this has been a consistent taste on all my visits. It is much more apparent on leftovers than on stuff you get there. I like their serving of brisket in hunks, if only as a change-up from sliced.

                              2. Any recent reports on Bo's Barbeque in Lafayette? I've heard good things, but haven't tried it myself yet.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: nicedragonboy

                                  Hello, Bo's could be described as upper-caste 'q (location in well-off suburbia) and serves higher quality meats than the usual eastbay suspects like E&J, with pricey microbrews and belgian ales in the fridge to go with them. But that might actually disqualify it from the all day/overnight slow cooking requirement. Worth trying if you don't mind the tariff. cheers

                                  1. re: nicedragonboy

                                    I have friends that live near Bo's so we tried it once and didn't like it very much. Seemed expensive for what you get, but I guess you're paying Lafayette prices. My whole group of friends loves E&J's. I'm surprised it gets such low ratings on this board. My wife grew up in the south and loves E&J's (especially the yams at the JLC location) and my best friend grew up in Texas and spent some time in Mississippi and he swears by E&J's. He actually lives in Texas currently and every time he comes to visit he insists on going to E&J's.

                                    1. re: Fussy Foodie

                                      What do they like at E&J's? Their hot links are very good, but I don't think much of their ribs. Haven't tried the brisket.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I'm a fan of the links as well. And the brisket is hit or miss. sometimes it's excellent, other times you get a super fatty piece that's just hard to eat.

                                        It might not be as tender as some people like their bbq.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Beef (brisket) and Links combo is the standard. Occasionaly some ribs, but they can be hit or miss and you end up with a lot of rib tips as they don't seperate the tips from the ribs. I don't care for the chicken, I think they dry it out. I love their sauce. I like their BBQ beans and the wife loves, LOVES the yams. The links are without a doubt their best item IMO.

                                    2. The only thing I can add is: go to Flints - but have your own sauce ready at home. I was there about a year ago and the meat was as good as ever...but the sauce was lacking. Some of the old, old CH reviews of Flints pretty much says it all...people from around the coutnry thought it was as good as anywhere.

                                      Also, as I've mentioned before, I think part of the problem with traditional American Q in the SF BA is turn-over and healthier eating compounded by less expensive eating options. Turn over in the BA for Q is too low. Analogy - the best taquerias have high turn-over of product that sort of ensures you get it fresh, hot, etc.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        I tried the resurrected Flint's on Shattuck a year ago and the ribs were nothing like in the good old days, which ended around 1997. With T-Rex doing such a good job I'm not in any hurry to give them another try.


                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Who knows...Flint's is probably a day to day thing on how good it is... I thought iit was 85% of what is use to be...minus the sauce. BTW, I heard a couple of times the secret ingredient was hoisin sauce.


                                          1. re: ML8000

                                            I judge on meat first and sauce a distant second, but a few years ago when we did a head-to-head of Flint's and Everett & Jones, Flint's sauce won handily.

                                            Can't remember if the sauce seemed the same or not when we had Flint's last year.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Robert, few are equally at ease with $9 barbecue and $200 wines; you must drive your wife nuts! But your cilantro rice is awesome.

                                        2. re: ML8000

                                          I 100% agree about the turnover- BBQ restaurants have it pretty tough

                                        3. FYI: There's a barbecue competition at Jack London Square on the 4th. I have no idea who the competitors are...pros, restaurants, etc...but it might be a great way to check out a few places at once.


                                          1. I have lived in the bay area for 15 years and have tried every BBQ place around and I have given up. The BBQ in the bay area is mediocre at best. I only eat BBQ when on the road now, and that is a damn shame. Even the places in the Dallas Fort Worth airport are better than what we get here.

                                            Anyone else taste lighter fluid or some such in Memphis Minnie's brisket? I repeatedly got an off taste there.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: sfchris

                                              What did you think of Uncle Willie's?

                                              Uncle Willie's BBQ and Fish
                                              614 14th St, Oakland, CA 94612

                                              1. re: sfchris

                                                >>"Anyone else taste lighter fluid or some such in Memphis Minnie's brisket? I repeatedly got an off taste there."

                                                Never, not even once. In fact MM's is one of the small percentage of places left in the country that still uses hickory for fuel. I have also had the brisket at the Dallas airport and it's not bad, but it does not compare with MM's, IMO.

                                                1. re: Civil Bear

                                                  Never an off taste for me also, and I've had MM's brisket from back when MM was on the corner of Polk & Broadway. One time it was "off", meaning the texture was a bit soft, almost mushy, but that was one time out of many over many years. Except for that one time, it's been pretty much perfect to me.

                                              2. We lived in Alameda on Gibbons, maybe 2, 2 1/2 blocks from the Great American BBQ. Being from Texas we just love BBQ and GABBQ came probably as close as any to satisfying our craving. However, it was just close.

                                                Two months ago we sold our house and moved to Amelia Island, FL which some call Baja Georgia as we are only 15 minutes from there. So, it's the south, it's not Miami, it's not Tampa. We have REAL BBQ, stuff you can sink your teeth into (by that I don't mean tough). The bottles of sauce are on the tables, none on the meat. We get fried okra, corn, wonderful slaw and fresh peach cobbler. Oh, it's so good.

                                                So, bay area BBQ folks, I feel your pain for I have been there.

                                                1. Respectfully, I ask you to put in perspective all the comments objecting to or agreeing with what is a VERY PERSONAL point of view from the OP! There can't be "myths" about BBQ because it is such a flexible concept and therefore Hollow Leg your refutations need to be taken with a grain of salt (or rub).

                                                  Certainly we should conspire to make sure that people slathering their grill cooked chicken with KC Masterpiece don't get credit for "BBQ". But let's also give credit to folks like Memphis Minnie who are fighting the good fight though many (including me) may quibble with the details. And, let's acknowledge that different regions sauce their barbecue differently so a mustard/vinegar mix vs a tomato/catsup base vs a squirt of Tabasco is neither good nor bad.

                                                  As I write this, though I live in the lower Haight, I'm within 3 miles of Sonny Bryan's in Dallas and will go there on Monday. That's BBQ. Yet to me the shrine would be Kreutz's in Lockhart (last visited 30 years ago before the family feud) where knives are available but chained to the wall (for obvious reasons) and the only bread is white and the only sauce is Tabasco.

                                                  That's what I'd like to have right now. But Sonny Bryan's is pretty good, and so is MM and a number of other current and departed places.