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Richmond - Pit Boss Carolina cue redux

There was tri-tip on the menu tonight but I wanted to try the turkey and chicken.

I'll never recommend poultry at any BBQ because I believe it is pretty much a matter of luck. Most of the time the chicken is dry and in some cases even leather-like. I've only had two good chickens at a BBQ joint, once at Flints and another time at KC's ... but I believe in
both cases I was just there at exactly the right time.

I was at Pit Boss at exactly the right time.

Chicken and turkey had crispy skins, blackened in spots and the meat was juicy and falling off the bone. The BBQ sauce which I asked for on the side, was a good complement.

The potato salad is better than most BBQ's, though that doesn't say a lot. It is creamy and a little on the bland side which can work as a foil to smoky meat. Mac and cheese was a special and was good, sort of like the version at Louisiana chicken, a buttery/cheesy rather than a creamy version.

The sweet potato pie was interesting. Not sweet with a deep brown color, about 1/3 of an inch filling on a graham cracker crust.

The standouts here remain the mind-blowing good pork ribs, brisket, greens and baked beans.

Corn bread was better than last time. It was a slice rather than a muffin and moister.

I met one of the owners tonight, a really nice guy who comes from South Carolina. This is his first restaurant though he did catering and was in a few BBQ competitions. I get the feeling though he's been in the Bay Area for a while because he pretty much knew the local BBQ scene.

He put his own BBQ equipment in. Turns out that Bobby who had the Backyard BBQ at that location at one time, took his equipment with him when he relocated to Pinole. Adair said he is still working things out and to look for better and better cue as the place settles in.

I don't know ... IMO, right out the 'back' door he had the best BBQ I've had in the Bay Area.

Previous Report

Outrageous Barbeque greatness comes to the Bay Area - Pit Boss BBQ

Pit Boss Barbeque
12889 San Pablo Ave, Richmond, CA

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  1. We had lunch today and thought it was good to great. Two people ordered a 4 way ~ ribs, pulled pork, double brisket with greens and potato salad, mild sauce on the side. The ribs were stupendous; smoky, tender, slightly greasy and rich. No sauce needed for these. If you like to gnaw the meat off the bone, these might be too soft for you but we loved them. The brisket was good. It was unevenly cut so thin slices seemed dry, thick chunks less so. Dunked the dry bites in sauce, sweet mild and thick. The pulled pork was tender, a little dry. The greens are also great and swimming in a nice pool of likker. As RW says, potato salad is bland but a good foil. Cornbread, dry, grainy and not worth the tummy space today. Tons of meat, we could barely cram our left over meat into a standard styrofoam to go box. Without tip, 1 soda, about $29. When I recover from my meat coma, I will return.

    1. I stopped there on Saturday and had the ribs, brisket and a taste of the pulled pork. Thought that the ribs were the best of the bunch - soft and tender. My brisket was dry and cut a little funny - long thin strips. Think of a slice of brisket which is cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips. Pulled pork was silky. Corn bread was a square cut from a larger pan and reasonably good. Not too dry or crumbly. Worth going back to try again but not worth a long drive.

      The old Flint's - in its heyday - is still my standard. I also preferred Flint's sauce but sauce is a personal choice affected by regional preference.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob Copeland

        >>"My brisket was dry and cut a little funny - long thin strips. Think of a slice of brisket which is cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips."

        Long 1/4" thick slices (against the grain). That is the standard way to slice a brisket, no? To test for tenderness, you should be able to lift individual slices without having them crumble, yet be able to pull them apart with little resistance.

        1. re: Bob Copeland

          As CB said, this is kind of standard how to cut brisket, but a lot of places around hear do hunks/chunks of brisket, which can be pretty good too.

        2. My dining partner and i got take-out on Wed 11/14/07 ~7:30.
          Tri-tip. We were unable to try the brisket as they were out, and instead ordered the tri-tip. We both found it to be rubbery and flavorless, and would argue that it should be avoided at all costs.
          Ribs. These were indeed "fall-off-bone" ribs, but i prefer my ribs with more fight in them and less boiled-feeling. Overall we found them too soft. There was one bite that did have a hint of smoke, but only one. overall ok, but nothing special.
          "Carolina" pulled pork. This was easily the strongest of the three meats we tried (in spite of a complete lack of smoke), with a mild sweetness to it that was strangely addictive. Very moist, but a little soft (e.g. mushy) for me. Overall enjoyable, but not quite like in Carollna. Will try again next time.
          Sides. Cornbread was dense and moist, passable. collard greens lacked all flavor, as if the flavor had been leeched out for use elsewhere. mac&cheese was very greasy and wasn't particularly tasty, but the firm texture was a small consolation.
          Sauce. opted for "hot" sauce on side. Apparently "hot" means "not the slightest bit spicy." Found it overly sweet, and none of the meats benefited from pairing with the sauce, except perhaps the tri-tip, for which anything would have been an improvement.
          Service. While the bartender was very friendly, as were the other customers, i was surprised to wait half an hour for a carry-out order. i recommend calling in ahead.
          Overall, i can't say from this meal that this is the best in the area, but i am encouraged by the pulled pork. Will try again, hopefully getting brisket, pork, and maybe giving the ribs another shot.

          5 Replies
          1. re: evilpilotfish

            Your report is very consistent about "complete lack of smoke". How can that be good barbecue?

            1. re: evilpilotfish

              Wow these reports are so not what I've experienced now over 4 visits. I wanted to try the tri tip and didn't hit it on the right day.

              Everything has been the best of any bbq I've tried in the Bay Area and frankly one of the few I'd bother to eat again the only exceptions being the brisket at Memphis Minnies and T-Rex ... but T-Rex is in its own little category of cal-bbq. Bay Area bbq is seriously mediocre and the sides are atrocious.

              And Pit Boss has only sides worth ordering (T-Rex excepted). I don't understand how I can be this wildly out of sync with chowhound tastes or that the place could be that wildly inconsistant and I haven't hit it yet. I know they said they would be fine tuning but to me this is mysterious to me.

              I like when people post that they dislike a place that I like because that gives everyone a better idea of a joint. It is just this really isn't even close to any of the food I bought there.

              1. re: rworange

                I think my experience was close to yours. I tasted smoke in all the meats and did not get a boiled taste or texture from the ribs at all. Outside of some salt and pepper for the potato salad (and completely ignoring the cornbread) I would eagerly eat anything I had here again. Especially the ribs.

                1. re: rworange

                  Hmm, i hadn't intended for my report to seem quite so negative, rw. I think Pit Boss has potential, and will certainly try again. The ribs i had were decent, but i have had better ones at CJ's, with a smokier flavor and a firmer texture. That said, i have not had locally many others that i could argue were better, so roughly second place on the first shot is commendable. The pulled pork was good. Yes, it lacked smoke. But there are a few reasons why this does not bother me as much here as in other cases, Mick. 1] I can count on one hand the number of pieces of meat i have eaten in the Bay Area that had even one bite with smoke in it, so comparatively PB's pork fares no worse. 2] In general i found my favorite places in Carolina to be less smoky overall than say in Memphis, so my expectations for a Carolina pulled pork smokiness are different. 3] Consider also that i haven't had anything remotely similar to PB's pulled pork in the Bay Area, and that makes it a welcome change. So i am not as dark on the ribs and pulled pork as might have been perceived. But i stand by my overtly negative assessment of the tri-tip, sauce and sides; those you are free to perceive as wholly negative. But honestly i care very little about the sides and sauce; to me the only important thing is the meat. i look forward to trying PB again soon, but in the meantime i think dissenting opinions are healthy and would encourage reports of all kinds, jillyju, regardless of whether or not they are corroborative of earlier reports.

                  1. re: evilpilotfish

                    Yeah, I'm with you that people shouldn't hold back even if they think its a fluke so I wish jillyju had reported earlier too. I'm just flabergasted that I've been having such different experiences. I know nada about BBQ other than what I've had in the Bay Area, but it always seems really good to me and better than the other places.

              2. I went to Pit Boss within 24 hours of your first post--your description of the bbq was so compelling that I couldn't wait.

                I had such a different experience than you that I didn't want to post about it at the time--I felt as though I must either have broken taste buds or I hit a very bad night. I found both the greens and potato salad bland and unworthy of finishing. I got a two- way with brisket and ribs, and felt unenthusiastic about either of them. Little smokey flavor, dry brisket, and ribs that were neither here nor there. The corn bread, usually a favorite part of a bbq meal for me, was too dry as well. My dining partner got chicken and ribs, with greens and potato salad on the side. He is much more of a bbq expert than I am, and he was, if anything, less enthusiastic than I.

                While the service was very friendly, I cannot see a reason to return.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jillyju

                  BBQ is so maddeningly hit and miss when places can't count on a packed house every night. I have been disappointed so many times I really have a different scale. This is one reason why sauce is important to me- I usually eat BBQ with very little sauce, but if I haven't hit the place on their best day, part of me still enjoys a flavorful, interesting sauce with the meat- and some "bad" sauces you can still develop a taste for, so even if the BBQ is objectively terrible it certainly can be edible, if that makes any sense.

                  1. re: P. Punko

                    As they say PP, ther is no bad BBQ, just good and better BBQ...

                2. Based on rworange's recommendation, we went in today. The ribs were incredible fall-off-the-bone tender. The pulled pork was a little firmer but also delicious with sauce on the side. I'd definitely go back for those. Unfortunately, the cole slaw was tasteless, without the vinegar bite and sugar sweetness needed to contrast with the ribs. The greens would have been good cooked just a bit more and with a lot more (or some?) pepper and the mac and cheese ditto on the pepper. Still, it's the meat that makes the 'que and these sides are still several miles ahead of Flint's.

                  Thanks again for doing the scouting!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: lintygmom

                    I guess I am just under a lucky star as far as this place is concerned. Now I'm sort of determined to go back and hit a lousy meal ... but I have a $4 chicken and waffle joint to check out first ... and even though I'm not a fan of grits ... for 25 cents, I'll try them ... so a return Pit Boss will have to wait a while.

                    Did they have pieces of pork in the greens? That is what has been so good about them on my visits. I'm glad some people are having good visits. I hope when they truly get up and running the consistancy will be on the good rather than the bad side ... btw ... reading elsewhere ... the fries might be something to skip at this point.

                  2. Well, I finally got a chance to check out Pit Boss on your rec RW. Overall, I found it to be pretty good, but nothing to write home about, IMO. Not quite on par with Bo's and Memphis Minnie's, and perhaps a shade bellow Roadside BBQ and Loonie's Smokehouse because of the lackluster sides.

                    Walking in, the place felt more like a bar than a BBQ shack. Maybe a half dozen locals around the bar and one lone diner at a table checking out the Kansas game. The bartender doubled as our waiter and was very polite and friendly. The service was also prompt, which I am not sure could have been repeated if there were more folks having dinner.

                    When the food arrived it looked very promising enough, with a two way combo fit together with two sides in a plastic tray. Unfortunately, every item was at least a tad dry as though it had all been reheated.

                    Despite the slight dryness, the ribs were good and tender, not quite falling off the bone, which is a good thing, IMHO. When the pork is literally falling off the bone, it tends to be overdone and mushy. There was also some smoke flavor, and even a little char as though they were finished on a grill. They reminded a lot of the ribs at Loonie's on a good day.

                    The pulled pork was also done right. Tender but not mushy, with a hint of smoke throughout. The only disappointment was that I did not taste the tanginess that was promised on the menu; however, it could be because I requested the BBQ sauce on the side, so the cook may have held back on the vinegar sauce. What I really wanted to avoid was the pork swimming in a thick red sauce ala E&J or Nate's. So the pork shoulder was pretty good, but most places get that one right also, IMO.

                    I also had a chance to try my friend's brisket. It was a rather small portion of three slices, which were edible enough, but slightly dryer and tougher than they should have been. This was no where near in the league of MM's or even Bo's, and perhaps even a full step down from Roadhouse. Brisket is the toughest thing to get right on a consistent basis though, so I'd be willing to give Pit Boss' offering another shot.

                    The sides were another matter all together. The Mac & Cheese was dry and bland, with hard shells placed intermittently throughout. The slaw was overly mayoed and even blander than the mac. An the cornbread was in a word, inedible. It was more like a giant crouton. Even the small soft portion was so dry it took a full beer to wash it down. Blech!

                    1. Brother and I visited Pit Boss for lunch on Saturday, and had a very enjoyable time.

                      As others have noted, there is a large full-service bar that dominates the space. There's no beer on draught right now, just bottles, but the bartender --"Mrs. Pit Boss", on our visit-- tells us that will be corrected before too long. With the big bar and small circular tables scattered throughout, the first impression is more cocktail lounge than 'cue shack, but the menu immediately clears up any misgivings. This is obviously a full-service BBQ place, with a nice selection of smoked meats and an interesting choice of sides.

                      Brother and I each ordered a 3-way, which comes with choice of two sides and sliced wheat or corn bread. Brother had the ribs, pulled pork and hot link, with coleslaw and deviled eggs. I chose the brisket, catfish, and tri-tip, with greens and beans for sides. We both opted for cornbread. Sauce, of course, on the side.

                      While waiting for our much-anticipated 'cue to arrive, we had a chance to talk with "Mrs. Boss", who told us that turkey is no longer on the menu because there wasn't enough demand to turn it fast enough to keep it fresh. It may return as a special at some point, if the bosses can come up with some promotional idea to ensure rapid turnover. She also mentioned that city restrictions prevent Pit Boss from running the smoker during business hours, so all smoking is done in the early morning before the restaurant opens. This, of course, means that all the BBQ meats must be reheated for service; more about this later.

                      When our orders arrived in their styrofoam clamshells, it was immediately clear that Pit Boss is not stingy with food. The portions of meats and sides were quite generous. The (dense, not sweet) southern style cornbread arrived on a small plate of its own, and was dressed with a sauce of melted butter with chopped, cooked red and green chiles. More than ample servings of the wet sides each came in their own tupperware-like bowls. Collards were well cooked and tender, but still retained some texture. They incorporated large chunks of smoked turkey, which is made especially for the greens. The flavor was good and tasty, but not as vinegary, concentrated or viscous as some expressions of this BBQ standard. Cole slaw was fairly typical of the mayo-based variety, though crisper and less sweet and gloppy than the usual. I'm not a fan of eggs, but Brother said the deviled eggs were good though not outstanding. Beans seemed like they were taken from a can and doctored up with a few additions, including a dollop or two of BBQ sauce. On the whole, the sides were above average but by no means a revelation.

                      Brother had asked for hot BBQ sauce, so I'd opted for mild; neither of us could tell any difference between them. The sauce is typical of many thick, slightly sweet, medium spicy ketchup-based sauces; perfectly fine, but like the other sides, not the star of the show.

                      The ribs were large, tender, lean, meaty and smoky. Not falling off the bone, but with just enough bite left to retain a good meaty texture and flavor. Not the remotest suspicion that these had ever been parboiled or anything of the sort; these had done their time in a real smoker, with a pitmaster who knows his trade. Unfortunately, they were also cold. As were the brisket, tri-tip and hot link.

                      Brisket and tri-tip were all but indistinguishable from one another, except by the shape of the 1/2-inch thick slices. Each was very tender but with enough texture to hold its shape, and well smoked with a deep ring and rich smoky flavor that didn't overwhelm the taste of beef. They were also slightly dry, probably from having to be reheated.

                      The hot link was exactly as advertised; a lean, smoky beef link with a definite but not overwhelming kick. It had been split lengthwise and grilled, then cut into 2" chunks. A good, worthy representative of the hot-link breed.

                      The pulled pork shoulder was Brother's favorite, though he cautions that this could be because, unlike the ribs and link, it was still hot when served. Heaven knows there was plenty of it. It was tender and moist, nicely smoked and lightly sauced, with rich sweetly porky flavor and "Mr. Brown" plainly in evidence. With perfect texture, well balanced and deep flavors, this pulled pork takes its place among the best in the area.

                      The large chunks of catfish were very fresh, beautifully deep-fried, moist and meltingly tender. The breading was typical of southern fried catfish, and was a beautiful light golden brown and nicely crispy. This was the star of the show on my platter, as good as I've had anywhere, and a real delight.

                      Overall, we found Pit Boss Barbecue to be a friendly, welcoming place with good food which would have been excellent had it been served warm, and even better if it could have been served fresh from the smoker.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: PDXpat

                        I went today for lunch - actually, I got the food to go because I figured if it wasn't going to be very warm, I might as well reheat it at home.

                        I ordered a two-way.
                        Ribs - not bad. Odd cutting of them, also already falling apart, and there were several pieces not attached to bone. Flavor was good. Portion was on the light side, I thought. Pork Shoulder - not bad, but I thought the meat was a bit soft.
                        Sauce - boring, but served its purpose (on the side)
                        Sides - Slaw - uneventful but not goopy and was fine for its purpose. Mac/cheese - not bad. Cornbread - dry to the point of not eating it in parts.

                        Despite what seems to be a lackluster review, it wasn't bad, and was much better than my last trip to Looney's months ago (which was awful) and much better than my last couple trips to Flints (again, some time ago - didn't see any reason to return).

                        I'd put Bo's in another league, but for the "Bay" side of the hills in the East Bay, this is probably as good as it currently gets.

                        1. re: lmnopm

                          Amazing. I pretty much have great food at Looney's EVERY time I go. My husband gets three-way meat combo and the sides are terrific.

                          1. re: lintygmom

                            Is there a certain time of day you go? Mine have been mid-day, never at dinnertime. I gave up - it has been several months since my last visit.

                            1. re: lmnopm

                              BBQ (American) has to be one of the most personal, subjective and contentious/debatable cuisines in the U.S. Besides the regional factor, there's different cuts, preps, wood and sauces...and yet everyone in the U.S. has probably experienced it in one form or another. Add-in the proliferation of chains and I doubt anyone can agree what's good.

                              I think I read or heard someone say that discussing barbecue was like discussing religion...be careful.

                              1. re: lmnopm

                                I've only gone for dinner. It's not a matter of religion for me, either. I like bbq but not in an ecclesiastical sense--not like I like some other foods. But the meat is good and the sides far superior to those of other places. We just had a disappointing meal at T-Rex at Saturday brunch, for example. The pulled pork and ribs came out cold in the middle--obviously reheated. The hot dog was cold, too. When asked to be reheated, it was returned in the same bun with the bite out of it that had let us know it was cold. With the relish all fallen out. And the grits with cheese were like super-cheesy soup. No way could you share them without spooning out of the serving dish--on the plate they would have swamped everything. (and this was where I was taking my daughter and her boyfriend for a "great meal") So any place can be off but I've found Looney's consistent. Next time call over the owner and tell him. I've sent stuff back and it's NEVER returned in the shape our hot dog-minus-one-bite did at T Rex. (BTW: I asked for the manager and he never came but they took the dog and grits off.)

                                1. re: lintygmom

                                  T. Rex sent me into a 4 month remove from Chowhound. Very very disappointing. We went for a Friday lunch. I wonder if they don't care sometimes- it sounds like perhaps when they are busy they are a different restaurant. Brisket was 45% fat, deeply peppered to the point where the beefiness was lost, and while definitely tender, had a slightly underdone slimy texture. Ruined my birthday. Sorry- it is like I just had a flashback. I know people complain about SF BBQ, but I've had disappointing BBQ every place I've ever lived- it just comes with the BBQ territory if you don't live in the BBQ belt.

                        2. Minor point: I didn't say BBQ was religion, rather conversations about it can get touchy like religion. Pop or modern music in U.S. might be better analogy. Surest way to piss someone off at a party isn't religion but to say something disparging about a type of music or a group. (Try it as work if they play music and watch the jaws drop.)

                          Any way, I've been to Looney's 3x...it wasn't good any time so I gave up. One time I went with some transplanted Southners and their response was very polite, "it wasn't really to my liking".

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: ML8000

                            It's Texas style, not Southern. I spent a good bit of time disappointed no bbq here was like the Rib Crib in Germantown in Philadelphia--a place where you came with a driver so the car's running and you can make a quick getaway before you're collateral damage. I wanted the sauce slow-cooked-on instead of the meat arriving in a puddle after being dry-smoked. Now I still haven't found that kind of ribs except in the backyard of our neighbor Alan but I've grown to really like Looney's. I do admit the crabcakes have taken a nosedive. But then they never compared to my own anyway and they're so easy to make.

                            1. re: lintygmom

                              I'm no expert on barbecue but I always thought pulled pork was a Carolina thing. I also recall hearing one of the owners, managers was from Carolina hence the pulled pork on the menu.

                              1. re: ML8000

                                Well, I guess "bbq" is read by my mind as "ribs." Sorry if misleading. But carnitas are an awful lot like pulled pork except the crisping's on the backend!

                                1. re: lintygmom

                                  LOL, yeah, and that carnitas are deep fried in lard, while pulled pork is slowly smoked for 8-12 hours over hickory.

                                2. re: ML8000

                                  Agree, in fact in North Carolina, "barbecue" means pork (either shoulder or whole hog depending on which side of the state). Many of the bbq shacks don't even offer any other cuts of meat.

                                  Texas BBQ is all about the beef (ribs & brisket). The one region that seems to get both pork and beef right is Kansas, although they tend to slice their pork shoulders rather than pull them.

                            2. I went there Monday for lunch. It was empty and very cold in the dining room , we were the only ones there. It took forever to get the 2 dishes, and they were borderline hot. I had the brisket and pulled pork. The pulled pork was okay but I get the feeling they don't use the best quality of meats. The sides were good. We had the collard greens and beans. But for the meat, it did not taste like it was BBQ'ed.