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Feb 22, 2011 09:34 PM

Sneaky’s BBQ Settles Down at Rebel in San Francisco

The underground barbecue catering outfit, Sneaky’s BBQ, formerly delivery only, has settled into a permanent home in the kitchen of Rebel, a new gay bar/club in San Francisco. Yesterday was the public pre-opening launch and the place was packed when I arrived just before 4pm. Here’s the pre-opening menu for Presidents Day, February 21.

I ordered the four-meat combo to-go that includes four sides, $47. Pulled pork, Baby-back ribs, Kurobuta pork belly, Wings (with spicy sauce), Macaroni and cheese, Baked beans, Cole slaw, and Collard greens went into the automated order entry system with ease although it took some finagling to put in my request for all four sauces to be packed on the side.

While I was waiting, partner Pat [Wachter] came out to check on the crowd and I had a chance to talk to him a bit. He’s from Columbia, South Carolina, which explains the pork-centric menu, and Sneaky’s is his first foray into the food biz. Twenty-five minutes later my order was ready. I swaddled it in my laundry in the car to retain the heat and dashed down to Palo Alto to share the barbecue bounty with my brother. Everything was still pretty warm when I arrived 40 minutes later and the order was correct.

First up, the Wings: rubbed, smoked, fried then tossed with spicy sauce (blend of smoked jalapeño and habanero peppers) and served with blue cheese dressing for dipping. The order included drummettes and the middle wing joints. These turned out to be our favorite, packed with bold flavors even without the blue cheese dip, The white meat drummettes were overcooked and on the dry side but not hard. The smoke penetrated the silky, succulent meat of the wing flats playing well with the dry rub-crusted skin and hot sauce.

Pulled pork: pork shoulder dry rubbed the day before, smoked 15 hours to fork-pullable tenderness, then finished with the thin red vinegar and pepper BBQ sauce. Just eyeballing it, the half-pint portion looked really lean with not a speck of visible fat or glisten, and examining the cold leftovers in the fridge now, there’s no congealed grease at all. Yet the meat does stay remarkably moist, if a bit too soft for my taste. I just wish there were more smoke influence. Even the dark exterior couldn’t be considered “smoky” when I tried tasting it alone. The pulled pork and vinegary BBQ sauce are made for each other, and I added a douse of the Rooster sauce, the creamy version of the spicy sauce to add some fat and richness.

Kurobuta pork belly: 10 ounces pre-cooked weight, dry rubbed and smoked until the crust turned deep, deep brown verging on black. I was quite amazed that it didn’t taste burnt just looking at the color. The seasoned crust and richly striated meat were so delectably unctuous and stultifying, I didn’t want to sully ‘em with sauce. But I’m glad I did try avec sauce, as the vinegar contrast refreshed the intensely smoky pork flavors and counteracted some of the salt so that one could eat more than a bite. Disappointingly, more than an inch on each end of the strip was inedible, so dry and hard that I couldn’t poke a fork through the pork belly nor cut it with a dinner knife, which meant we lost about 25% of this precious meat.

Baby-back ribs: Sneaky’s signature pork ribs. Unfortunately, this batch was the weakest of the lot. Pale meat colored only by the rub tasted of little to no smoke influence. Worse yet, the meat was too tough and dried out to bite through easily or off the bone. Both William and I were perplexed by this, neither of us have ever been served a tough baby back before. Something went wrong, maybe the holding temperature was too hot. If we had been in the restaurant, we would have asked for a replacement.

As far as the sides, each was cooked competently but shared a similar bland and underseasoned tone. Maybe this was intentional to allow the customer to jazz up an customize the flavors by blending with the choice of sauces. The mac and cheese, made with soft elbow macaroni featured a lot of melted cheese with the sharpness of aged cheddar. Baked beans were pretty plain, cooked to a soft, creamy tooth, and mildly sweet. Cole slaw consisted of chopped green cabbage and a boatload of black pepper in a slightly sweet, non-goopy dressing. The collard greens still had their integrity but seemed to have been seasoned with only a little sugar. Adding the vinegar sauce and salt to the greens and baked beans, and similarly mixing some creamy Hen sauce into the slaw, helped a lot.

The highlights of this barbecue combo were the chicken wings and the part of the pork belly that was edible. Hard to say what happened to the tough meats and the oversmoking vs. undersmoking. With the switch in smokers, more practice might still be in order for man and machine to work things out. After more time in grade, the BLT made with the smoked pork belly will probably be my next taste here. The original BBQ sauce with vinegar and pepper, the spicy version, and the creamy cousins of each, handmade daily, were distinct, clean, and harmonious. The sauces along with the tasty rub are a real strength.

The Grand opening is scheduled for February 28. The plan is to serve BBQ daily from 5pm to 10pm, and also for lunch on Saturday and Sunday.

“Monday: Sneaky's BBQ Soft-Launches at Rebel”

Sneaky's BBQ
1760 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

1760 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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  1. Wow, thanks for this report. I had always wondered about Sneaky's offerings given his Carolina origin and the strong reviews of his underground operation. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed that it seems his chopped pork isn't infused with enough smokey flavor. The Bay Area seems to suffer from a two-way miss: either there's so little smoke infusion that you can't even taste it in the outside brown, or when there is smoke flavor, it's so one-note or overwhelming (the latter maybe has to do with the use of white oak instead of hickory out here).

    Oh well, I'll continue to enjoy my hickory-smoked bbq that I had shipped out from NC for now. The bark/outside brown, with a hickory flavor that is simultaneously readily apparent yet subtle enough to allow for a complex interplay of flavors from the carmelization, nearly brought me to tears because it's been so long. At $10/pound including shipping, it's no financial hardship to just order this stuff and make my own country slaw and stone ground skillet cornbread.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mikeh

      Sneaky's BBQ uses local almond wood, which lends a lighter, sweeter smoke character typically. I agree with you about the Bay Area's two-way miss --- I suspect that the overwhelming, too heavily smoked examples come from using mesquite.

      Maybe my report doesn't express it enough, but I feel quite positively toward Sneaky's. I went on the first day 'cuz I figured that 2+ years of delivery service would have worked out the kinks. But now I realize that the earlier operation was delivering chilled meats to be reheated at home. Serving in a restaurant is a different deal and even more so if you've changed equipment. Plus there were 30+ customers ahead of me. Sneaky's old smoker went on craigslist a month ago and according to the SF Weekly article, now it has an Old Hickory. Maybe the tough meats were microwaved or put in too hot an oven to rewarm. I think the wings shined because they were fried to order.

      I wish that I'd thought to chop up the smoked pork belly to mix with the pulled pork. The heavily seasoned and smoked crust and the sweet fat of the belly would be just what the pulled pork needed to make it truly special.

      Sneaky's BBQ
      1760 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        >>"I suspect that the overwhelming, too heavily smoked examples come from using mesquite."

        My guess would be too much oak smoke. It is easy to overdo it with both, but seasoned mesquite is not all that accessible in this area.

        I agree about the lightness of almond. It really needs to be supplemented with other woods like oak or apple. Sneaky's probably just needs to get used to using the Ol' Hickory.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. How does it compare with Memphis Minnie's?

        1 Reply
        1. re: cheesecakeking

          At Memphis Minnie's I get the brisket and the rib tips, so can't draw a comparison meat-to-meat.

        2. The last few weeks, Sneaky's BBQ has announced Wing Wednesdays, offering 50% more wings per order. Since the smoked wings were my favorite of my initial order, this is a nice opportunity to get more for your money of those tasty bites.

          Sneaky's BBQ
          1760 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

          1. I was very pleasantly surprised by Sneaky's.

            Already on the table:
            Smoked chicken, cornbread, collards. The smoked chicken was good, I particularly liked the spice rub and I thought the amount of smoky flavor was just right, but the dark meat had been eaten already and the remaining white meat wasn't very moist. Not dry, but not as moist as I had hoped. I think I may like roast chicken better than smoked chicken. The corn bread was fine, a bit on the sweet side. It was moist but didn't taste too rich. I only get excited about corn bread when it's about 1/3 pancetta grease by weight, and this wasn't. The sauteed collards were nice--very fresh tasting, a hint of sweetness and a bare hint of vinegar, I liked the balance. They could have been more strongly flavored, but they ended up being a very complementary side for the strongly seasoned meats and sauces, so their pleasantly blank canvas nature was a plus.

            On my plate: brisket, pulled pork, mustard sauce, vinegar bbq sauce, more collards, cole slaw. The brisket was wonderful. I have had brisket with a deeper smoke ring, but this brisket was very smokey, deeply flavored, but still tasted like meat. The flavor of the fat was stunning--this meat is a cut above the regular BBQ brisket and that comes through. The collards on my plate tasted very slightly different in terms of sweet/sour/seasoning balance, and I suspect that the fresh silky texture could only come from being freshly sauteed. What a nice touch to have freshly prepared food at a BBQ place! The pulled pork was head and shoulders above any other pulled pork I've had here in the bay area. I haven't tasted around exhaustively, but I will be back for more of it, and I can recommend it without hesitation. After the mayo from the cole slaw and the mustard sauce mixed into it in my takeout box, this was even better today for lunch. The brisket was also better today for lunch--it seemed to have absorbed some of the expertly balanced BBQ sauce, moistening up just enough but still retaining its clear beefy flavor without being smothered by the sauce.

            Yum! Best of all, my 2 meat plate was appropriately huge, and at $24 is a pretty standard BBQ price. The quality of the meat they are using would justify higher prices over the standard BBQ competition. The environment was much cleaner and more welcoming than many BBQ places I have been, plus access to a full bar with a decent selection of beer including 4 very clean taps made the experience even better.

            2 Replies
            1. re: SteveG

              Thanks for the reminder, SteveG--I've been meaning to post my own comments about Sneaky's. I've now been twice. The first time I tried the pork belly, which, while tasty, was not a love fest for me. I can't even say exactly why. The flavors were good, maybe it was just too rich? Anyway, somehow it was just too much of something. But I liked my sides, and still had a very positive feeling about the place, so a few weeks later I went back for the Wednesday night chicken wing special. This is a great deal--they have several different order sizes, all for extremely reasonable prices.

              My wings were addictively good. I loved the smokiness combined with crispy skin. Both the drummettes and the flat portions were very moist, which I particularly appreciated because I very often am unhappy with drummettes because they dry out so easily. My fantasy chicken wing joint would offer all flat pieces. Anyway, I had the wings 2 ways, with 2 different sauces--the mustard style and a spicier one (can't remember which now). The mustardy one was fine, but the winner was the more traditional bbq. Honestly, I would like these without any of the sauces, or perhaps just have the sauces on the side. These are great wings, and a new favorite.

              Thanks to Melanie for the tip!

              1. re: SteveG

                I too had a very positive experience. I shared some wings, then had a plate of brisket, collards and fries. I also tried a bit of smoked chicken (dark meat).

                Contrary to others, I thought the wings were just OK. Were on the drier side.

                The brisket was really really good. Experience was very similar to SteveG. A very large, thick slice with great smoke flavor, and a lot of rendered fat making it wonderfully moist. The best brisket I've ever had outside of Texas. Bested only by a few of the top places in my (incomplete) experience. Far better than City Market in Luling (top 5 according to Texas Monthly) when I went last year, though to compare one experience at each place isn't at all meaningful IMO. I'm not usually a sauce-on-brisket person, but the vinegar BBQ sauce was an excellent complement.

                I, too, really enjoyed the collards. Instead of being rich, they were clean, simple and delicious. Perfect backdrop to the rich meat. The fries were also very nice. Nicely crispy with some skin left on the ends.

                The smoked chicken I tried was good, but not outstanding I thought (though I've only had outstanding smoked chicken once, at Two Bros in San Antonio). I've done about as well on my home smoker without too much effort.

                I'll definitely go again. If the brisket is similarly good next time it's going to skyrocket in my must-try places in SF. Given that my experience sounds quite similar to Steve G and 9 months apart, I'm optimistic!