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May 14, 2014 01:33 PM

Smokestack BBQ [San Francisco]

Magnolia Brewery's new Smokestack BBQ in Dogpatch is open for business. Time for the hounds to descend upon them to see if their BBQ is something to get excited about or not.

I think this is the place I wish Hi Lo had become. Informal, affordable, honest beer and barbecue. No pretension. No 'fine dining' claptrap. This place is about sharing meat and beer with friends.

The chalkboard menu helpfully suggests you grab a beer at the bar and get in line. Counter service starts with ordering meats by the pound, listed on a chalk board. The selection varies daily, and in our case it changed by the minute as they had sold out of the chicken. Meats are carved, weighed, and placed on a paper-lined tray. Next you order sides that come in small or large portions. A small selection of beers is available at the end of the line - the full Magnolia lineup is available at the bar. The whole system lends itself well to takeout orders. All seating is at communal tables which gives the place a friendly, chaotic, fun vibe. No sauces added at the counter; a selection of four sauces in squeeze bottles at the tables.

We ordered pork loin, sausages, some sort of chili, and waygu brisket with chard and slaw sides. The sausage was my favorite. My SO loved the chili. Our brisket was good, but we got an extra fatty cut compared to other servings we saw, so I'll reserve judgment and happily come back for more testing. The pork loin was tender and juicy but a bit bland. The smoke level was subtle, much to my liking, the way Hi Lo was at the beginning. Only the chili was noticeably smoky. The mustard sauce was my favorite. I thought the vinegar sauce was too thin. None of them packed much heat. Of our three beer selections, two were really good, one meh. Again, I look forward to exploring the offerings more.

So let the BBQ judging begin.

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  1. thanks. do you know who raises their meat animals ? you probably know, but wagyu will have a higher fat content than most other types of beef, so you'll probably have to instruct them next time about your preference. pork loin would not be my first choice as a flavorful cut, even from heritage pigs it's bland relative to the shoulder, butt, shank.

    1 Reply
    1. re: moto

      They listed sources for the meats on the menu, but I didn't note that info. Honestly, the first time experience is a bit confusing, so it was all I could do to figure out how their system works.

      Agreed about the waygu fattiness and the loin blandness - but other servings were less fatty than ours.

    2. My BBQ Judge Class instructor mentioned making brisket with Kobe Beef and the special care needed because of the high fat content and the possibility of rendering it all out and leaving a dry expensive piece of meat.

      1. Stopped by, very happy.

        Beer selection is good. Now, I had a Bison Brewery Amber Basil just an hour earlier (on the other side of the bay), but the beer selection is solid. At least, the one I had felt better than those I had at Magnolia proper. Although there was little hops and middlin' body, the atmosphere made up for it.

        Plenty of mixed drinks. We stuck to beer. Pranqster on tap, so a few things beyond Magnolia. We may have been the oldest people in the room, including the owners. We're getting used to that.

        The BBQ is _very_ legit. They were sold out of about 2/3 when we entered at 10pm on a Friday, but we were steered toward the chopped pork, an unappealing name for a North Carolina style that had the succulence of carnitas. There was a pastrami left, which I was ready to try but we weren't up for two meats (having had a rather large empenada for "first dinner"). Each table had 3 sauces - vinegar, mustard, "bbq", which is also a north Carolina style. We also had some sausage, which was boss, and a couple of sides - a sprightly salad including a lot of cabbage and dill.

        The place was a little loud when we walked in, but quickly emptied. By 11pm it was almost sparse. GF was a mite cold, as the door was open and that part of town catches a bit of chill in the overnight.

        Still - as BernalKC says - this place is legit, characterization as "the place hilo wanted to be" - I hadn't caught HiLow, but can imagine it.

        Oh, really easy parking. Imagine that. For those of us now relegated to the bridge & tunnel thing, catching a beer & Q on the way home from berkeley - perfect!

        1 Reply
        1. re: bbulkow

          "Chopped pork" is actually the dog whistle we North Carolinians use to recognize natives. Classic NC bbq is "chopped pork" as opposed to the pulled pork that you find in other parts of the South. We instantly recognize out-of-staters if they're at a BBQ joint in NC and ask for "pulled pork." So this menu item is named surprisingly well!

          I'm still a bit weirded out by consuming beer (or any alcoholic drinks) with BBQ. At most honest-to-goodness southern bbq places (think many of the famous ones in NC or AR or TX), you get your choice of iced teas or various sodas. No booze w/ Q. We're talking about homey, family-gathering places after all.

        2. A few Friday nights ago at ~8pm, they were limiting entrances to avoid exceeding fire code capacity. But despite the crowds, we got our food in about half an hour. There were more people drinking than eating.

          Most of the beer is at the bar, but there's a small selection of beer and wine available at the food checkout counter.

          Sweet potato salad was very good. Collards and ham hocks were delicious--- lots of soup/broth and the greens still had structure.

          Brisket was okay. Tender and structured, but not enough fat, smoke, or salt for palate-- I'll ask for BernalCK's cut next time :-). The smoked chicken breast tasted good and was generally juicy with a few slightly dry bits. Heavy smoke flavor, but not so much you couldn't tell it was chicken.

          That was a few weeks back... anyone been the past few weeks?

          1. Brisket needs to be moist (euphemism for fatty), otherwise it is dry. We had the best brisket I have ever had outside of Texas. Smoky and delicious. Needs none of the sauces, and so tasty that sauce is inappropriate. Reminded of Louie Mueller's in Taylor, TX and that's the highest praise I could give. The crust was amazing! I guess this is Kobe beef brisket done right.

            The porchetta was OK, but not nearly as good as Roli Roti. I asked for some of the skin and told it was too tough. At Roli Roti, they chop up the skin, which isn't too tough, and it adds flavor and crunch.

            The side of "creamed squash" was delicious. I think the squash was grilled and then cooked in a creamy stock. This is really a soup! Reminded me a bit of the recipe in Rick Bayless, Mexican Kitchen for Crema de Flores de Calabaza, but this had no flowers.

            Got a taste of the spicy Thai-ish sausage which was OK. Didn't taste the chopped pork, which looked like it has a chance of being OK -- there is a decent NC style vinegar sauce on the tables.

            We will be back and will double up on the brisket!

            2 Replies
            1. re: Thomas Nash

              Given the "chopped pork" and north carolina flair, why keep going for the brisket? I'll go back for that NC style pork.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Next time will give the chopped pork a shot. There was starting to be a line and I didn't want to bother the server to get a taste -- and it wouldn't have been fair after having filled up on the brisket.

                What I was trying to say in my post was that the brisket we had was so incredibly good that I couldn't imagine anything else being worth cutting down on a brisket order.

                Last night, I did hear from someone else who had tried the brisket shortly after the place opened that theirs was very dry, and some comments on this thread seem to indicate that has happened. All the pieces I saw, cut from different briskets, looked just perfect to me. So, I wonder what might have gone on. All I can say is when the brisket is good at Smokestack it is incredible.