True barbecue, like ramen and pizza, is a singular obsession for some chefs. While San Francisco has never been known for barbecue and has no specific style the way Texas, Kansas City or North Carolina and South Carolina do, we are gaining ‘cue cred thanks to these talented Bay Area pit masters. Setting San Francisco apart is a focus on quality meats and a variety of options rarely limited to just one regional specialty. Mixing and matching styles, techniques and flavors may not be traditional, but it does yield delicious results.
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San Francisco BBQ
From inside the Blue Light bar, chef James Liles smokes about 1,000 pounds of meat per week in two smokers using only traditional white oak. Raised in Tennessee but with considerable barbecue experience in West Texas and fine dining chops that date back to his time as a chef at the famous Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Liles serves up pulled pork, brisket and St. Louis style ribs that are tender but still toothsome with deep smoky flavor. The ribs are so popular they routinely sell out so arrive early. Tuesdays you’ll find barbecue in tacos and quesadillas. Dessert lean toward classics like peach cobbler.
Classically trained chef Jake Kwan-Rosenbush’s barbecue is a mixture of different styles, flavors and techniques and relies on local ingredients. In addition to spice rubbed brisket, there are two kinds of chicken wings—one Chinese salt-and-pepper style and another that is smoked and tossed with white barbecue sauce. Meats are served on platters or by the pound with all the classics sides. The kale salad is a standout with broccoli, cabbage, dried cranberries and sweet onion dressing.
Ryan Farr's spot near the Panhandle is so popular there are often lines for his Texas style brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, and pork ribs, not to mention the aptly named "Best Damn Cheeseburger.” There are also classic and not so classic sides including posole, coleslaw, baked beans, French fries and Frankaroni— crispy fried macaroni with a hot dog inside. Vegetarians will find several salads as well as a grits and eggs sandwich served with Oaxacan cheese on a bun.
This classic barbecue joint has been open for decades. While the name says Memphis, the style of barbecue varies. On offer is Texas-style brisket, Memphis-style sweet smoked pork, St Louis-style ribs, and even Santa Maria tri tip, a speciality from California, as well as all the classic sides. You can order ‘cue by the pound or in sandwiches. but the best options are generally the belly busting daily sandwich specials. The lower Haight location is casual, decorated with lots of little piggies and plastic covered gingham tablecloths.
This bbq pop-up inside a Southern brew pub specializes in Carolina-style barbecue like pulled pork dressed in a thin, vinegar-pepper sauce.They also smoke ribs, chicken, pork belly, brisket and even goat, which is served with salsa verde, pineapple salsa, house pickles and fry bread. The sides are particularly good and include shells and cheese, collard greens, baked beans and coleslaw. They also offer vegan versions of barbecue, which comes in the form of smoked jackfruit or smoked portobello mushroom on plates or in sandwiches.
During the summer, barbecue is served on Wednesdays and features four meats per week. The barbecue is a two-day process with the meat smoked over a combination of oak mesquite hickory and either apple or pecan wood for up to 14 hours. Texas born-and-raised chef Wes Shaw excels at brisket, ribs, chicken, and particularly good andouille and offers cornbread muffins, coleslaw and a fancy potato salad.
A fine dining establishment for 25 years located at the foot of Market Street, this venerable restaurant turns into a “Back Porch” barbecue joint on Fridays, all Summer long. Serving everything from certified Angus brisket smoked for 12 hours to St. Louis style spareribs and smoked bier sausage you can get your fix along with sides like potato salad,coleslaw and pickles. Dine casually at the atrium picnic tables or have it delivered. It’s not served in the main dining room. Another Friday special? Bradley’s Butterscotch Pudding.