For a child of East, West, and Middle America, I have an unexpected and profound affinity for the music and food of the South. Traveling in the region, my love grows. Florida conch and stone crab, Tex-Mex and Texas brisket. But when I dream of the South, I think Deep South. Start talking low country and Gullah cuisine, or Cajun and Creole cooking, and I become brutally homesick for a home I never had.
Then there is the barbecue. And by barbecue, I mean pulled pork, those words being synonymous in the Deep South. Texas brisket? Naturally. Memphis ribs? Hell yeah. But pulled pork, that tender, shredded, fatty mound of piggy goodness, for me, is the pinnacle of BBQ. Don't even get me started on sauces. South Carolina mustard or thick, sweet Kansas City sauce? I'll take it all, thank you. A proper sauce turns impeccable meat into ecstasy.
One of the more memorable journeys the Renaissance Man and I ever took was a two-week road trip through four Southern states for BBQ, music, and food. Though I've been a California girl for the larger part of my life, in this glorious state of endless riches I rarely find barbecue comparable to that of my Southern exploits — even coming from those who claim to be Southern natives. There are whispers of true BBQ here, but often something indefinable is lacking. The problem commonly lies in sauces, smoking techniques and woods used, or the meat's tenderness (I'm sorry: it ain't real BBQ if it's not fatty). Even delicious 'que is missing a certain raw, gut-level sense of place outside the South.
Regardless, some worthy Bay Area spots have emerged to satisfy 'que cravings. Uncle Frank's was the best BBQ I've had in California, until it tragically closed last fall. Frank's brisket was thick with fat, served in the back of a dodgy dive bar in suburban, staid Mountain View.
Bo's Barbecue (3422 Mount Diablo Boulevard, Lafayette. (925) 283-7133, www.bosbarbecue-catering.com) specializes in solid brisket. Golden Gate Park golf course houses an unexpected gem, Ironwood BBQ (around 47th Ave., SF. (415) 751-8987, www.ironwoodbbq.com) which is strong on pulled pork. Years ago, Brother-in-Law's BBQ morphed to Lilly's and became Da Pitt (705 Divisadero, SF. (415) 440-7427, www.dapittbbq.com). Though past its glory days, it's still a worthy detour, wafting glorious smoke aromas down the street. What of ever-popular Memphis Minnie's (576 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7675, www.memphisminnies.com)? I must admit that despite a love for their rowdy Southern tunes and spirit, I can't get behind the lackluster meats and watery sauces.
We go through waves of 'que openings and we're in the midst of another now. Here are five recent BBQ openings.
From Wednesday to Sunday, this pop-up kitchen in Rebel steps outside tradition with items like Kurobuta pork belly. But more than any of the other newer 'que joints on this list, it gets Carolina-style pulled pork right — Sneaky's is among the best in town. Only downside is the price — a single platter of meat and two sides is $17, a two meat combo $26, compared to $12 and $18 for the same options at CatHead's BBQ.
Sauces: Vinegar BBQ, spicy jalapeno-habanero, South Carolina mustard, Rooster (a creamy version of spicy sauce)