8 Finger-Licking Good Barbecue Joints in San Diego

Go low and slow, y’all.

Having year-round perfect weather means outdoor cooking is a given for San Diegans, but when it comes to barbecue, not many of us have the means, or desire, to hover over a smoker for hours and hours. We’ll leave that to the experts who’ve dedicated themselves to the subtleties of which wood and temperature is best, whether to dry rub or wet mop, and crafting a delectable assortment of perfectly complimentary side dishes. Here are our favorite barbecue joints in San Diego:

Brothers Jeremy and Josh George are the yin/yang combo that brings some of San Diego County’s best barbecue to Poway. Jeremy handles all things smoky, gently coaxing the perfect depth of flavor with a low-and-slow approach that requires hand-stoking every 45 minutes, day in and day out, while Josh handles the front-of-house. Not only can you get whole, pulled, and sliced brisket or pork shoulder, racks of baby backs and split chickens, but if you’re lucky, burnt ends, the holy grail of barbecue, might be on the menu. Of course, this being San Diego and all, you can get your meats burrito-ized, either at breakfast with eggs, hash browns, and cheese, or at lunch/dinner in a massive, California-style burrito that weighs in at nearly 1.75 pounds. You might not have room for it until later, but trust us, you definitely want a slice of the scratch-made pecan pie. 

Available for Delivery/Takeout

The Pig’s Gig

Liberty Station

From the folks who brought us Mastiff Sausage Company, The Pig’s Gig features 12-hour brisket and ten-hour pulled pork, pulled chicken, and hot links, all smoked on site and paired with scratch-made sauces and sides. Choose your favorite by the ounce, in combo plates, sandwiches, loaded mac and cheese, and, since they add “California flair” to their Southern-style barbecue, there’s also tacos and nachos. A quick stop at Bottlecraft for craft beer and you’re all set for a perfect al fresco lunch or dinner.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Sister restaurant to owner and pitmaster Andy Harris’s Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park (currently undergoing renovations), Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs has two full bars, plenty of indoor and patio seating, and live music on Saturday and some Sunday afternoons. Central Texas-style barbecue is the draw, with succulent brisket, St. Louis cut ribs, beef short ribs,  Texas turkey, and hot links, plus a tempting lineup of stoner foods like Stimey’s Walking Frito Pie, chili, brisket or pulled pork nachos, and a trio of loaded fries. Wash it down with something cold from their two dozen taps or creative cocktails, including a nearly perfect Topo Chico margarita.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Pioneer BBQ

San Carlos

Chef/owner Hanis Cavin, founder of Carnitas Snack Shack, expanded his horizons with Pioneer BBQ, dedicated to “barbecue, burgers and brews,” much to our delight. Choose from classic items like baby backs, smoked turkey, brisket and two kinds of links, or novel takes on traditional barbecue such as pork belly burnt ends on elote salad and potato skins loaded with pulled pork, cheddar jack, and spicy chipotle ranch.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

You’ll be surrounded by beautiful art and music at Bowlegged BBQ, a cozy little spot nestled just east of the 805 on Market Street. Rib tips and hot links are standouts, but anything on the East Texas-style menu will be delicious. Sides like dirty rice and black-eyed peas are also outstanding, and the cornbread and sweet potato pie are must-haves. Plan to get there early or call ahead—they open at 11 am and close when the food runs out!

Available for Delivery/Takeout

All of the meats at Coop’s are “Texas-true and Texas-approved,” thanks to owner Brad Cooper’s family recipe. The Lemon Grove barbecue joint is insanely popular with locals and national media, and for good reason. The meats are slow-cooked over a fire made with mesquite and oak wood. Barbecue sauce is optional—it's not at all required to enjoy the delectable brisket or jerk chicken. Stop in across the parking lot at Da Chicken Coop, their sister restaurant, and grab some of San Diego’s tastiest fried chicken, catfish, and whiting while you’re at it.
How to order: A few outdoor tables are available on a first-come basis, but your best bet is to order for takeout by calling 619-589-0478 or ordering online.

Iron Pig Alehouse

Pacific Beach

Iron Pig Alehouse makes nearly everything in-house, from the sides, like Southern greens and smoked beans, all the way down to the whipped cream for the Key lime pie. Chef Rick Daniels hails from El Paso, Texas, and his roots are evident in the dishes, like the Sliced Brisket Sammie served on the signature Texas toast, or the hickory-smoked chicken wings that are brined, smoked for two-and-a-half hours, and finally flash-fried. The wings come with a side of sauce—the flavor intake is in your court.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Cali Comfort BBQ

Multiple locations

Home to two Ole Hickory-style smokers, Cali Comfort specializes in Kansas City-style barbecue, which means light or no sauce on most dishes and lightly basted meats with high quality dry rubs. The meats are cooked low and slow, and there are a number of sauces to try, including the jalapeño sauce—a nod to San Diego’s culinary scene. The recently opened a Barrio Logan location in the Barrio Food Hub, a 10,000 square foot ghost kitchen that will eventually house more than 50 eateries.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.
Ellen Wright is a freelancer at Thrillist whose napkin-use during the making of this article would not be smiled upon by Captain Planet. Follow her on Twitter: @PacificPolished.