Where to Find San Diego's Best Barbecue
Sample slow-cooked brisket, ribs, tri-tip, links, and more, at the best BBQ spots in America’s Finest City.
Outdoor cooking is a favorite for entertaining in these parts—what’s more fun than grilling burgers and dogs on a sunny afternoon? When it comes to barbecue, though, we draw the line. Some things are better left to the experts, and not many of us have the means, or desire, to hover over a smoker for hours and hours, not to mention crafting a delectable assortment of perfectly complementary side dishes. Instead of fretting about the subtleties of which wood and temperature is best or whether to dry rub or wet mop, we selflessly sampled the best smoked meats the city has to offer. Here are our favorite barbecue joints in San Diego, the perfect picnic pairing before hitting the sand and exploring all of the fun things to do this season.
Space Kat Barbecue
A visit to The Aero Club, Middletown’s legendary dive bar, just got a whole lot better with the addition of Space Kat BBQ, Youngstown, Ohio native Jack Zizzo’s food truck that’s slinging smoky chopped brisket, tri-tip, and pulled pork by the half-pound, sandwich, or full meal, along with bone-in chicken thighs and hot links. Tangy-sweet Texas-style ‘cue gets “a Cali flick” with Texas Twinkies—big jalapeno peppers plump with fillings like brisket-cream cheese or pulled pork-pimento cheese, wrapped in bacon and smoked until the bacon crisps and the cheese is melty. Get the goodness Thursday-Sunday from 4 pm until the bar closes or they sell out.
How to book: Order at the truck. Picnic tables are available on a first-come basis.
Buckboards BBQ & Brews
Buckboard’s Barbecue and Brew started more than three decades ago as a catering company, and their first brick-and-mortar venture is proving just as popular. There’s no brisket here, but they have another, hard-to-find barbecue favorite: big, meaty beef ribs, rubbed and smoked slowly until tender, plus pulled pork, tri-tip, baby backs, chicken, and links.
How to book: Reservations can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order online for pickup or delivery via ChowNow.
Smokin J's Bbq
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 also 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, if the scratch-made Pecan Pie is on the menu, you definitely want a slice.
How to order: There are a few tables out front available on a first-come basis. Call 858-668-7131 or order online for pickup.
The Pig’s Gig
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 or hard kombucha and you’re all set for a perfect al fresco lunch or dinner.
How to order: Tables are available on the Liberty Station Market patio, the Liberty Station Promenade, and NTC Park on a first-come basis. Order in person, online via Toast for pickup.
Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs
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 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. Central Texas-style barbecue is the draw, with succulent brisket, St. Louis cut 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.
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is on a first-come basis. Order online for pickup via ChowNow.
Chef/owner Hanis Cavin, founder of Carnitas Snack Shack, expanded his horizons with Pioneer BBQ, and although he left San Diego for Spokane a couple of years ago, Pioneer BBQ is still dedicated to “barbecue, burgers and brews,” much to our delight. Choose from classic items like baby backs, smoked turkey, brisket, and brisket links, or novel takes on traditional barbecue such as Pork Belly Burnt Ends with elote relish and Potato Skins loaded with pulled pork, cheddar jack, and spicy chipotle ranch.
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is on a first-come basis. Order for pickup online via Toast.
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 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 as they say, “When the food’s gone, we gone!”
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is on a first-come basis. Call 619-301-7105 for pickup or delivery.
Coop's West Texas BBQ
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.
Iron Pig Alehouse
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 Brisket Plate that features tender slices served on signature Texas toast, or the hickory-smoked Chicken Wings that are brined, smoked for two-and-a-half hours, and flash-fried. The wings come with a side of sauce—the flavor intake is in your court.
How to order: A limited number of patio tables are available on a first-come basis. Order for takeout via Toast.
Cali Comfort BBQ
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.
How to order: Limited indoor and patio seating is available on a first-come basis. Order online for takeout or delivery.