10 Finger-Licking Good Barbecue Joints in San Francisco
Low and slow is the name of the game.
Summer is upon us and even though summer in SF isn’t exactly “summer,” its arrival still brings cravings of smoky goodness in the form of slabs of brisket and racks of ribs with the meat falling off of the bone. It’s just what happens when you live in America, even if you haven’t seen the sun in weeks. While San Francisco isn’t exactly known for its barbecue, finally, in the last decade or so, smoked meat has managed to make its way into our hearts and mouths. And once you fall for barbecue, there’s no going back. Not only because there’s nothing like succulent pieces of meat smoked low and slow, but because barbecue joints have the best side dishes of pretty much any cuisine. Coleslaw, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread … if you’re a vegetarian, you can make a meal of those alone. Here are some of the best places to satisfy your barbecue hankerings and get full as a tick. (That’s “cowboy” for eating too much.)
4505 Burgers & BBQ
There’s nothing quite like gathering on 4505’s patio to enjoy a huge plate of meat, especially when that smoked meat is 4505’s pulled pork shoulder or three-quarters of a pound of ribs. And while barbecue is where it’s at, 4505 also has one of the best burgers in town (aptly named “Best Damn Grass-Fed Cheeseburger”) and a beloved frankaroni (a fried chunk of hot dog-studded mac and cheese), both of which, much liked the famed chicharrones, are hard to resist. All the more reason to make this a regular spot in your dining-out rotation.
Baby Blues BBQ
This is the spot to go if one of you prefers North Carolina barbecue and the other is ride-or-die Texas-style and you decide you want to “meat” in the middle. This mini barbecue chain (with two LA locations plus a spot in Philly) doesn’t play favorites and instead focuses on a hybrid-style of the four main BBQ food groups: North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, and Memphis. It also puts out a damn good mac and cheese. You can still order for delivery, but everything tastes better when you’re fully immersed in the smell of smoke from meat that’s been cooked to perfection.
Hard Knox Cafe
If your idea of barbecue is less smoky brisket and more saucy, baked goodness, this duo of Southern comfort eateries will hit the spot with their old-school chicken or spare ribs. The famous fried chicken is equally solid (pair it with a buttermilk Belgium waffle for a true taste of heaven), as are sides like collard greens and black-eyed peas.
Hing Lung Company
Family-owned Hing Lung has been dishing out some of the city’s best Chinese barbecue for decades, and now it’s offering delivery for the first time under the moniker “Go Duck Yourself.” Want to pick it up in person? The shop is also open. For dinner, opt for a plate of roast duck or honey-glazed pork, served over rice, veggies, and plum sauce. Or cater an afternoon picnic or binge-watch session with duck fat-fried chicharrones and salt-and-pepper jalapeño wings.
Steph Curry may dominate on the court, but it’s his wife Ayesha Curry who’s a baller in the kitchen. Her collab with Michael Mina is inspired by their global travels, so be prepared for international twists on barbecue staples. Order your ribs cooked in one of four styles: St. Louis, American barbecue, Korean sesame-gochujang, or Mexican chipotle. There are a few new post-pandemic items on the menu and we could tell you about the whole roasted cauliflower, but why would we do that when we could tell you about the Peking pork belly bao buns instead? Exactly.
How to enjoy: Open for indoor dining from 5 pm to 9 pm, Sunday through Thursday, and 5 pm to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday. Make a reservation here. You can also order for takeout and delivery via BBot from 11 am to 2:30 pm and 3:30 pm to 9 pm, seven days a week.
Memphis Minnie's BBQ
An SF barbecue icon before barbecue was really a thing in SF, Minnie’s continues to dish up some of the city’s best ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, with an especially solid sauce game (try the Carolina mustard). It’s also one of the few local barbecue places to bring it on the dessert front, with some seriously good pecan and peach pie.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only from 11 am to 10 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 am to 9 pm on Sunday. Outdoor seating available. Order for pickup or cash-only delivery within a limited zone by calling 415-864-7675; delivery to outlying neighborhoods and all credit-card orders go through Caviar.
This Bayview-based barbecue window puts out some seriously smokin’ beef ribs, brisket, and barbecue chicken, best enjoyed with sides like bacon and jalapeño-topped mac and cheese, coleslaw, and cornbread. Be sure to throw in a pint of the brisket chili for a killer next-day WFH lunch. Live across town from Bayview? The owner opened a second location in Presidio Heights a few years ago where you can get the same deliciousness.
Listen, just because a restaurant is in the Marina, is all about country music, and has a mechanical bull doesn’t mean it can’t also put out some damn fine smoked meat. (Also, who can begrudge live country music and a mechanical bull? No one, that’s who.) Westwood definitely has an over-the-top country theme, but that theme includes BBQ, burgers, and whiskey, plus smoked meat by the plate or pound and all of the fixin’s you’d expect. A plate of meat is always good, but going the sandwich route here is also a solid choice because smoked meat, pickles, and coleslaw on a brioche bun is really, really good.
If you heard a record scratch when you saw the name of this restaurant and remembered you are reading about the best barbecue spots, just hold your horses before you get all-fired up. Vegan Mob is absolutely barbecue. It’s just barbecue in the form of a fully plant-based food truck in the Mission from Toriano Gordon, a rapper-turned-chef (born in the Fillmore) who works magic with soul food and barbecue fusion. Not convinced? Just take a look at the line. Pair the Texas-style “brisket” and “ribs” with an order of “bacon” collard greens. Want something that’s a little more eating-on-the-street-friendly? The California Barbequito, a giant tortilla filled with smoked “brisket”, “smackaroni”, melted cheese, french fries, guac, sour cream, and a side of mob sauce is the way to go. Our favorite part? Not only is the food fire (well, more smoke, but you get it), it doesn’t leave you with that gut bomb that sometimes (most of the time) happens after taking down a full plate of ‘cue.
Is this a list of the best barbecue joints in SF? Yes, it is. Is Horn Barbecue across the bridge in Oakland? Also, yes. But there’s no way we were going to put out a list of the best barbecue and not include pitmaster-extraordinaire Matt Horn. Believe us, it’s worth the drive (or BART ride) to get his Southern-and-Texas-and-West Coast-inspired brisket, spare ribs, and pulled pork. Want to go hog wild? You can on Sundays when you can buy a whole hog. Also, you cannot leave without an order of the banana pudding. Take it home to enjoy later if you’re too full to eat it there. Just please make sure it gets in your mouth eventually.