Southpaw featuring Sneaky's BBQ (photo credit: Elizabeth Wells)


4505 Burgers & BBQ

Where to eat barbecue in SF this summer

By Maryse Chevriere

San Francisco is home to all manner of transplants, each bringing along a rich culinary tradition—not least of which is a growing community of those with roots in America’s barbecue belt. The Carolinas, Tennessee, Texas, Kansas—you name it. You can find all those factions and more represented in the Bay Area. And since summer is the quintessential ‘cue season, we’ve rounded up eight of our favorites across the city, from hot newcomers to beloved longstanding standouts.

Black Bark BBQ
The name of chef David Lawrence’s Fillmore Street ‘cue joint tells you everything you need to know about the house specialty—the smoky, crunchy, dry rub crust that coats their mouthwatering Texas-style beef brisket. Because the goal here is to really highlight the quality of the seasoning and the meat (which includes the brisket, plus pulled pork, link sausage, turkey legs, spare ribs, and half chickens), everything is cooked sans sauce. Of course, there are plenty of tasty choose-your-own-adventure sauce options, from the more traditional tomato- and vinegar-based renditions to the Carolina-inspired mustard-based “California Gold.”

Southpaw featuring Sneaky's BBQ
Less than a year after making it official and permanently moving into the kitchen at Mission Street’s Southpaw BBQ, beloved pop-up Sneaky’s it still crushing it with their no-joke Carolina barbecue. The dry-rubbed pork belly and vinegar-pepper-dressed pulled pork and smoked chicken are not to be missed, and there’s a great lineup of North and South Carolina-inspired sauces to choose from to go with. You can even invite your vegan friends along; the brined and smoked jackfruit is a seriously awesome meat-free option.

Burma Bear
After gaining a steady following over the last couple years thanks to pop-up events and festival cameos, this Burmese-American barbecue mash-up has just opened its first stand-alone brick-and-mortar location in downtown Oakland. If your craving for ‘cue skews to the less traditional, head here for the signature sweet and spicy baby back ribs or Hawaiian-style pulled pork. And instead of the usual side of slaw, here you’ll want to opt for the tea leaf salad.

International Smoke at Mina Test Kitchen
Forget fire power—this more upscale barbecue concept has some real star power behind it. The fourth iteration of Michael Mina’s rotating pop-up dinner is a collaboration with lifestyle expert and cookbook author Ayesha Curry (and, yes, wife of Stephen Curry). The tasting menu is intent on highlighting barbecue’s “lighter side” as well as its diversity, with items like a smoked heirloom tomato salad and Singapore-style red chile–glazed soft shell crab, as well as more classic items like Ayesha’s signature jerk chicken and smoked St. Louis-style baby back ribs.

4505 Burgers & BBQ
Open for just over two years now, this Divisadero smokehouse remains a perennial hot spot thanks to its exceptional wood fire pit–smoked meats. Expect to find a line out the door at this summer-perfect joint, with groups gathering over platters of smoked chicken, brisket, and spare ribs at the open-air picnic tables in the adjoining refurbished shipping container. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention 4505’s other namesake and must-get order, the burger—sorry, make that the “best damn grass-fed cheeseburger”—which definitely steals the sandwich section show. A bonus for late-night revelers: On Friday and Saturday nights they’re open until 11 p.m.

Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing
Barbecue and beer are about as classic a combination as peanut butter and jelly, so what is there not to love about a barbecue joint located inside a local brewery? Drawing inspiration from all schools of ‘cue—Texas, Carolina, Kansas City, you name it—this casual Dogpatch spot is counter service only, with a rotating selection of specials posted on a handwritten chalkboard (the staple menu, which includes meat by the pound and sides, is now offered on a printed menu). What more is there to say? Grab a group and a growler and get ready to get your grub on.

CatHead’s BBQ
A tribute to the Tennessee and Michigan roots of husband-and-wife team Richard Park and Pamela Schafer, this SoMa spot, moved into the space Folsom Street institution Big Nate’s BBQ back in 2012. The menu offers quite the variety of options for the barbecue gourmand. Feast on everything from smoked lamb shoulder to sweet tea chicken to Coca Cola–smoked brisket. And don’t even think about visiting without getting one of their signature biscuits; the name CatHead’s is a nod to these, which are literally shaped (and sized) like a cat’s head.

Rusty’s Southern
While not a dedicated barbecue restaurant, this year-old Tenderloin southern comfort specialist does offer an important addition to the SF scene: a Lexington, North Carolina-inspired barbecue plate. The unique style, made famous by the renowned Lexington Barbecue, features hickory-smoked chopped pork shoulder that gets tossed in a tangy vinegar-based sauce and is served with a special tomato-y red slaw and hush puppies.

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