I have been promising a blog-post dedicated to local BBQ for some time. This has been an interesting self-assignment and I’ve probably dallied far too long, but it is a great subject, with deep roots and STRONG opinions. Also it doesn’t photograph well, so I thought I’d kick things off with some pickles!
First of all, MY opinions. And some facts. Born and raised mostly in California, I have grown up with the common American vernacular of “barbecue” being predominantly a verb which more accurately should be “grill”. This has driven me crazy for decades. As in: “We are going to barbecue some steaks tonight.” NO. You are going to GRILL them. Likewise, it is also a noun referring to the appliance on the porch on which you barbecue (grill) things. In a couple months, all the barbecues at Home Depot will go on sale. 99.9% of them are GRILLS. These are the uses of the word I grew up with, always had a problem with, but didn’t quite know WHY. Until I moved to the Central Coast, I had never heard *barbecue* as a noun to mean an actual food or food genre, as in: “For lunch today let’s get barbecue.” Barbecue had always been something you DID to meat, not something you ate. Of course, the vast majority of my readers–at least those familiar with the local cuisine–will know I am talking about Santa Maria Style BBQ–and its tri-tip peculiarity. 
I’ve had Santa Maria BBQ several dozen times since moving here. It’s basically a bad cut of beef rubbed down with whichever patented (and ofttimes expensive) secret combination of salt, garlic and pepper the maker subscribes to, and grilled over a combination of red oak wood and coals.  Above is FIRESTONE GRILL‘s version of a popular way it is served EVERYWHERE. 
Here we have the other common way the local grilled tri-tip is served–from every street-corner in Santa Maria to every community park in Atascadero and many restaurants in between.  This time at OLD SAN LUIS BBQ–a place everyone INSISTED I must visit to experience the “best there is”. 
So let’s talk about Pulled Pork, as we weed out the also-rans toward real BBQ. This technically doesn’t even require a “barbecue”. I like pulled pork, and it is on LITERALLY EVERY menu, from banh mi and Cubano to salads to sliders to tacos (please dear god no) and of course just a classic sandwich. Here we are at MO’S SMOKEHOUSE BBQ in downtown SLO (I went to the Pismo Beach location too) and I’m not going to get all glowy or critical of this preparation of “barbecue” because it’s pretty hard to fuck up. I mean–it is always well-seasoned, never tough, runs down your arms and drips off your elbows–what’s to hate? JEFFRY’S WINE COUNTRY BBQ pretty much wins all from me in the pork department. His pulled, banh mi and loin Cubano are easily the best in the area. Likewise chicken and ribs–two other ubiquitous ‘BBQ’ menu items. We’re not going to talk about either of them either, as I consider both of them impossible to fuck up too. OK, let me re-phrase that. If you screw either chicken or ribs up, it is so embarrassing it doesn’t even deserve discussion.  And why, when you have legit Euro-style rotisserie chicken like SLO PROVISIONS and BELL’S available, THIS is the true testament to chicken. Ordering any other version of the bird becomes pointless. And ribs? That’s a whole ‘nother blog, son. Moving on… see this sign? Notice anything missing? Yup. Where’s the Tri-Tip???
So where are we in my TOP 5 BBQ on the Central Coast list? Well, there isn’t going to be a TOP 5. First of all, there aren’t five places.  Secondly, the three places I found with real barbecue were all so good, working so hard to authenticate and perfect it, the service and presentation was so good at each: I can’t justify throwing one or more of them under the bus in order to produce a perfectly scored list lifting any one to a heralded position in a field so close.
Number 3 on my list has to be CENTRAL COAST MEAT MARKET.  CCMM is the newest kid on the block and great lengths have been gone to to assure a Texas experience for Californians. THERE IS NO TRI-TIP ON THE MENU. Modern, clean and streamlined, the visible smoker, full-view meat-cutting, counter-ordering experience is fairly straight-forward with a variety of sides. Service is on paper-covered trays with plastic service (this loses a point with me) and little cardboard trays with GENEROUS sides. Brisket is your choice of “fatty” or “lean” and a knife is redundant on the fatty. Meat is moist and beautiful, mildly seasoned and VERY smoky. Sweet tea, Dr. Pepper and a couple of strange fruity red soda-pops are available (sorry, no CheerWine). A proprietary table-sauce comes in regular and spicy and the regular is fairly reduced, grainy with spice and nice–sweetishly–flavored. Bread is plain slices of regular white bread pulled from a bag (another point off). Beans thickly sauced with pulled pork throughout, nicely seasoned and not spicy. No accouterments other than your sides in meal. Take-out of all products by-the-pound available. When they run out, they run out. CENTRAL COAST MEAT MARKET PISMO BEACH
Number 2  at G. BROTHERS SMOKEHOUSE. Easily the oldest of my three, the former J.D.Boones up on Foothill has only been G. Bros for a decade. Counter-ordering and large quiet dining room adjacent with take-out of everything by-the-pound. There IS tri-tip on the menu, but it doesn’t jump out at you–you kinda gotta look for it. Brisket is BEAUTIFUL, perfectly seasoned, well-integrated smokiness and served on an actual plate with silverware and coleslaw. Beans are a wonderfully-sauced slightly-spicy endeavor with possibly ham hocks or pork belly chunks. Bread goes back to ‘French bread’, but nicely done, not soggy or tough or otherwise mid-western potluck-y–it’s a perfect, lightly garlicked, toasted crusty roll with a touch of butter. A near-salsa-bar selection of house sauces are in a side cooler: Red, yellow, green, salsa, spicy, sweet–you name it. If you’re in SLO and want good BBQ  with no fuss about parking and a staff quite attentive to the quality of your experience, G. Bros is your place. G. BROTHERS SMOKEHOUSE SAN LUIS OBISPO
Well, there’s only one left, and my favorite of this tiny group HAS to be SLO BREW. “But-but-but,” I hear you say, “Slo Brew???” Yup. And there’s several reasons. Chef Fundaro’s slow-smoked brisket is the real dealio, tender and beautiful, not relying necessarily on slicing to minimize grain. Drippingly moist, amazingly well-seasoned, with smoke not the dominate nuance. It comes topped with a non-obtrusive salsa, nowhere near the profile of BBQ sauce OR Mexican salsa. It’s just good, and a seamless accompaniment. At SLOBrew Rock it is served on a paper-covered board sans beans or slaw: instead there are house-pickles and sweet onions. Bread is fat slabs of gloriously white stuff, with a breath of butter and visiting the griddle momentarily. The pile of meat always includes a variety of chunks pulled from his HUGE smoker parked behind the restaurant. There is NO tri-tip on the menu. Of course with SLObrew, a serviceable winelist comes with the meal, and lots of great beer. Unlike the other two restaurants where BBQ is the focal-point of the menu, at SLObrew the brisket and Carolina pig is merely an aside on a full menu of other great items.
There’s SO little separating these three restaurants on this list. All three make a wonderful brisket, and this project has been entertaining and educational–. It’s fun when you walk in and everything clicks and you get what you want and everything is quality.  I’ve never been to Texas–or anywhere in the South–so I am not trying to write a tutorial or end-all guide to Barbecue. Hell, I spelled it with a Q the first 40 years of my life. I have a LOT of followers in the areas mentioned, and I am sure there are parts of even the food I LIKED which appear odd or even hilariously wrong to those steeped in Southern BBQ standards. But this is California, baby! It will never be the same. And, for what we have available, these three stand well out.
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[the original version of this blog-post appears here]