BBQ Sacramento

bbq sacramento

Grab a bunch of napkins. whether you’re after saucy Memphis-style ribs or smoky Texas brisket, here’s where to get the real deal without ever leaving town.

The soft, suggestive aroma of smoke finds your nose on the walk from your car to the doorway, setting off a rolling rumble in your stomach. You’ve come for barbecue, and it won’t be long before you are slurping, smacking and chewing to your heart’s content.

The place is simple: Checkered tablecloths and paper napkins in a metal dispenser lend authenticity, as do the friendly greeting and farm implements on the walls. It’s called a joint, a pit, a shack or just a ‘cue; rarely is a full-blown restaurant an indicator of a pit master’s chops.

Braggadocio is par for the course, with awards on every wall, but talk of what makes the best ‘cue can turn brunch into a brawl sooner than declarations of religion or politics. Rubs versus marinades. Sweet versus sour. Chili peppers versus more chili peppers. Hickory versus oak. Red oak versus white oak, for that matter. It’s obvious there are factions, mostly divided by regional traditions. Cowboys like their beef, natch, and pork ribs belong to soul food like red beans go with rice. The smart eater pleads agnostic and worships opportunistically at every small, sticky house of the holy he or she can find.

Barbecue&emdash;unlike grilling, a fast, high-heat proposition&emdash;is a slow process that uses indirect heat and/or hot smoke. Humans have used smoke to flavor and preserve meat for millennia, and stories flourish as to the origins of both the method and the very word barbecue. Was it from the West Indian barbacòa for cooking over coals or the French barbe à queue, indicating a spit from whiskers to tail? Theories abound, but it’s clear that the U.S. institution of barbecue drew much from the cooking fires of slaves and working poor in the Southern states. The master may have lived high on the hog, but his work force made magic with the tough cuts at hand.

Upscale restaurants may succeed in elevating lowly sweetbreads and pork belly to precious plates of haute cuisine, but barbecue remains a down-home slow food, eaten in good quantity with a deep memory of community around a fire. The fact that barbecue is affordable and travels well makes it especially palatable for catering special events of all stripes. (Most of the places listed below provide off-site catering, hauling their smoker to your place.)

What makes good ‘cue is highly subjective, and we’d be crazy if we dared to rate the bushels of barbecue restaurants in these parts. We’ve got both traditional Texas- and Memphis-style joints, plus plenty of renegades that describe themselves as California style, my style or unique. So jump in and get some sauce on your shirt with the following guide to barbecue in the Greater Sacramento area.

>Andy’s Original D-P Barbecue

Owners Andy and Martha Pree are originally from Arkansas, and their ‘cue is akin to Kansas City- and Carolina-style. They let their customers put the sauce on themselves.
Meat: Ribs, hot or mild beef links, tri-tip, smoked chicken, snapper and catfish
Sides: Potato salad, beans, coleslaw; we don’t have a lot of vegetarians come in here, says Martha Pree
Good to know: D-P stands for Done Perfect
Off-site catering: Yes
2069 Arena Blvd., Suite 150, Sacramento; (916) 928-9121

>Armadillo Willy’s Real Texas BBQ

Slow-smoked ribs are yummy fast food, Texas-style, at this chain’s outlets throughout Northern California.
Meat: St. Louis pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket
Sides: Peanut coleslaw, bean stew with celery, bacon and sausage
Good to know: Kids are welcomed with crayons and coloring sheets
Off-site catering: Yes; online order form available
3620 N. Freeway Blvd., Natomas; (916) 285-9911
1850 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 787-4227
9267 Greenback Lane, Orangevale; (916) 988-0112;

>Back Forty Texas BBQ

Menus and recipes are the same, but each individually owned location varies in size and ambiance. For example, the Roseville location has an Old West façade with a mannequin cowboy stuck in BBQ Jail. No one could tell me his crime, but wouldn’t Mannequin Cowboy be a great name for a band?
Meat: Ribs, beef brisket and exceptionally moist smoked turkey
Sides: Bull’s Eyes (baked sweet-potato chips) and Texas Toothpicks (battered onions and jalapeño peppers seasoned with cayenne and black pepper)
Good to know: Great country music while you hold for phone orders
Off-site catering: Yes; online order form available
1201 Orlando Ave., Roseville; (916) 721-7427
3977 Durock Road, Suite 205, Shingle Springs; (530) 676-4040;

>Barbary Coast Savannah BBQ

Located in midtown’s gourmet gulch, this place has a cute dine-in area with art on the walls. But the ‘cue is authentically Sweet Georgia Brown.
Meat: Carolina-style pulled pork, superior chicken and ribs served with Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Sauce flown in from Georgia
Sides: Molasses-kissed mix of pinto and black beans, fresh-tasting sweet potatoes
Good to know: Pecan pralines fly out the door faster than they can make them
Off-site catering: Yes
1226 20th St., Sacramento; (916) 441-0622

>BBQ Express of Folsom

Owner Brenda Taylor says her Texas-style ‘cue is so tender, you don’t need any teeth.
Meat: Pork spareribs, tri-tip, shredded pork, chicken, Cajun sausage
Sides: Housemade coleslaw, mac ‘n’ cheese, spicy corn, candied yams, greens
Good to know: Taylor’s 22-foot-long smoker was custom-built in Houston
Off-site catering: Yes
6693 Folsom-Auburn Road, Folsom; (916) 988-8659

>Big Joe’s BBQ

Big Joe Dunlap burns almond wood in his ginormous smoker, which weighs 900 pounds fully loaded.
Meat: Pork spareribs, chicken, hot links and BBQ spaghetti (noodles with pulled pork and barbecue sauce)
Sides: Barbecue beans are the No. 1 side here; Big Joe’s goes through 170 pounds of beans a week
Good to know: Joe’s huge meal deals can feed an army without a vote from Congress
Off-site catering: Yes
7967 Auburn Blvd., Citrus Heights; (916) 726-2200

>D’miller’s Famous BBQ

Eli and Belle Miller have been serving it up D’miller style at this location for a lucky 13 years.
Meat: Pork sandwiches, St. Louis ribs
Sides: Housemade potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans
Good to know: The sauce is boss, says Eli Miller. Once you try it, it’s in your diet, and a little dab will never do you.
Off-site catering: Yes
7305 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 974-1881

>Drooling Dog BarBQ

Owners Linda and Doug Mason claim they created a lighter style of smoking and saucing. We wanted people to taste what they’re eating, says Doug Mason.
Meat: St. Louis pork ribs
Sides: Garlic-roasted red potatoes, corn pudding, Southern greens
Good to know: The raspberry-chipotle barbecue sauce, a recent winner at the National BBQ Association sauce contest, is available by the bottle
Off-site catering: Yes
212 N. Canyon Way, Colfax; (530) 346-8883


>House of Chicken & Ribs

The House calls its method Southern-style: The meats are marinated, then smoked for 11 hours. The sauce goes on when the customer gives the order.
Meat: Chicken and ribs, of course, but tri-tip is actually its claim to fame
Sides: Sweet-potato fries
Good to know: Discount coupons on website
Off-site catering: Yes
3535 Elverta Road, Suite C, Antelope; (916) 332-7041

>Incahoots BBQ & Catering

Owner Tom Krumbholz says the menu has evolved from its original focus on Santa Maria tri-tip, but Incahoots still uses the signature red oak, the huge open pit and its own spice rub.
Meats: Baby back ribs, chicken, sausage and juicy tri-tip
Sides: Housemade coleslaw, potato salad, pasta salad, green-leaf salad, poquito beans
Good to know: Eat your dinner and you get a Tootsie Roll Pop
Off-site catering: Yes
9486 Main St., Plymouth; (209) 245-5544

>JR’s Texas Bar-B-Que

Sure, JR’s caters lots of community events, but those who eat in get to play pool and watch the large-screen TV.
Meat: Texas-style brisket, pork shoulder, beef and pork ribs
Sides: Coleslaw is crisp with a sweet dressing
Good to know: In November and December, JR and crew smoke hundreds of turkeys for holiday tables
Off-site catering: Yes
180 Otto Circle, Sacramento; (916) 424-3520;

>Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

This chain was started by Lucille Buchanan in Long Beach in the 1940s. All locations have a plantation-style building with a great porch.
Meat: St. Louis and baby back pork ribs, beef ribs, rib tips, chicken, pulled pork, brisket
Sides: Biscuits with apple butter, mashed sweet potatoes, greens, grits, baked beans
Good to know: More upscale than your average pit, Lucille’s will cost you $17 to $30 for main plates
Off-site catering: No; pickup orders from the catering menu only
Blue Oaks Town Center, 6628 Lonetree Blvd., Rocklin; (916) 780-7427;

>Ludy’s Main Street BBQ

Enjoy the peaceful patio out back or the eclectically rustic dcor inside this personable restaurant next to the historic Woodland Opera House.
Meat: Pork spareribs and baby back ribs are dry-rubbed, smoked for six hours, then glazed with sauce
Sides: Hand-cut taters are an order unto themselves, served with barbecue sauce or ranch dressing
Good to know: Free two-hour parking in back; kids eat free on Mondays; live bands Fridays and Saturdays
Off-site catering: Yes
667 Main St., Woodland; (530) 666-4400

>MacQue’s Bar-B-Que

At MacQue’s, everyone gets a big greeting. Our customers are taken care of, says manager Julia Sutton.
Meat: Pork ribs, smoked ham, chicken, tri-tip sandwiches; hot links run mild, hot and Louisiana hot
Sides: Lots of variety: baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, red beans and rice, greens, mac ‘n’ cheese . . .
Good to know: Peach cobbler served on Saturdays, cookies and sweet-potato pie available all week
Off-site catering: Yes
8101 Elder Creek Road, Sacramento; (916) 381-4119

>Memphis Bar-B-Q

The folks at Memphis Bar-B-Q Company tend their two smokers right inside the restaurant, stoking them with hickory wood from Arizona.
Meat: Memphis-style pulled pork, ribs
Sides: Mustard coleslaw that’s hot and sweet
Good to know: We’re not in Memphis anymore, Toto: The slaw is served as a side, since Californians aren’t used to putting it on the bun, says owner/manager Amal Mabham
Off-site catering: Yes
455 Bercut Drive, Sacramento; (916) 441-0603

>Poor Red’s

The long wait in the bar seems to require a round of creamy Gold Cadillac cocktails, but the real treat is the people-watching on Friday and Saturday evenings at this biker bar/local hangout just outside of Placerville.
Meat: Assertively seasoned ribs and chicken smoked Texas-style
Sides: Baked potato and green salad with a slice of pickled beet
Good to know: An extra plate for sharesies will cost you a buck
Off-site catering: No
6221 Pleasant Valley Road, El Dorado; (530) 622-2901

>Rubs BBQ & Ribs

Barbecue can be very healthy, says owner Mike Ray. Californians don’t eat like they do in the South, with all the mayo and butter.
Meat: Tender brisket, meaty St. Louis pork ribs, housemade sausage, rotissifried chicken
Sides: Fresh salads and coleslaw (nothing from a bag, says Ray), crisp onion rings, corn muffins
Good to know: Ray uses frying oil without trans fats: It costs a little more, tastes the same
Off-site catering: Yes
807 Howe Ave., Sacramento; (916) 929-7827

>Sandra Dee’s Bar-B-Que and Seafood Restaurant

All that and the stars says the menu, and by that they mean Cajun-influenced soul food and
a friendly bartender.
Meat: Rib tips, half chicken, chopped pork, pork ribs
Sides: Sweet and spicy corn, red beans and rice
Good to know: Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday: All-you-can-eat rib tips for $11.99
Off-site catering: Yes
601 15th St., Sacramento; (916) 448-6375;

>Texas West Bar-B-Que

Served on metal trays like big pie tins, the portions are generous at Texas West and so is the friendly service.
Meat: Po’ boy sandwiches of chopped barbecued beef, pork or chicken, tender baby back ribs, meaty spareribs, dry-rub brisket
Sides: House-cut fries, barbecue beans, Texas toast, potato salad
Good to know: Just 75 cents extra will get you melted cheese, red onions and jalapeños on any sandwich (but your date has to sign a waiver)
Off-site catering: Yes
1600 Fulton Ave., Sacramento; (916) 483-7427
1950 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 773-7427
2776 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 966-7427;


This family-run restaurant does Memphis-style ‘cue with white oak in the smoker. Appetizers, and prices, are on the fancy side.
Meat: Beef and pork ribs, brisket, pulled-pork sandwich
Sides: Collard greens, Velveeta-esque mac ‘n’ cheese, steak fries
Good to know: While the barbecue is traditional American, the family’s Korean heritage is evident in dishes such as sweet glazed beef served with kimchi
Off-site catering: Yes
9657 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 361-2014    

Barbecue Styles: A Glossary


Moist pork, both pulled and ribs, marinated in a tangy, thin vinegar/pepper sauce. Don’t forget the hush puppies. Local source: Barbary Coast

Kansas City-style:
In this barbecue-obsessed town, the meat is dry-rubbed with salt and spices, then smoked over hickory for hours. The sauce is served on the side: Vinegary, spicy and sweet all at once, it’s often thick and dark with the addition of molasses. Local source: ‘taint none. You’ll have to go to Arthur Bryant’s on Brooklyn Avenue in K.C.

Wet ribs are brushed with sauce before and after smoking; dry ribs are rubbed only with spices and salt before smoking. Pulled- or chopped-pork sandwiches are slathered with sauce and served with coleslaw on generic hamburger rolls. Local source: Everett and Jones

Takes influences from both Texas and Memphis, but has a wider range of proteins in the smoker, including bologna. Local source: none

Santa Maria-style: California’s very own features a rubbed and marinated tri-tip grilled over red oak, served at any Central Coast happening, from farmers markets to society weddings. There’s even a Santa Maria Barbecue Hall of Fame. Local source: Incahoots

Meats, particularly beef brisket and ribs, are slow-cooked in a smoker with low heat and heavy smoke. No sauce is used in the cooking, but it may be used to dip the meat into during the meal. A telltale pink ring is an important sign of this slow, dry style, caused by long contact between the myoglobin in the meat and the carbon monoxide in smoke. Local source: Texas West     

How to Speak Barbecue Like a Southerner&emdash;
I lived in Athens, Ga., for a year when my husband was in grad school at the University of Georgia. We spent our weekends sampling roadside joints all over the countryside. Here’s what I learned from living in the South:
• Barbecue is used more often as a noun than as a verb.
• Barbecue means tender, smoked meat, not something with grill marks on it.
• That thing you cook your hamburgers on is a grill, not a barbecue.
• Tea is iced and already sweet.
• Sides are sometimes called vegetables. Mac ‘n’ cheese is a vegetable; Jell-O mold is not. (It’s a salad.)