Every pit master and self-proclaimed weekend BBQ stud has their own style, precious tools and lucky apron. Is it the perfect knife or the size of the blade that matters? Every dedicated novice dreams about slow cooking bigger blazes and sharing secret seasonings with the best pit masters from Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. The most experienced pit masters swear by the technique of just giving it time.
But what about California? Do we even show up in a google search for the best states for BBQ? We checked and found only one, along with New York. Clearly the BBQ acolyte club is sleeping at the west coast wheel. Bogus stereotypes and typical pit master gimmicks are being challenged here in Southern California. You don’t need to be wearing coveralls, have a southern accent, or have a colloquial combo nickname to be taken serious in the BBQ game.
It’s quite the opposite for this next generation. Would you take seriously a pit master in flip flops and a skater t-shirt? Its time you should. California is breaking out big time in the BBQ trade. Especially Southern California. We are more than street tacos and hamburger heaven. The best BBQ places are often the least opulent, most obscure and many restaurants are being discovered in our Latin and Asian communities.
We’ve come to the salient observation that the seeing simple, rough and minimalistic décor, is the precursor to incredible bovine bliss. The BBQ pit master world is beyond buying a shiny stainless-steel contraption, with all the bells and whistles, at your local home improvement store. Orange County is an explosive melting pot, you can expect new faces and influences on America’s oldest favorite food: BBQ.
Best Family-Owned BBQ Joints
BIG B’s BARBEQUE
Try: Bs Baby Back Ribs
1948 N. Placentia Avenue, Fullerton 92831
About the size of small mall food court eatery, Big B’s has a big barbeque following. Located in a strip mall it’s easy to miss. In the barbecue world, counter size doesn’t matter and Mr. B’s is the perfect example. This Mighty Mouse joint has been blazing up since 1986. If I didn’t know I was coming for their famous baby back ribs, I’d certainly know that this was a bad sign for a first date. It’s a no frills, beige place with a few booths, offering mostly take out. For barbecue lovers that’s a good sign. Why? If the restaurant store front leaves much to be desired, then it is a safe bet that what’s happing in the kitchen is what matters most.
Big Bs Baby back ribs are a standout for taste, tenderness and the best BBQ in the value category. The portions are just right, nice and meaty. It’s all about boiling the ribs first. Soft, moist and just the right amount of tangy BBQ sauce drips from each rib. You’ll easily think of just drinking the sauce alone. BIG B’s offers a great combo lunch menu with traditional sides. Beckets Beans are savory and right on for the standout side. It’s a unique recipe that earned its following.
Try: Beef Brisket
2901 E. Mira Loma Ave, Anaheim 92806
Blake’s is a family-owned place, named after the owner’s son. A hidden gem in an industrial park in Anaheim, it’s an upscale joint always busy and buzzing. Walking in there’s a fast-paced sports bar vibe. It’s clearly the IN-N-OUT of BBQ joints with a modern rustic look. Crew and customers are easily recognized. You’ll see motivated employees and back for more regulars.
Blake’s uses quality proteins and keeps things delicious with a smoke burning pit. Low and slow is the name of the game at Blake’s. Nothing beats eating good BBQ and watching the ball game on a big screen. The standout here is the to die for brisket. Blake’s is big on starting with the fine cuts of beef and cooking is never rushed. The brisket is super tender and juicy. Smoked to perfection in a harmony of fat and juices. Here at Blake’s, fat is King and the brisket is a marbled miracle. The house barbecue sauce is incredible. This may be the wow factor for the sauce snobs of OC. It’s a bold, deliberate bouquet ending with a spicy honey tang.
Blake’s is another catering giant in Orange County. It’s a sellout every Thanksgiving for their smoked turkey orders, and wedding bookings are becoming more popular. When it has to be special, then order from Blake’s. There’s even live music on special weekends. Cool cover songs and great times are happening at Blake’s.
TULSA RIB CO.
Try: Country Boneless Pork Ribs
220 E. Katella Ave., Orange
The Tulsa Rib Company is Orange County’s little BBQ engine that could, and still does. It’s been around for 37-years and original owner Steve says he’s still as excited about great BBQ as he was when he first opened in the city of Orange. Chuck is running things now, but nothing much has changed. This almost plain restaurant has garnered a country wide audience and has proven its dominating reputation in Orange County. Its dude ranch hard wood floors, and long wooden tables give it a “somewhere in the south” vibe. Red checkered placements signal that if you’re here for barbecue, then take a sit. Famous food critics like Elmer Dills and Don Smith, restaurant King makers, have given a big hat off to Tulsa and it’s been full steam since those early reviews.
Tulsa Rib Co.’s boilerplate is “Gourmet BBQ”. They are a successful monster for local catering, too. Everyone wants these legendary barbecue favorites from Nordstrom to Freightliner. It’s a rib “coffee shop” type of place where you can grab a meaningful lunch or a just fantastic end of a long day dinner.
The must order is the Country Boneless Pork Ribs. Lordy, these just fall of your fork and melt in your mouth. Its premium pork, slow cooked heaven. Are you a sauce machine? Here’s your ticket, The Baby Baby Baby plate. Along with meaty, smooth baby back ribs you get three different sauces: barbecue, smoked, and spicy. The Tulsa Rib Company serves up amazing artichoke hearts blended with ripe lemon and creamy, whole milk butter. It is deep fried for just a flash using a fine tempura mix. Delish!
BEST POP-UP BBQ
Try: Pulled Pork Sandwich
4859 Main Street, Yorba Linda
We showed up on a late weekday night, headlights shining on what looked like a country fair lot. It was almost closing time and Johnny Cash was telling his favorite story for all of main street to hear. It felt like a tough cowboy Woody was sitting nearby, boots on the table. I expected the Sheriff to walk out from the strings of lights any minute. This place was all theatre with the smell of warm, spicy barbecue not buttered popcorn. It was Great! The white fences corralled the wood benches and way in the back was a small black trailer, with busy bodies seen in the windows. We ordered from a wooden kiosk and grabbed our soft drinks and waited. Old timer Country songs slowly played as our hunger grew. If this was all Evan could produce, we would be theatrically satisfied. We did get a heck of a lot more.
Evan Carl, a NASCAR looking, coming up in the ranks, kind of a pit master, has been down the fast roads of unbelievable BBQ. The standout here is the pulled pork sandwich. Starting with a toasted artesian brioche bun, it’s just exploding with sauce and perfectly pieced pork. Stacked high, we had to really bite down to get a full bite. Its bang on. Sweet at first then suddenly the notes of bold spice invite you back for another bite. The best pulled pork hands down. Homemade potato salad is definitely a good side choice. It’s a perfect blend of crunchy, fine slices of carrots and the proper mix of an in-house mayonnaise. The side winner is the corn bread. We can’t say it enough. The best side at Evan’s smokehouse or anywhere else. It reminded us of a Mexican sweet corn tamale with the consistency of a Parisian macaroon from Laduree. Wild! We know Evan has a pastry soft side. Evan’s Smokehouse cornbread can rival any gourmet wedding cake this side of the Pacific.
BEST BREAK OUT FAST CASUAL
Try: Prime Tri Tip
1450 N. Kraemer Blvd., Placentia
Luis owns this cutting-edge BBQ place. We opened and pushed through the double glass doors and immediately were escorted to the counter by the smell of big and robust BBQ. It’s exactly what you’d expect walking past a Hickory barbecue flower field.
Meat Up is the only restaurant that has this effect when you swing open the doors. Boom, your senses are on high. This place is just plain cool with a bad boy façade similar to those eclectic craft breweries mushrooming up across Orange County. Meat up takes as much pride in their craft beers as they do with their BBQ. Their on-tap selection is fire and offers locally brewed ales and blondes. The background music was rock and kept the “we’re not your traditional BBQ restaurant” energy flowing.
We chatted with Luis, who has that OC innocuous hard street vibe. We asked what kind of BBQ sauce do you serve and he flat out told us to forget about the sauce. “Who walks into a legit BBQ place asking what kind of BBQ sauce is used?” Almost insulted, he leaned in and whispered that it’s all about the meat, silly, not the thousand island sauce you’re looking for. BBQ is all about the meat and nothing but the meat. And he suggested that only barbecue wimps wanted info about the BBQ sauce and not about his 14-hour days of slow cooking his Greater Omaha Angus Beef. So, yes, Mr. Wimpy asked him to tell us why we should eat there and not across the street. He grew silent and without a beat, said that Meat UP uses better quality meat, much better. He uses certified humanly raised, all natural meats. We were blown away about his answer referring to his farm to table sourced provisions. Super kudos to Luis and his humanely raised stewardship.
The stand out is the prime Tri Tip. It’s meaty, and portions are generous. You literally can taste every slow cooked hour in every bite. The Tri Tip was full of marbled fat, giving it the depth of Hickory flavor that’s fire, you don’t even need the sauce. For a five-dollar upgrade, you now get a half pound combo meal with two sides. A side winner is the baked black beans for a texture twist and bold flavor. We agree that Meat Up’s success must be Luis’ “magic rub”.
BEST TEXAS BBQ
Where do we start? Heritage Barbeque is the behemoth BBQ bovine that’s just raging thru the craft BBQ scene. Congratulations Heritage Barbecue for coming in at #1 for the best restaurant in OC. The accolades and recognitions just keep firing in. Food & Wine magazine named Heritage Barbecue one of “America’s Best New BBQ Spots” and earned Bib Gourmand status in the 2021 Michelin Guide. What owner and pit master Danny Castillo has created and accomplished in just a few short years is unbelievable and exciting.
Danny has single handedly put San Juan Capistrano on America’s map for a must stop in destination dinning. Simply known for its Spanish Mission and pocket surf spots, is now a galactic magnet for BBQ lovers. Heritage Barbecue brings central Texas style BBQ to Orange County. Again, a familiar rustic restaurant with ample outdoor seating and long lines that affirm you’re in the right place. They are so into the craft that there is no phone number to call on the restaurant website. There’s no time. Time is given to the meats, the finest grass-fed, farm to table proteins. Heritage Barbecue is the true testament in the culinary world, that if you’re food is “special”, they will come. And they haven’t stopped cueing up to this incredible, chef driven place of miraculous barbecue meat.
Heritage Barbecue is the first restaurant in Orange County that uses an offset smoke barbecue as opposed to commercial steel gas or electric assisted barbecues used in chains and smaller restaurants. This is so advantageous because it is 100% pitmaster controlled and allows for superb temperature control resulting in a perfect cook. Pitmaster Danny showcases the Central Texas BBQ style by using Post Oak, giving meat the opportunity to shine through. Heritage Barbecue starts with sourcing the best meats like Creekstone and Duroc and then concentrating on fire management for its signature taste.
The stand out is the beef ribs. The best tasing ribs in California for certain. The ribs are as beautiful and solid as a brick of gold: tender, divinely juicy and an experience never before tasted in Orange County. Portions are generous and the seasoning plays a barbecue piano concerto in your mouth. The sauce is warm and smokey, with hints of the Post Oak. Danny has brought the bigger is better Texas mindset to Heritage. Bigger barbecue pits and bigger flavors in traditional favorites like smoked sausage and macaroni and cheese. Danny is truly a Texan at heart, he’s the tatted, relaxed guy wearing a simple straw cowboy hat, but what is created under that simple hat has proven to be just the opposite.
More BBQ Restaurants in Orange County
Craft By Smoke & Fire – 195 W Center Street Promenade, Anaheim, CA 92805
Jav’s Bar-B-Q – 500 S Anaheim Blvd #D, Anaheim, CA 92805
- 8022 E Santa Ana Canyon Rd, Anaheim Hills, CA 92808
- 501 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine, CA 92618
- 28061 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
- 22352 El Paseo, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
- 1676 Tustin Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
- 30065 Alicia Pkwy Suite A, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
Newport Rib Company – 2196 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
The Rib Joint Roadhouse – 34294 CA-1, Dana Point, CA 92629
- 2000 East Gene Autry Way, Anaheim, CA 92806
- 8300 La Palma Avenue, Buena Park, CA 90620
- 27931 La Paz Road, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
- 26761 Portola Parkway, Lake Forest, CA 92610
Pig n Pig – 711 N Placentia Ave, Fullerton, CA 92831
The Smoking Ribs – 14211 Euclid St D, Garden Grove, CA 92843
Beale’s Texas BBQ – 16400 Pacific Coast Hwy #130, Huntington Beach, CA 92649
Old Crow Smokehouse – 21022 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Santa Maria Bbq HB – 7144 Edinger Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que – 13122 Jamboree Rd, Irvine, CA 92602
Wholly Smokes BBQ – 5440 Orangethorpe Ave, La Palma, CA 90623
Balboa Bar-B-Que – 600 E Bay Ave A7, Newport Beach, CA 92661
RIBBRO BBQ – 2300 SE Bristol St C, Newport Beach, CA 92660
Brew Hawg BBQ – 665 N Tustin St suite j, Orange, CA 92867
Hickory & Spice BBQ – 2143 N Tustin St # 6, Orange, CA 92865
Sauced BBQ & Spirits – 1535 W Katella Ave, Orange, CA 92867
Smoqued California BBQ – 128 N Glassell St, Orange, CA 92866
Bad To The Bone BBQ – 31738 Rancho Viejo Rd, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
EATS BBQ – 13912 Ponderosa St suite i, Santa Ana, CA 92705
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