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  • The Anonymous Hungry Hippopotamus

Bay Area Barbecue

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

In the United States, the word "barbecue" conjures up images of pulled pork, brisket and ribs. If you are from the South, it's a subculture varying between regions, all vying for the title of "best barbecue." There are lively and heated debates between charcoal and wood, direct and indirect heat, beef versus pork, sauce versus dry rub and on and on. As a Californian, many of these nuances are lost on me. I simply conjure up images of winding, country roads, large grills emitting intoxicating smells of roasting meat and songs like "Body Like A Back Road" (the extent of my country music knowledge but, a song that makes me smile) playing in the background.

Barbecue however, is celebrated in nearly every culture on earth, with distinct styles featuring the availability of local meats, other ingredients and the cooking apparatus. In Mexico it is celebrated as barbacoa, in Chile or Argentina it is called asado, in China it is known as chuan'r, in Mongolia it is called khorkhog, in Samoa it is umu, and in India it is devoured as tandoori. Here in Northern California's Bay Area, I found great barbecue from a few of these places around the globe.

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ

Gyu-Kaku has many locations all over Canada and in 18 of the 50 United States of America. I visited their location in Oakland, California, not far from Old Town and Jack London Square.

Spicy Cold Tofu

Soft tofu with crunchy, chili garlic sauce and kimchi.

Harami Skirt Steak

This comes marinated and ready for you to grill.

You cook your own meat on a hibachi in the center of the table. This is a great place to go with a large group to try many different meat varieties and share the cooking fun.

The size and thickness of the steak was cut so that the pieces were cooked and ready to eat in less than a minute (for medium rare). Yum!

They offer plain rice, but I highly suggest the garlic rice which is mixed for you table side in a stone pot. The rice is then gently pushed up against the sides of the pot to continue cooking, creating a well in the center of the vessel.

If you let it sit for a few minutes, the heat from the stone continues to cook the outer layer of rice, crisp up the grains, and caramelize the onions (those are the long, darker bits you see) while the inside layer stays soft and moist. The consistency of the outer layer reminds me of tahdig, a Persian rice dish that I absolutely love.

Horn Barbecue

If you are looking for "West Coast Barbecue," as described by Pitmaster Matt Horn, look no further than West Oakland, California. What started as a pop-up has now become a bay area sensation, recognized nationally by everyone from the New York Times to Food and Wine Magazine to the Michelin guide. Locally, it commands waits up to two hours at its brick and mortar location on Mandela Parkway.

Pitmaster, Matt Horn serves up Central Texas style barbecue with traditions from the Deep South. He learned to make barbecue by experimenting in his grandmother's backyard. Today, Horn has developed a barbecue that “expresses the soul of his people and the power of his imagination,” according to the Horn website.

Collard greens, pork link, brisket and spare ribs

Ohgane Korean BBQ

Located on Broadway in Oakland, California, Ohgane Korean BBQ is the perfect place to go if you are craving soot-bool or mesquite wood barbecue, featuring fresh cuts of meat.

When eating Korean barbecue, it is traditional to serve banchan (which literally translates to "side dishes") ahead of the main course. Above, you can see those that are commonly prepared including steamed broccoli, spicy bean sprouts, kimchi, pickled cucumber and seaweed.


Soft tofu soup.


Barbecued, beef short ribs.

Ohgane, like Gyu-Kaku, offers tabletop cooking for guests. My time however, like the ribs I ordered was short, so I opted to have the dish cooked by the chef rather than cooking it myself.

Rice, red leaf lettuce, ssamjang and raw, sliced jalapeño and garlic.

Ssambap are Korean lettuce wraps and are a traditional way to eat Galbi. Composing the wrap is like stuffing a taco. Use the lettuce to substitute for the tortilla and then layer the ssamjang, rice, jalapeño, garlic and galbi.

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar and Smokin' BBQ

I had to include this barbecue joint for its uniqueness. Bounty Hunter has a few locations but, I visited the Napa Valley location, just a few blocks from the river walk. This restaurant, serving authentic barbecue, also doubles as a wine and spirit shop. The space is rustic and warm with a kitchen that is smaller than many closets.

One wall is lined with an extremely impressive wine collection, including 400 bottles from around the globe,

while the opposite wall is lined with spirits and several beer selections. You can pair your food order with a cocktail, a glass or flight of wine or a flight of whiskey.

House-made Kansas City, Carolina and Alabama Barbecue Sauces

Bounty Hunter makes all of their barbecue sauces in-house using the same secret spice blend. What changes from sauce to sauce is the base. The Kansas City sauce is made with chipotle chilis and brown sugar, the Carolina sauce with mustard and apple cider vinegar and the Alabama sauce is made with champagne vinegar and tomatoes.

St. Louis Ribs, Coleslaw and Bread and Butter Pickles

These award-winning ribs are oak-smoked, low and slow.

Like all great barbecue, the tender, flavorful, meat falls off the bone.

No matter which type of barbecue you prefer, there is something extremely delicious about that unmistakable smoky flavor. I look forward to hearing about your favorite barbecue spots.

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1 Comment

Joan Kosmachuk
Joan Kosmachuk
Jan 11, 2023

If you ever get to Boston you'll have to try "RedBones" -- I remember it with fondness. You take such awesome photos -- smart phone or real camera?

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