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11 Essential North Bay Barbecue Spots

All the good smoke is hovering North of the Golden Gate

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Let's get one thing straight: It's not grilled, it's smoked. ”And if someone had to stay up all night to tend it, all the better. The variations on a theme are endless, and the purists are many. Some say a vinegar-based sauce is best, while others are pro-mustard sauce. Or maybe the best sauce is tomato-based, with brown sugar. Then there are the sides: potato salad or coleslaw? As Bay Area natives know, everyone around here has a bone to pick with barbecue, and there's no one right answer.

But, one thing that everyone can agree on is that barbecue and summer go together like, well, barbecue and summer. €”And that Wine Country has got your (fat)back covered, offering up some of the best barbecue in the region. Here are 11 essential places to grab some smoky meat and upstanding sides, no argument needed.

Note: Restaurants are organized geographically, not ranked.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Pig in a Pickle

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341 Corte Madera Town Ctr
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 891-3265
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Tallow-fried potato chips and house-made pickles and sauces bottled for take-away are good enough—but the Pig in a Pickle's offer to deliver dinner right to your idle, exhausted self make this spot a favorite. Yet while you could have them bring it to you, coming into this handsome spot with its rough wood paneling and Mason jar lighting is a treat in itself. Meat can be purchased in quarter-pound increments, while platters stretch all the way to portions for four. Call it "meat your way."

Pig in a Pickle

2. Best Lil' Porkhouse

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2042 4th St
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 457-7675
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With its dining room a cloistered island separated by doors and walls from the kitchen, staff, and cash register—anarchy can easily reign at this Lil' Porkhouse. A recent visit found anarchy in the guise of a boys' birthday party, 10 pardners in kerchiefs thrilling to the smoky air, the dire lack of supervision, and the really damned good ribs. Plan to have a platter of pork and save room for the banana pudding. You might need its courage.

Gretchen Giles

3. Roadside BBQ

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5000 Northgate Dr #135
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-7200
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It takes two chefs working quickly to keep up with the massive menu on offer at this not-quite-roadside joint. In the Northgate Mall (and now also in the Graton Casino and Resort just up the freeway), Roadside caters to families, with something for everyone served on real plates and tinfoil cups, depending. Providing a "hunger scale" to help one determine how many ribs is enough to satiate (hint: 12 ribs is deemed adequate for two), this joint even includes stuffed baked potatoes among its smoky pleasures. Adding meat and cheese just bumps it up the hunger scale—and into the stratosphere.

Brian T./Yelp

4. Cochon Volant BBQ

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18350 Sonoma Highway
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 509-5480
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When you're ready for your pound of meat, you're ready for Cochon Volant, a tiny jewel box of a spot right off Highway 12 that intends for you to swoop in, grab a bodacious bounty of barbecue, and swoop on out again. (Or you could sit at a table in the parking lot.) Meats are available indeed by the full pound or tucked into sandwiches, but the best bets are the combo plates for one or two people. Homemade pickles, homemade sauces, Sonoma Valley wines, and $5 cookies the size of a child's head makes this a must-visit take-out palace.

Steven D./Yelp

5. Red Rock Cafe

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1010 Lincoln Ave
Napa, CA 94558

While a barbecue joint would have to be crazy not to offer take-out, Red Rock's lifeline is in sending those bags steadily out the door. Call the special take-out hotline for ribs, tri-tip, pork, chicken, or hot links. Claiming to serve the best burgers in the Napa Valley, Red Rock keeps everything simple. There's no elaborate arms-length list of possibilities, just the good things they been cooking every day for nearly 20 years now.

Tristan C./Yelp

6. Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ

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975 1st St
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 226-3976
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The white napkin/bordello vibe of this thriving wine bar/genteel barbecue spot finds its graceful balance in the sight of a well-dressed man sucking rib bones while seated on a saddle that has been affixed to a wine barrel as people have vigorously vied to do since the day the Bounty Hunter opened well over a decade ago. Find a spot at the bar and relax. You've found your center.

Visit Napa Valley

7. The Q Restaurant & Bar

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3900 Bel Aire Plz Ste D
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 224-6600
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Memphis-style barbecue with a cold cabbage dish named for a famed Oakville winemaker and AQ pricing for the day's steak plate means you have arrived in the Napa Valley. So pull up a chair on the Q's large and comfortable patio and bask in the cakey crumb of their corn bread, marveling that all of this could possibly be contained in a strip mall.

Rodel M./Yelp

8. BBQ Smokehouse Bistro & Catering

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6811 Laguna Pkwy
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 575-3277
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With a Texas-style wood pit pumping quietly away in the parking lot of the movie theater behind it, the BBQ Smokehouse specializes in hues of Southern smoke served on bones, buns, and paper. A quiet outdoor area shaded by trees makes this a surprisingly good place to sneak away for a workday lunch at a picnic table while considering the vagaries of true Americana and picking meat from your teeth.

Rick S./Yelp

9. KINsmoke

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304 Center St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 473-8440
Visit Website

Where locals and their kids go, Kinsmoke is just as likely to offer huge helpings of grilled asparagus as the day's special as it might something that once trotted the fields. But make no mistake, Kinsmoke is about the 'cue, running the geographic gamut from North to South Carolina with a stop in St. Louis and a nod to Kansas City. Order at the bar, take a number and a seat, and dream over the homemade sausages, hamburgers, hush puppies, and smoked chicken dishes you didn't get—this time. Because as long as there is a North (or South) Carolina, you'll be back.

KINsmoke

10. Buster's Southern BBQ

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1207 Foothill Blvd
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-5675
Visit Website

A veritable barbecue playground replete with home made pie, Busters welcomes visitors to Napa Valley's Calistoga side, making it a perfect place to beef up before setting out on a long day's winetasting. With hot sauce so hot that signs everywhere warn of its fiery nature, Busters has been an institution since 1965 and shows no signs of flagging. Rather, like a Mystery House, it keeps expanding. Choose to eat your super hot 'cue inside the wood-paneled dining room, at one of several shaded outdoor kiosks, or on the new hillside patio where live jazz lives on Sundays and the ubiquitous paper towels announce that your mouth is about to be in for a very good time, indeed. Cash preferred.

Shaun G./Yelp

11. The Juicy Pig

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16440 4th Street
Guerneville, CA 95446
(707) 604-7120
Visit Website

All wood and windows, the Juicy Pig has the groovy '70s vibe of a Big Sur spot but with the dead animal heads and thoroughly stocked bar required for smoked meats to be properly appreciated. While perhaps the only barbecue place in the North Bay to offer the occasional ravioli special, being chef-run means that the greens here are spicy and wet, the meat is succulent and sweet, and that diners may sometime be inclined to finish a meal amid the civilized notes of a glass of port.

The Juicy Pig

1. Pig in a Pickle

341 Corte Madera Town Ctr, Corte Madera, CA 94925
Pig in a Pickle

Tallow-fried potato chips and house-made pickles and sauces bottled for take-away are good enough—but the Pig in a Pickle's offer to deliver dinner right to your idle, exhausted self make this spot a favorite. Yet while you could have them bring it to you, coming into this handsome spot with its rough wood paneling and Mason jar lighting is a treat in itself. Meat can be purchased in quarter-pound increments, while platters stretch all the way to portions for four. Call it "meat your way."

341 Corte Madera Town Ctr
Corte Madera, CA 94925

2. Best Lil' Porkhouse

2042 4th St, San Rafael, CA 94901
Gretchen Giles

With its dining room a cloistered island separated by doors and walls from the kitchen, staff, and cash register—anarchy can easily reign at this Lil' Porkhouse. A recent visit found anarchy in the guise of a boys' birthday party, 10 pardners in kerchiefs thrilling to the smoky air, the dire lack of supervision, and the really damned good ribs. Plan to have a platter of pork and save room for the banana pudding. You might need its courage.

2042 4th St
San Rafael, CA 94901

3. Roadside BBQ

5000 Northgate Dr #135, San Rafael, CA 94903
Brian T./Yelp

It takes two chefs working quickly to keep up with the massive menu on offer at this not-quite-roadside joint. In the Northgate Mall (and now also in the Graton Casino and Resort just up the freeway), Roadside caters to families, with something for everyone served on real plates and tinfoil cups, depending. Providing a "hunger scale" to help one determine how many ribs is enough to satiate (hint: 12 ribs is deemed adequate for two), this joint even includes stuffed baked potatoes among its smoky pleasures. Adding meat and cheese just bumps it up the hunger scale—and into the stratosphere.

5000 Northgate Dr #135
San Rafael, CA 94903

4. Cochon Volant BBQ

18350 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, CA 95476
Steven D./Yelp

When you're ready for your pound of meat, you're ready for Cochon Volant, a tiny jewel box of a spot right off Highway 12 that intends for you to swoop in, grab a bodacious bounty of barbecue, and swoop on out again. (Or you could sit at a table in the parking lot.) Meats are available indeed by the full pound or tucked into sandwiches, but the best bets are the combo plates for one or two people. Homemade pickles, homemade sauces, Sonoma Valley wines, and $5 cookies the size of a child's head makes this a must-visit take-out palace.

18350 Sonoma Highway
Sonoma, CA 95476

5. Red Rock Cafe

1010 Lincoln Ave, Napa, CA 94558
Tristan C./Yelp

While a barbecue joint would have to be crazy not to offer take-out, Red Rock's lifeline is in sending those bags steadily out the door. Call the special take-out hotline for ribs, tri-tip, pork, chicken, or hot links. Claiming to serve the best burgers in the Napa Valley, Red Rock keeps everything simple. There's no elaborate arms-length list of possibilities, just the good things they been cooking every day for nearly 20 years now.

1010 Lincoln Ave
Napa, CA 94558

6. Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ

975 1st St, Napa, CA 94559
Visit Napa Valley

The white napkin/bordello vibe of this thriving wine bar/genteel barbecue spot finds its graceful balance in the sight of a well-dressed man sucking rib bones while seated on a saddle that has been affixed to a wine barrel as people have vigorously vied to do since the day the Bounty Hunter opened well over a decade ago. Find a spot at the bar and relax. You've found your center.

975 1st St
Napa, CA 94559

7. The Q Restaurant & Bar

3900 Bel Aire Plz Ste D, Napa, CA 94558
Rodel M./Yelp

Memphis-style barbecue with a cold cabbage dish named for a famed Oakville winemaker and AQ pricing for the day's steak plate means you have arrived in the Napa Valley. So pull up a chair on the Q's large and comfortable patio and bask in the cakey crumb of their corn bread, marveling that all of this could possibly be contained in a strip mall.

3900 Bel Aire Plz Ste D
Napa, CA 94558

8. BBQ Smokehouse Bistro & Catering

6811 Laguna Pkwy, Sebastopol, CA 95472
Rick S./Yelp

With a Texas-style wood pit pumping quietly away in the parking lot of the movie theater behind it, the BBQ Smokehouse specializes in hues of Southern smoke served on bones, buns, and paper. A quiet outdoor area shaded by trees makes this a surprisingly good place to sneak away for a workday lunch at a picnic table while considering the vagaries of true Americana and picking meat from your teeth.

6811 Laguna Pkwy
Sebastopol, CA 95472

9. KINsmoke

304 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
KINsmoke

Where locals and their kids go, Kinsmoke is just as likely to offer huge helpings of grilled asparagus as the day's special as it might something that once trotted the fields. But make no mistake, Kinsmoke is about the 'cue, running the geographic gamut from North to South Carolina with a stop in St. Louis and a nod to Kansas City. Order at the bar, take a number and a seat, and dream over the homemade sausages, hamburgers, hush puppies, and smoked chicken dishes you didn't get—this time. Because as long as there is a North (or South) Carolina, you'll be back.

304 Center St
Healdsburg, CA 95448

10. Buster's Southern BBQ

1207 Foothill Blvd, Calistoga, CA 94515
Shaun G./Yelp

A veritable barbecue playground replete with home made pie, Busters welcomes visitors to Napa Valley's Calistoga side, making it a perfect place to beef up before setting out on a long day's winetasting. With hot sauce so hot that signs everywhere warn of its fiery nature, Busters has been an institution since 1965 and shows no signs of flagging. Rather, like a Mystery House, it keeps expanding. Choose to eat your super hot 'cue inside the wood-paneled dining room, at one of several shaded outdoor kiosks, or on the new hillside patio where live jazz lives on Sundays and the ubiquitous paper towels announce that your mouth is about to be in for a very good time, indeed. Cash preferred.

1207 Foothill Blvd
Calistoga, CA 94515

11. The Juicy Pig

16440 4th Street, Guerneville, CA 95446
The Juicy Pig

All wood and windows, the Juicy Pig has the groovy '70s vibe of a Big Sur spot but with the dead animal heads and thoroughly stocked bar required for smoked meats to be properly appreciated. While perhaps the only barbecue place in the North Bay to offer the occasional ravioli special, being chef-run means that the greens here are spicy and wet, the meat is succulent and sweet, and that diners may sometime be inclined to finish a meal amid the civilized notes of a glass of port.

16440 4th Street
Guerneville, CA 95446

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