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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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Pig in a Pickle

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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

Best Lil' Porkhouse

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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

Roadside BBQ

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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

Cochon Volant BBQ

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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

Red Rock Cafe

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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

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ

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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

The Q Restaurant & Bar

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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

BBQ Smokehouse Bistro & Catering

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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

KINsmoke

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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

Buster's Southern BBQ

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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

The Juicy Pig

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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

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."

Pig in a Pickle

Best Lil' Porkhouse

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

Roadside BBQ

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

Cochon Volant BBQ

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

Red Rock Cafe

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

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ

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

The Q Restaurant & Bar

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

BBQ Smokehouse Bistro & Catering

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

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.

KINsmoke

Buster's Southern BBQ

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

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.

The Juicy Pig

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