From pulled pork to babyback, we’ve got your barbecue fix covered!

Authetic Texas: Capelo’s wood-fired smoked brisket. (Courtesy of Capelo’s Barbecue)

“You can’t win friends with salad” — Homer Simpson.

When it comes to signature foods and culinary trends, the San Francisco Bay Area has no shortage of well-known staples: Dungeness Crab, sourdough bread, artichokes, It’s It, high-end cocktail culture, hip ramen joints, obsessive coffee roasters. The list is long, diverse and delicious. But let’s face it, when it comes to southern barbecue, the region can be underwhelming in places. In fact, the last time I brought it up to a friend, she responded by saying, “I wouldn’t even know where to get good barbecue here.”

But rest assured, the Six Fifty is happy to get its hands dirty—well, covered in barbecue sauce—on this one. We’ve compiled this gut-busting guide to our favorite local barbecue spots, which involves a food truck, a train car and a wide selection of southern styles, from St. Louis-style ribs to Texas smoked brisket. So roll up your sleeves and keep your cardiologist on speed dial, because we’re going full-boar carinvore on this one.

Clockwise from top left: the beef brisket sandwich at Capelo’s; the increasingly well-known Capelo’s food truck; ribs, brisket and sides; owner John Capelo inspects his Black Angus smoker, which is capable of cooking 600 pounds of meat at a time. (Images courtesy of Capelo’s Barbecue)

Capelo’s Barbecue

Well known for being in many places at many times, Capelo’s has made its presence known around the Bay Area by serving up real deal Texas style barbecue from their seemingly ever-present food truck, be it on the Stanford campus, the Palo Alto Square or most notably, at Devil’s Canyon Brewery’s popular Beer Garden Friday events.

Several years ago, owner (and Texas native) John Capelo picked up on the need for more authentic southern barbecue around the Bay and has been filling the void ever since. He refers to barbecue as an “art form” and maintains a consistently high standard for what they serve, whether from their food truck or at large catered events (such as Oakland A’s Fan Fest).

Gimme one rib: the pork ribs at Capelo’s. (Image courtesy of Capelo’s Barbecue)

Wood-fired smoked brisket is their “signature meat” (as John puts it) and accompanies most of their plates (and just in case it doesn’t, don’t leave without trying it). That said, Capelo’s has some real range and turns outs phenomenal pulled pork and classic St. Louis-style spare ribs, as well.

Although the food truck is the most visible aspect of their brand, Capelo’s also does a major amount of their business by catering events around the Bay Area, with their kitchen headquarters in Redwood City packing some epic fire power, courtesy of their 6,300-pound rotisserie smoker (a J&R Oyler 1300, custom made in—where else—Mesquite, Texas).

In terms of a longterm physical location, it sounds like a barbecue beer garden is in the works for Capelo’s, though in the meantime, keep an eye out for the truck, or hook up with them on DoorDash.

Capelo’s Barbecue // Check their current food truck schedule here.

(650) 701–5433

Yes, we trust this man with our BBQ: Rich Bacchi, owner of Gorilla Barbecue. (Image via Gorilla Barbecue’s website)

Gorilla Barbecue

A Coastside institution, Gorilla Barbecue in Pacifica is well known as the bright orange boxcar on a roadside lot along Highway 1, with a perennially long line out the front door and a plume of smoke wafting overhead.

The line grows long on a sunny afternoon in Pacifica. (Image via Gorilla Barbecue’s website)

Pacifica native Rich Bacchi has been barbecuing in that location for over a decade and despite the confined setup still manages to grill close to 2000 pounds of meat per week. Gorilla has made a name for itself with Bacchi’s now-famous pork ribs (featured not too long ago on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show— Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) and homemade barbecue sauce.

In-the-know locals often opt for the Philly Cheesteak made with barbecued brisket, and rarely pass on a serving of their top notch mac ’n’ cheese. Overall, the portions are large and the menu is solid (did we mention their hot links?).

If you make the trip down to the coast, be aware that Gorilla is take-out only, and often sells out prior to its 8pm closing time.

Gorilla Barbecue // 12noon—8pm daily (Closed on Tuesdays)

2145 Cabrillo Hwy, Pacifica (650) 359–RIBS

Clockwise from top left: the 3 Pigs fried chicken sandwich; St. Louis Ribs; the half slow smoked chicken plate (with a side of watermelon kale feta salad); locked and loaded mac and cheese. (Images courtesy of 3 Pigs BBQ)

3 Pigs BBQ

Chopped brisket tacos, pulled pork mac ’n’ cheese, 4-meat chili. 3 Pigs’ slightly offbeat but super fun menu really understands the California in us, which is why they’re our go-to spot for mixing it up on the local barbecue front.

Yet for a place named after lots of pork, the star at 3 Pigs is clearly the fried chicken—a house specialty (with an amazing batter) which is well worth the visit in itself. That said, don’t sleep on their tri-tip, and make sure to order some cornbread, too. Better yet, get a side of the watermelon kale feta salad to balance the whole meal out.

All the sides are made fresh daily (the owner assured us that they don’t have a freezer or a microwave), the craft beer list has a hyperlocal sensibility and the tableside selection of house barbecue sauces is the delicious glue which pulls it all together.

3 Pigs…Let me in! Let me in!

3 Pigs BBQ // 11.30am—9pm daily

1754 Laurel St, San Carlos (650) 592–4227

Clockwise from top left: steak wedge salad; Lagunitas tap takeover during Beer Week; Willy’s brisket; a bustling dining room at Willy’s. (Images via Armadillo Willy’s BBQ)

Armadillo Willy’s BBQ

Sure, Willy’s is a chain (with 8 locations around the Bay), but they’ve been here for over 30 years, they go big every time Beer Week rolls around and overall the grub is pretty damn good. Maybe that’s why they’re one of the most popular barbecue joints on the Peninsula.

In terms of the classics, we usually go for the Texas Trinity plate, which includes their barbecue ribs, Angus Beef prime brisket and Texas jalapeno-cheese sausage. Lately though, we’ve grown fond of their sizable sandwich menu, in particular The Mother Clucker—a chicken sandwich with Sriracha, Ranch dressing and crispy onions on a soft bun (we get it with a side of spicy peanut slaw and load it on).

Willy’s has a great selection of beers on tap, and is always worth watching during beer week. This year’s Dogfish Head tap take over was was one of the better showcases that we encountered around the Bay.

Armadillo Willy’s BBQ // 11am—9pm daily (til 9.30 on weekends)

2260 Bridgepointe Pkwy San Mateo (650) 571–7427

1031 N. San Antonio Rd Los Altos (650) 941–2922

Also check out:

The Six Fifty’s guide to getting your oyster fix on the SF Peninsula

These classic Peninsula eateries will cure your post-Oasis blues

Charles Russo

Award-winning writer and photographer with extensive experience across mediums, including videography, investigative reporting, editing, advanced research, and a wide range of photography.

Author of Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America; represented by Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency.

Freelance clients include Google, VICE and Stanford University.

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