One of my favorite things about being a blogger (I guess I’m a mostly-food blogger, and then only a sporadic one) is 1) getting to meet other bloggers whose posts I read and sometimes drool over and 2) getting to hang out with them and learning how fun they are. I met Carol of CAB Cooks at the Food Blogger Bake Sale and she and CC mentioned they were thinking of doing a bbq crawl in San Diego. Travis LOVES bbq (I was going to say he loves good bbq, but any half-decent bbq makes him happy) so I knew that we would definitely want to be in on this event.
We had a pretty good group to crawl with: Carol of CAB Cooks, CC from Pink Candles of Ridgemont High, Dennis from A Radiused Corner, Marie (and Dan) from Meandering Eats, Mary (and Jake) from foodies: a southern californian food blog, Kirbie (and FH) from Kirbie’s Cravings and Travis. And me, of course. Of course, just about everyone else has already posted about it.
It seems that San Diego has a poor bbq reputation and it’s really not hard to see why. When I told my co-workers I was going on a bbq crawl, their response was to recommend one of 2 places to me: Phil’s BBQ and “that bbq food truck with the super hero [SuperQ, food prepared by Kaminski's]“. Now, Travis loves a Broham sandwich from Phil’s, sauce on the side, and I declare they have some of the best onion rings in town. Their baby back ribs are pretty good, too, but who messes up baby backs?? As for the other place, let’s just say that we don’t eat there, even though it’s a 10 minute walk from our house. Even when Dominic’s next door is packed with an hour wait, I’d rather walk somewhere else for dinner than go there.
In Poway, we do have Jimmy’s Brick Pit BBQ, which is decent, but after the bbq crawl, a new favorite emerged.
The main criteria for the bbq crawl (kudos to Carol for narrowing down the list, organizing us all, and even giving us mapped directions to each spot!) was that the meat had to be wood-smoked. From there, the list was whittled to Saturday lunch hours and relative location to the other contenders.
We started at Coop’s West Texas BBQ in Lemon Grove, which is actually the old location of Barnes BBQ. We were there right when they opened at 11 am, and Coop was nice enough to help us move some tables together to accommodate our group of 11, even though we took up most of the space in the restaurant. Plus, Coop is an awesome guy and was happy to chat with us and see how we liked his food (spoilers: we loved it!)
The “plan” was originally to order some ribs and pulled pork to share and then maybe some sides, just to get an idea of what was being offered. Then, we’d try and order the same thing at the following places, trying as best we could to do a good comparison. However, Travis noted that if Coop was doing Texas bbq, we really should try the brisket instead of the pulled pork. I’m a huge brisket fan, so I had no problems with this change. Travis is a pulled pork guy, so if he was recommending a switch to brisket, it must mean that Texas brisket is worth trying. For our group, we ordered 2 full slabs of ribs and a pound of brisket. Each slab of ribs comes with 2 small sides, so we got baked beans and collard greens.
Those are Coop’s spareribs up top – you’ll notice they don’t come sauced; there are bottles of sauce on the table (original and spicy), along with a bottle of Red Rooster hot sauce. I prefer my meats unsauced; I like to taste the meat and you also never know if you’re going to like the house bbq sauce (oho! foreshadowing!)
First, 2 slabs of ribs was huge! I think each slab was 2 baskets and they came with the rib tips from the slab, which meant a ton of food in just ribs alone. You could easily see the smoke ring and the ribs were meaty, juicy, and tender. The rib meat just fell off the bone with each bite! I really wanted to eat 2 ribs, but I stuck with a small rib and a rib tip because I knew this was just the first of 4 stops.
One pound of brisket does not go far with 11 people. I think we all got a slice, though. As you can see, the brisket is unsauced, too, so you can see it’s smoked and taste it, before dipping into one of Coop’s bbq sauces (the spicy is not too spicy and I actually prefer mixing it with the original sauce to make a “perfect” sauce). The brisket was fall-apart tender too, and not dry at all.
Coop puts pineapple in his baked beans, which gives them a sweetness without being too sweet and sugary. They were delicious, actually, and I’ll just go right ahead and say they are the best baked beans I’ve ever had. The collard greens were good, too. Nice big pieces, not tough and chewy, and not too salty. Good collard greens are hard to find, I think, so I’m glad Coop knows what he’s doing.
Coop also offered us some bbq spaghetti – the spaghetti sauce was smoked in the smoker and he adds their housemade chicken sausage to it. It was good, but after eating his ribs and brisket, it just could compare.
That’s Coop and his full menu! He was happy to pose at our request. We finished off the brisket and most of the sides, but I think there were enough ribs left over for everyone to take a couple home. The food was amazing and I was pretty sure we weren’t going to find anything better after this, but you still have to try. Coop’s is definitely worth the drive into Lemon Grove for us and we’ll be returning soon (and often, I hope). There are also coolers of complimentary sweet tea and water, which I think is a nice touch.
At this point, we rolled into our cars and headed down the street to Barnes BBQ. Barnes does a more Southern-style bbq and, in hindsight, I think we should have tried their pulled pork. However, we were set to compare the food to Coop’s so we went with brisket (2 pounds, this time) and ribs (only one slab). For sides, we chose their baked beans and macaroni salad (they were out of coleslaw). Barnes was also very accommodating to our large group and we were promptly served ice water and soft wheat bread.
These ribs came sauced! You could tell that the ribs had been smoked and they, too, were meaty and tender. They were also kind of fatty and greasy; I ended up with a little grease running down my hand. Maybe the bread is supposed to soak that up? Barnes’ bbq sauce is Very Sweet. A little too sweet for my tastes, but I know there are people who like a sweet bbq sauce. I was kind of wishing the sauce came on the side, because I enjoyed the flavor of the ribs and I would have preferred using just a smidge of sweet bbq sauce instead of a generous pour.
The brisket was also well sauced but it was also thinly sliced. I prefer thick pieces of brisket, but I guess that’s just a preference. The brisket had a good beefy flavor and it was nice and tender, and not just from being sliced so thin. I could see it being really good in a sandwich (easy to bite through), but it was kind of thin for plate-eating.
I don’t think I took any pictures of the sides. The beans were quite good, with bits of bacon. The beans were also sweet, but not as sweet as the bbq sauce. The macaroni salad was… cold. Tangy, like a mustard/vinegar tang. Not bad, but not my cup of tea. I think this round we ended up with just a couple of ribs and some brisket left over. And bread. I ended up taking the leftover bread home, with the intention of giving it to the chickens as a treat.
Most of the bread did go to the chickens! But I also used four slices to make egg-in-a-hole for breakfast the next day.
Anyway, from Barnes BBQ we were going to go to Huffman’s, but instead we switched it up and went to The Barbecue Pit first. By this point, we were getting a little full and the menu at The Barbecue Pit didn’t really match up with anything we’d had previously. So, everyone just ordered something on their own.
Travis and I split a 3-meat combo plate: it had beef (seriously, I think it was just called beef), ham, and ribs. Travis picked baked beans and coleslaw for the sides. Again, the beef was sliced very thinly, but the bbq sauce came in little containers, so you could choose how much to use. The beef would have been good in a sandwich, too. I’m not a fan of ham (I eat a slice of Honeybaked Ham at Thanksgiving and then some bean soup made from the bone) but Travis said it was very good and not too salty. The ribs were really good – meaty and tender, but not too fatty or greasy. Not as good as Coop’s, but I liked them better than the ones at Barnes (or maybe my perception was tweaked because these didn’t have sauce on them). I think I took everyone’s leftover rolls for the chickens, too. The rolls all went to the chickens.
The Barbecue Pit wasn’t bad; it’s kind of old-school, with a cafeteria set up and jello salad in an ice tray. Sometimes you just want a simple beef sandwich on a soft bun, and you can get those here. But I doubt we’ll go out of our way to eat here.
Our last stop was Huffman’s. Huffman’s serves food more along a soul food category than bbq, but by this time all we got was dessert. I’d kind of like to go back and try the smothered chicken and fried okra, but I don’t know when we’d find ourselves back down there. Travis and I split a mini pecan pie and sweet potato pie, which you can get warmed up. I liked them both, but I would have also liked more pecans on the pecan pie. I also would have liked a second stomach because I was super full by this point.
The bbq crawl was really fun, and I enjoyed getting to talk with everyone at each of our stops. I’m also really glad we discovered Coop’s and I can’t wait to go through his entire menu.
Where are we crawling next, fellow bloggers?