San Diego has a confused relationship with barbecue. Mostly, we seem to think we’re doing it when we’re actually just grilling. As delineated in the Texas State Constitution and, I believe, the Bible, this is wrong. Grilling is cooking meat directly over flame. Barbecue is a long, slow process of smoking meat at low temperature until it becomes so tender we can pull it apart with our dainty human hands.
Andy Harris discovered this hole in San Diego’s food scene a couple years back, so he started a catering company called Grand Ole Barbecue. It did real well, because he and his partners did it right. They did the long, boring, patient, financially cavalier work required to make sublimely tender smoked meat.
His permanent picnic-table joint, Grand Ole Barbecue y Asado, opened in North Park late last year. North Park is hipsterville, and that makes me leery. Creative kids are awesome, but sometimes their T-shirts are better than their food.
In 2011, I crossed America looking for the best barbecue, and found brisket epiphany in Lockhart, Texas. I’ve been trying to find it in San Diego ever since, and with the possible exception of Coops in Lemon Grove, have been sorely disappointed.
But now I’m calling off the search. Grand Ole Barbecue y Asado is the best barbecue in the city. One worthy of national conversation.
The brisket is their showpiece, with a thick, peppery bark (the crust that forms on the outside of the meat) and luscious, fatty, moan-inducing meat below. Every bite is job security for your cardiologist, but care about that elsewhere. It’s served with their house-made chimichurri—a garlic- and vinegar-laced bolt of fresh, pulverized greens that cuts through the fatty meat.
It’s only served at night. Show up early. Lines form. When it’s gone, it’s gone. They can’t just whip up more. Math at barbecue joints is guesswork.
You can order any of their meat by the pound, or on a sandwich. And so I ordered everything. Lamb shoulder, hot links, pulled pork, even turkey breast. Turkey breast seemed like a concession to SoCal’s health squad, and a really poor order. Like slow-smoking tempeh.
But I tell you this. That turkey is the most remarkable piece of meat served at Grand Ole. Sure, I’d rather eat the brisket or pulled pork. But only because they’re more flavorful raw ingredients. Turkey is a generic, often dry protein that you order out of personal trainer guilt. Their turkey is so perfectly smoked, tender, and delicious that it may have just turned me around on the plus-size fowl. Their pork ribs were about the only disappointment: still tough. And their sides weren’t all perfect, ranging from average (white beans, black bean salad) to really good (spicy coleslaw, spicy potato salad).
But that meat. Oh god, that meat.
They also have great T-shirts.