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A Guide to the Best BBQ in San Diego

October 26, 2022

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San Diego doesn’t usually make the list of the best barbecue spots in the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find delicious BBQ in San Diego.

You just need to know where to look.

Check out this guide to 10 of the best BBQ restaurants in San Diego, with a variety of styles represented here that will please even the biggest barbecue snobs.

Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs

Grand Ole BBQ Flinn Springs makes visitors feel like they’ve entered Central Texas, but they’re really trying some of the best barbecue in San Diego. Tucked away in El Cajon, the smoked meats here are the star. Sample their brisket, Texas hot links, and pulled pork for a taste of their most popular meats. 

Stimey’s Walking Frito Pie lets you know all about the vibes they’re going for here: casual and welcoming, with a dose of Southern hospitality in Southern California. If you’re there on the weekend, expect live music while choosing from your favorite sides on the outside patio.

Their second location, Grand Ole BBQ y Asado in North Park, has been closed for remodeling since well before the pandemic. It's since re-opened with an even larger kitchen than before, with all-new menu items. Even some vegan items!

Pioneer BBQ

From the folks who brought San Diego Carnitas Snack Shack, Pioneer BBQ, also known as The Pioneer, fully embraces those frontier vibes with the food and decor they offer here.

The La Mesa eatery is designed in an Americana aesthetic to play off the idea that you’re about to become a pioneer in their smoked meat experience. On top of classic BBQ plates featuring beef brisket and pulled pork, they have an indulgent menu of playful starters and sides to go along with your meal. 

Don’t miss out on the pork belly burnt ends to kick off your meal. They come with an elote corn salad that should be on any summertime barbecue menu from this point forward. Their cocktails are on theme, too, featuring whiskey and bourbon that would certainly be appreciated by frontier men and women.

Bubba’s Smokehouse BBQ

Bubba’s Smokehouse BBQ is probably more casual than you’re used to seeing with restaurants in La Jolla. That’s exactly what you’d expect, though, when you’ll likely be licking your fingers throughout your meal.

The menu here is Southern-inspired. Alongside hickory-smoked ribs that fall off the bone and grilled tri-tip, you’ll find hush puppies and fried okra on their starters menu. If you’re just not sure about your meat choice when you arrive, try their slider trio. It’s a sampling of three of their most popular smoked meats: pulled pork, pulled chicken, and chopped beef brisket.

Bubba’s is family-owned and operated, making it a popular option for San Diego residents looking to support local businesses. That also means they do run out of their most popular menu options. Try lunch or early dinner for your best bet at your choice of smoked meats.

Coop’s West Texas BBQ

You’ll have to head to Lemon Grove to taste Coop’s West Texas BBQ, but it’s well worth the effort when you taste the variety of slow-cooked meats here. Pitmaster Brad Cooper’s cooking tactics come from an old family recipe, so you know you’ll be having some homestyle goodness when you arrive.

The pork spare ribs and beef ribs are the most popular meat items here, and they do run out. If you were planning on dinner here, don’t. Coop’s is only open until 3pm most days, so plan on an early lunch if you want to try their delectable ribs.

The added bonus here is their adjacent chicken shop, Da Chicken Coop. You’ll no longer have to decide whether you want barbecue or fried chicken. Have both. Catfish fans will love their fried catfish nuggets, too, if you’re looking for a quick snack, instead.

Bowlegged BBQ

You’ve eaten your way through West Texas. Now it’s time to try East Texas-style barbecue at Bowlegged BBQ. The family-run establishment in Mount Hope is run by native San Diegans, but that doesn’t make their barbecue any less legitimate by Texas standards.

For the true East Texas experience, pair a basket of rib tips or their popular hot link sandwich with a sampling of their delicious sides. Dirty rice, black-eyed peas, and yams are all on the menu here, and all sides you may not see at most BBQ restaurants in San Diego.

Fans of Bowlegged BBQ always know to leave room for dessert or save their entrees for a second meal. Their lemon cake and sweet potato pie are home cooking at its best, a sweet finish to a flavorful meal.

El Barbecue

El Barbecue in Sherman Heights is the brainchild of two chefs, one a local and the other from Kentucky, who felt that the city’s barbecue scene could be elevated. There’s no set style here, as they prefer to have some flexibility in the flavors they smoke their meats with. 

That means the menu may be a little different each time you visit. You may see a tri-tip with chimichurri flavors, rib flautas, and even Scottish salmon, usually not something you’d imagine at a barbecue joint. Diversity is on the menu here, making El Barbecue a popular stop for foodies who want something beyond the classics.

Their brunch is popular, too. Any of their biscuits are a great choice, as they feature some of their best smoked meats in playful ways. Their Kentuxican, for example, features a fried chicken thigh, poblano peppers, and a bacon-chili jam.

Cali Comfort BBQ

Spring Valley’s Cali Comfort BBQ is San Diego’s go-to spot if you’re looking for Kansas City-style barbecue. One of the most popular orders here is their family meals, or meat platters that can feed a small crowd. 

Their Tailgater BBQ Feast, which comes with a variety of their best meats, three sides, and five pieces of their jalapeño cornbread, will feed at least four very hungry people.

If you’re not ready to go that big, order any of their meat plates for a satisfying meal. Their BBQ ribs are a favorite, along with their 14-hour brisket, smoked low and slow, a motto here. No matter what you order, don’t forget about the jalapeño cornbread, mentioned above in that tailgater platter.

If Spring Valley isn’t convenient for you, they have a second outpost that recently opened in Barrio Logan. Head over to the Barrio Food Hub for pickup or delivery of the same menu you’d get at the original location.

Corbin’s Q

You may not know this already, but California has its own style of barbecue. It’s called Santa Maria-style, but you don’t even need to head up to the Central Coast to try it if you’re in San Diego. Head over to El Cajon Boulevard, instead, and try the simple perfection that comes off of the custom grill built by the owner of Corbin’s Q.

The tri-tip is the best representation of what Santa Maria-style barbecue is all about. It’s sold by the pound or on a sandwich, and you won’t have any trouble finishing either.

The sides here are what you’d expect out of a barbecue spot: mac and cheese, potato salad, and fried pickles are all delicious options. If you want a starter, try the smoked chicken wings. They’re available sweet, spicy or in their natural form, a smoky rub that’s featured on the other meats available here.

The Pig’s Gig

A visit to the Liberty Station Public Market can be overwhelming, with so many delicious foods available from some of San Diego’s best vendors. If you’re craving barbecue, head straight to The Pig’s Gig, the latest offering from the people who brought the Mastiff Sausage Company to San Diego.

The barbecue here is Southern-style with a bit of California flair. You’ll still get the smoked meats you’re likely after, cooked here for 10-12 hours, but you’ll also get menu items that feel very California. Their best smoked meats are also available in taco and nacho form.

Pick up a container of their bourbon baked beans or crunchy slaw for a well-rounded feast that you can enjoy outside of the market.

Is your mouth watering yet? You don’t need to head to Texas or the Carolinas for delicious barbecue if you’re in San Diego. The city has plenty of options for you to try, whether you’re seeing the juiciest pulled pork sandwich or a tender rack of ribs. Go out and try some of the best barbecue San Diego has to offer and taste it for yourself.

Written by Agnes Groonwald for Knockaround.

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