These three families helped define the barbecue in the Bay Area

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There is a short list of states that spring to mind when you hear the word barbecue. Texas, Tennessee, Carolina, and Kansas all have regional styles that are celebrated locally and exported across the country. Texas has brisket, Tennessee and the Carolinas worship all things pork, and Kansas City adds a side with scorched ends.

Despite California’s influence on food culture, it doesn’t have that much reputation for grilling. Perhaps it’s the abundance of local vegetables, the health-conscious attitude, or the focus on fine dining. The lack of space in the Bay Area in particular also makes old-fashioned, wood-burning smokers a logistical nightmare, which in the case of Horn Barbecue in Oakland led to literally years of licensing complications.

Santa Maria-style tri-tip is often cited as the signature meat of the state, but at most Bay Area BBQs, it’s nowhere near the star of the show. The menus usually take a supraregional approach, offering the best of any major grill area, with a solid line being a heaping dose of thick sauce over the meat.

“When I tell people that I cook barbecue, the first thing they ask me is, ‘What kind of barbecue do you cook?’ It’s always a definite Texas or Kansas City style on their minds. They don’t have a California style on their mind, ”says Donna Fong, the California BBQ Association’s unofficial historian and competitive pit master who runs popular cooking classes.

Pork ribs at KC’s BBQ in Berkeley, California on June 14, 2021.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

Tri-tips aside, pinpointing exactly what drives California’s barbecue identity isn’t easy. Restaurants like 4505 Burgers & BBQ and, more recently, Horn Barbecue have imported central Texas-style brisket into the Bay Area (with sauce mostly served as a side dish), but like most grill traditions, the region’s identity depends on history and the import of southern cooking techniques during the so-called second great migration, when more than 5 million black Americans moved from the south.

“For me, barbecuing in California or in the Bay Area is closely linked to the African-American barbecue experience. It is heavily linked to the immigration of African American people into this area, linked to World War I and World War II, ”says Fong.

During that time, Oakland’s black community grew from 3% to 35% of the city’s population. The influx of black culture resulted in a lively section of 7th Street in Oakland known as the “Harlem of the West” with long-lost grill places like Earles Famous Bar-B-Que, Burk’s Seafood & Barbeque, Singer’s Bar -BQ, Jenkins Original Barbeque, Crissie’s Barbeque Pit and Fields Bar No Bar-BQ. (It is no accident that each of them spelled Barbecue with a “Q” instead of a “C”. During segregation, the spelling “que” became the code that welcomed the business to black visitors.)

Today, three third-generation restaurants still stand on the shoulders of these slowly smoked giants: Flint’s, KC’s BBQ and Everett & Jones.

Crystal Martin, owner of Flint's, will stand in front of the restaurant's original location on San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland, California on June 7, 2021.  She was hoping to move her pop-up and catering business back to its original location.

Crystal Martin, owner of Flint’s, will stand in front of the restaurant’s original location on San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland, California on June 7, 2021. She was hoping to move her pop-up and catering business back to its original location.

Douglas Zimmerman / SFGATE

Flint’s barbecue


It has been decades since the original Flint’s location closed its doors, but the sign outside the restaurant in Oakland’s Hoover-Foster neighborhood was still up until last year as a memorial to one of the Bay Area’s most influential barbecues. Even though the sign has been removed, Flint’s residents will see them again very soon.

Flint’s was founded in East Oakland in 1968 by Willie Flintroy, who immigrated to Oakland from Monroe, Louisiana in the early 1960s, bringing back recipes for smoked ribs, chicken, and homemade beeflinks, all of which were smothered in a thick, smoky sauce. The only side dishes were a scoop of potato salad and two slices of bread.

“To the point,” says his granddaughter, Crystal Martin.

Flintroy died in 1972, his brothers took over the management, then Martin’s mother and sister joined the company. Martin, then a child, helped wherever she could.

“I just remember walking around those back prep rooms. I would help my mother peel the potatoes, ”says Martin.

Some of Flint's barbecue dishes include a rack of ribs, links, and potato salad.

Some of Flint’s barbecue dishes include a rack of ribs, links, and potato salad.

Flint’s BBQ / courtesy

Those who fondly remember round scoops of potato salad will be happy to know that they will come back forever. Two years ago, Martin saw a Facebook post that was reminiscent of Flint and attracted hundreds of comments. She showed it to the family, and her sister eventually agreed to bring the family-run restaurant back to life, starting with a series of pop-up events in 2019. Martin hoped to return to the restaurant’s original San Pablo location this year , but the plans failed at the last minute when the buyer decided to use the space himself instead of renting it out.

Martin tries her best to keep the future incarnation of Flint’s as true to the original as possible by using the restaurant’s original recipes. But in typical Bay Area fashion, even a third-generation old-school grill cannot avoid the vines of big tech.

In July, Flint’s opens in a group kitchen facility on the North Oakland-Berkeley border called CloudKitchens. The grocery delivery startup founded by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has drawn criticism from the community for suspicious business and licensing practices, but Martin doesn’t see it as a permanent home. Instead, it’s a stop on the way to return Flint’s to its former glory.

“We hope this is a stepping stone,” she says.

KC's BBQ owner Kristen Davis, right, poses with her father Patrick Davis, the former owner of the Berkeley, California restaurant on June 14, 2021. The restaurant was founded by her grandfather Vernell Davis and previously passed on to her father Kristen took over.

KC’s BBQ owner Kristen Davis, right, poses with her father Patrick Davis, the former owner of the Berkeley, California restaurant on June 14, 2021. The restaurant was founded by her grandfather Vernell Davis and previously passed on to her father Kristen took over.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

KC’s BBQ

It should come as no surprise that KC’s BBQ in Berkeley serves up Kansas City-style grilled foods, but third-generation owner Kristen Davis said most early customers had a different association with the name.

“Literally everyone in Berkeley called my grandfather KC even though his name was Vernell,” says Davis, whose grandfather moved to the Bay Area from Arkansas in the 1940s while he was working for the Army. Soon after, he took a job at a grill restaurant and eventually bought it from the original owner (who, as you can guess, was from Kansas City).

At 89 years old, Berkeley people now know Vernell’s name, and while they don’t see him at the BBQ area often, they can still taste his legacy.

Side pork ribs at KC's BBQ in Berkeley, California on June 14, 2021.

Side pork ribs at KC’s BBQ in Berkeley, California on June 14, 2021.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

“A lot of the pit champions I know were tutored by an uncle or grandfather,” Davis says. “They hold on to their family roots, how they cook their food and how they present themselves to the world.”

Now, if you arrive on a sleepy summer afternoon, you might find Vernell’s son Patrick in front of their smoker, who leans towards St. Louis-style ribs and links made from a mix of beef and pork served in a sweeter and spicier sauce than their competitors.

Patrick took over shortly after graduating from high school, but when a fire destroyed the restaurant’s original location on San Pablo Avenue in 2017, he passed the torch to his daughter Kristen. Though he’s still regularly manning the flames, she’s the one running the show.

“Family is most important to us,” says Davis. “The community is most important to us. Our motto is: “Great love: always and everywhere”. So we have survived all 53 years in which we are a family company. “

Everett and Jones owner Dorcia White stands outside her restaurant near Jack London Square in Oakland, California on June 7, 2021.

Everett and Jones owner Dorcia White stands outside her restaurant near Jack London Square in Oakland, California on June 7, 2021.

Douglas Zimmerman / SFGATE

Everett and Jones BBQ

The Everett and Jones story begins at Jenkins Original Barbeque. Located on 7th Street before moving to East Oakland, Jenkins was a 24/7 operation that included Dorothy Turner Everett on its staff.

“My grandmother came with the great migration of African Americans from the south to the west coast of California,” says Dorcia White, describing her grandmother’s trip from Mississippi to Oakland in 1952 here in California. “

After cooking at Jenkins, Everett worked at Flint’s, then started her own business on 92nd Avenue and East 14th Street in 1973 on a $ 700 loan from a former colleague. With the help of her eight daughters, one son and another son-in-law, she developed a loyal following and expanded throughout the Bay Area, eventually earning her the title of Oakland’s Queen of Modern Day Barbecue before her death in 2007.

Some of the typical foods made by Everett and Jones in Oakland, California.

Some of the typical foods made by Everett and Jones in Oakland, California.

Everett & Jones BBQ / courtesy

Everett and Jones now has three locations in Oakland and Berkeley that are still fully family owned, including a huge store near Jack London Square that doubles as a live music venue. The style is decidedly southern, inspired by recipes Everett brought back from Mississippi and Alabama.

“I was 3 years old when we opened. I only know barbecue. I grew up on my grill. I’m not looking for a barbecue, I’m a barbecue, ”says White.

Their signature dish are homemade beef links and a brisket smoked in oak wood with a strong pinch of garlic in the rub. Another highlight are the ribs, which are smoked low and slowly. Expect everything to be served with a heaping spoon of barbecue sauce, the secrets of which you won’t soon share.

“I’ll leave that to the fourth generation,” says White.





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