GOOD TO THE BONE: Woodchuck doesn't skimp on its servings of beef ribs.
There are a couple of subjects on which everyone seems to have an opinion: how to build a fire, what the government really needs to do and what constitutes good barbecue. I’ll focus on the last and most contentious item.
Everyone has a view about barbecue because it is one of our most emblematic regional cuisines. At one point or another, most of us have had really good barbecue, and that experience has become the benchmark we use to compare all others. If you once reveled in great pulled pork in rural North Carolina, for instance, that meal become your standard of excellence. And if you’re from Texas or some other barbecue hotspot, your barbecue prejudices are baked in from birth.
While California does have its own style of barbecue (Santa Maria red oak–smoked tri-tip rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic salt with a side of pinquito beans), it’s not well represented in general, especially not in Silicon Valley. There is good barbecue, just not much of it. I think that’s because we don’t have a native barbecue culture here, so it’s rare to find skilled pit masters and exemplars of a particular barbecue style.
But everybody loves barbecue so when a new restaurant opens the fans come out of the woodwork to parse the restaurant’s regional style, depth of smoke rings and kind of wood used—and just generally geek out on barbecue.
Redwood City’s 10-week-old Woodchuck BBQ is geekworthy.
Woodchuck is the rare barbecue restaurant that doesn’t profess allegiance to any one style of smoked meat but rather offers an array of influences and nails them all. Woodchuck excels with a dream team of barbecue styles—smoky Texas brisket, wonderful Carolina-style pulled pork, meaty St. Louis pork ribs, chicken, sausage, and unclassifiable, Fred Flintstone–size beef ribs.
The restaurant is an enterprise between friends Tony Jensen and Mike Brown. As their story goes, they met at their last job and discovered a mutual love of carefully smoked meats that grew from competition into collaboration. Ultimately, they quit their jobs and took the plunge into the barbecue business.
They clearly know what they’re doing. Brown apprenticed at Ole Hickory Pits in Cape Girardeau, Mo., under pit master Mike Mills, the only three-time competitive barbecue grand world champion.
The restaurant is a welcoming, straightforward place with a long bar and views of happening Broadway in Redwood City’s reinvigorated downtown. The meats are smoked over white oak and apple. Everything I tried was excellent.
Most of the items come with a light glaze of the restaurant’s house-made bourbon barbecue sauce, made with fresh tomatoes instead of canned or catsup.