Sonoma County isn’t known as “BBQ Country” but it could be, if it weren’t for already being known as Wine Country.
Texas has brisket and Kansas City and St. Louis have sweet and tangy sauces. The Deep South has hot and spicy and slow-cooked barbecue styles. But those places don’t have wine and year-round outdoor cooking weather that you find here. Every family has its own champion barbecue chef. But on the chef’s night off, here are five sources for a suitable alternative – or new favorite:
1) Pack Jack Old Style Bar-B-Que. Located on Highway 116 between Sebastopol and Cotati, this family-owned local institution could easily be mistaken for a Texas roadside joint. It has the half-worn look on the outside, small smoky room inside and an impressive brick over smoker and piles of split wood out back. Pack Jack actually burned to the ground in 2004 and did not re-open until last year by Robert Harris, son of the founder Robert. Prices are great and portions are generous. Choices include ribs, lamb, links, chicken and sliced beef. Don’t leave without some Pack Jack beans.
Located at 3963 Gravenstein Hwy. South, Sebastopol. 827-3665. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
2) World Famous Hamburger Ranch & Bar-B-Que. Located at the northern edge of Cloverdale where Highway 128 turns left toward Anderson Valley, this food is worth the drive (or motorcycle cruise). Owner Bob Krucker comes from Kansas City and has a giant wood-fired smoke to prove it. He slow-cooks his meats at low, low temperatures. The result is smoky flavors and very tender meats, including brisket, baby back pork ribs, pulled pork and chicken.
Located at 31195 N. Redwood Hwy., Cloverdale. 894-5616. Open daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. hamburgerranchandbbq.com.
3) Jaded Toad BBQ & Grill. Here’s another small cooking shack with a big outdoors dining area and beer garden located in Old Windsor, a half block from the Town Green. Owner Leo Tocchini is a veteran grill master and host. He served as director of concessions for his family’s movie theaters and entertainment groups and cooked at Tony Roma’s. The menu continues to evolve to keep the outdoor grill and smoke always busy. Dishes such as pan-fried frog legs, salmon and sliders have shown up on the menu along with crowd favorites like baby back ribs and barbecued chicken. Located at 275 Windsor River Road. 838-8336. Open daily from 11 a.m.
4) Parking lot favorites. Local independent grocery stores like Pacific Market, Molsberry’s in Larkfield and Healdsburg’s Big John’s Market roll out large grills for summertime cooking that beckon shoppers rolling by with half-filled shopping carts. These stores all have an excellent choice of the region’s best chickens, ribs and other meats, including tri-tip and other cuts. Cooked all day on the outdoor grills, the barbecue goodness is still warm when you get home and you car will never smell the same again. Locations: Big John’s Market, 1345 Healdsburg Ave.. Healdsburg; 433-7151. Pacific Market, 550 Gravenstein Hwy. North, Sebastopol; 823-9735. Molsberry’s Market, 522 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa (Larkfield); 546-2331.
5) Otis &Sadie’s. A favorite booth the past few years at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market is moving to the Thursday night Windsor market on June 12 for the remainder of the summer. John Cain (and his children Otis and Sadie) fire up an assortment of grilled and smoked meats and sides, including brisket, ribs and pulled pork. Delicious sides include smoked beans and mac n’ cheese. Cain, an associate director of marketing at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, entered (and won) several barbecue contests in recent years and decided to put his grill master skills to good local service at the local farmers’ markets. Windsor Town Green, 5-8 p.m., Thursdays, June 12 to August 28.