The debate is likely to rage on forever about which region serves the greatest style of American barbecue. But the verdict can also be very simple: The best version of savory, smoke-kissed meat is the one you like the best. If you crave big flavor above all else, here’s where to get your barbecue fix on the West Coast.
Smokin Woods BBQ, Oakland, California
Set in a bar in Oakland with indoor and outdoor seating, Smokin Woods BBQ has quickly built a loyal following of people who line up for massive Angus beef short ribs that sell out in a flash every Friday. Not to worry: The glistening, juicy brisket and smoked beef links are also outstanding. Sides range from traditional gooey mac and cheese, baked beans, and collard greens to fresh and crisp green beans, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.
Trapp Haus BBQ, Phoenix, Arizona
Located in a historic building on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix, Trapp Haus BBQ is award-winning pitmaster Phil “The Grill” Johnson’s first free-standing restaurant after years dishing up BBQ from a food truck. He is known for original creations such as the Philly Crack Wings—jumbo chicken wings smoked then deep fried and tossed in house seasoning and sweet-spicy sauce. A proud New Yorker, Johnson even makes a Reuben sandwich with house-made pastrami.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Honolulu, Hawaii
James Beard award recipient Helena’s Hawaiian Food is a no-frills institution for classic Hawaiian eats including the undisputed best Kalua pig. It’s made by wrapping a whole pig in banana leaves and cooking it in an underground oven called an imu. At Helena’s, the smoky meat is pulled from the bone and served with cabbage. Spicy chili pepper water takes the place of sauce, while traditional sides include poi (a purple-hued mash made from taro), rice, and macaroni salad.
Sunset Smokehouse, Wahiawa, Oahu
Sunset Smokehouse, a custom smoker truck operated by Austin native James Lee, takes some work to find but it’s well worth the effort. Lee started out at a gas station near Oahu’s Sunset Beach, but you can now find him slinging meaty favorites in Wahiawa near the center of the island, with plans for expansion. His specialty is Central Texas–style BBQ, mesquite-smoked low and slow for 12–18 hours, using Snake River Farms wagyu beef brisket and beef ribs seasoned with salt and pepper for a flavorful crust.