If our perception of summer was entirely based on Food Network specials, we'd all be entering barbecue contests and cooking meats on smokey grills, even in the rain (which we will never happen in California). But perhaps this just demonstrates the effect television has on us because, hey, who doesn't want to eat lots and lots of barbecue in the summertime?
No need to bring out your grill, though. Here are 14 places to get finger-licking in Orange County.
14. Leadbelly's Barbecue (Fullerton)
Ice cream isn't the only thing melting in your mouth this summer. Leadbelly's tri-tip and sausages will do the same–the melting effect of which is accelerated with the help of jalapeno mac n' cheese, creamed corn, and candy-sweet baked beans. Ah yes, and let's not forget pork belly garlic fries, which essentially loaded with the best things in the world (pork, garlic, and potatoes, obviously).
711 N. Placentia Ave. Fullerton, 714-646-9560; facebook.com/leadbellys-barbecue
13. Bad to the Bone BBQ (San Juan Capistrano)
A good plate of barbecue contains meat slow-cooked in wood-burning pits over Hickory wood for at least half a day. This is what you'll get at Bad to the Bone BBQ–you know, tri-tip or sausage that can be combined with as many other meats as you like or complemented with some fried okra.
31738 Rancho Viejo San Juan Capistrano, 949-218-0227; facebook.com/badtothebonebbqSJC
12. Thai Original BBQ (Fullerton and Cerritos)
A barbecue list in Southern California would be wrong without Thai barbecue and, thankfully, Orange County isn't lacking of such thanks to Thai Original Barbecue. From good ol' barbecue chicken to beef and chicken satay, each corner of meat is delicate, falling off the bones as soon as it touches the rim of your mouth. When coupled with shrimp fried rice, you've got a meal that'll give you summer nights to remember.
211 E. Orangethorpe Ave. Fullerton, 714-870-1333
11323 183rd St, Cerritos, (562) 924-0042
11. BT's Southern BBQ (Huntington Beach)
“We're a BBQ joint with good blues and great beer,” BT's Southern BBQ writes on their website–and what a succinct thesis that is. The meat here–hot links, pulled pork (and chicken!), ribs, and tri-tip among others–are closest thing we've got to divinity when dipped in their sweet barbecue sauce. Their beer selection is also impressive, with Bootlegger's Golden Chaos and Green Flash West Coast IPA among the list of many offered.
7144 Edinger Ave. Huntington Beach, 714-841-7016; instagram.com/btsbbq
10. Lillie's Q (Brea)
The food at Lillie's Q comes from a long family tradition: Chef Charlie's grandmother, Lillie, was the mastermind behind the joint's sauces, and she passed her knowledge down to him back home in Greensville, South Carolina. Now Brea is lucky enough to get a taste of the South as they're graced with Lillie's Q's pulled pork sandwiches, smoked chicken wings, and fried pickles. There's always a set of sauces on each table, too, from hot pepper vinegar to smokey. You know what to do: try 'em all.
240 S Brea Blvd, Brea, (714) 482-2001; facebook.com/lilliesqbrea
9. Fil-Am Barbecue Grill (Orange)
Barbecue sticks should be the official food of the summer, and if the person who decides when food holidays are (like National Burger Month) is reading this, please consider. My argument is simple: it's barbecue, it's on a stick (which means less mess–right on!) and it'll save so many napkins in the process (to make up for it you'll have to bite of the stick aggressively sometimes but, eh, who's looking). Get chicken or pork barbecue sticks at Fil-Am Barbecue Grill with other foods like rice and pancit, or just order a bunch of them by themselves.
1500 E Village Way #2215, Orange (714) 921-3848; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fil-Am-BBQ-Grill/131359056938316
8. Smokey Fred's BBQ (Orange)
The ribs at Smokey Fred BBQ are the kind that can stand without sauce, illustrating just how tender and juicy they are. You'll want to order a couple just to examine how the crunchy exterior could lead to such a soft interior that's attached to the bone with only a light grip. A fascinating science it is, but it's nothing to ponder about too long; you still need time to get onto the mac n' cheese, which will warrant contemplation on its own part.
129 E. Collins Ave. Orange, 714-393-4900; smokeyfredsbbq.com
7. Matiki Island Barbecue (Anaheim)
If beef is what you want, beef is what you'll get–and Hawaiian-style at that. At Matiki's Island Barbeque, thick beef ribs and soft short ribs are served alongside two scoops of rice and macaroni, which could be considered supporting acts in this palatable opera. The meats glimmer in juiciness as they lay atop their carb-y counterparts, reflecting a brown color so rich it's easy to see what they're the star.
3070 W Lincoln Ave Ste Q, Anaheim, (714) 821-5228; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Matiki-Island-BBQ/522447181146171?rf=105927589448683
6. Blake's Place Cafe and Catering (Anaheim)
Even the classiest of us will get uncivilized at Blake's, trading perfectly clean Polos for dark barbecue stains and sauce-inflicted lips. But really, how can you stay calm when there's sliced beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches within your reach? Plus, you have three sauces to experiment with–a tangy one, a regular one, and a spicy one–so expect to sabotage.
2901 E Miraloma Avenue #1, Anaheim, (714) 630-8574; twitter.com/BlakesPlaceBBQ
5. Gen Korean Barbecue (Tustin and Westminster)
If there was data for how many stomachs Gen has expanded, there probably wouldn't be enough paper for that. Gen, the home of succulent prime steak, brisket, bulgogi, pork belly–you name it, is like Vegas, where you know you're doing something sinful (in this case, committing gluttony), but it's okay because it's Vegas. When you're at Gen, you eat, and you eat as much as you can. And even if you're stuffed, you order tofu soup and jap chae along with your meat because why not? You're at Gen!
13741 Newport Ave, Tustin, (714) 505-1800
16300 Beach Blvd, Westminster; (714) 596-8833
4. Brew Hawg BBQ and Brewing Co (Orange)
Brew Hawg is known for making their own root beer and is also one of the few places offering vegetarian-friendly barbecue beef, chicken, and ToFurky Keilbasa. In the real meat arena there's brisket and hot links, which always go serenely with a side of coconut cream corn. And if you must, try your luck at 'Purgatory,' a meal option where you can select four meats and eat 'em all at once.
665 N Tustin St, Orange, (714) 502-4053; facebook.com/BrewHawg
3. Tsuruhasi (Fountain Valley)
Four words: kobe beef short ribs. If you want good barbecue this summer, put this on the top ten of your bucket list. And then put tsubo kalbi, beef tongue, and more kobe beef–all from Tsuruhasi–all on it too. Guys, they take meat here very seriously–like, Daniel Day Lewis-serious. You'll understand when the meat arrives at your table–ever so marbled, I might add–because it even looks raw as it does cooked (how often can you say that?) For those who like eating something extra with their meat, opt for the kim chi fried rice; it's hard to go wrong with.
18798 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, (714) 593-8393; tsuruhashibbq.com
2. Tulsa Rib Company (Orange)
At Tulsa Rib company, rib meat detaches from their bones as soon as it's touched. But that's nothing new; for that sentence alone, Tulsa's created a name for itself. Thus, when one dines here, they come knowing they'll be experiencing a lot of this (their barbecue rib racks, after all, are huge, taking longer to eat.) Add a side of Tulsa round, ridged potatoes and coleslaw and you're guaranteed to have at least three good things happen to you today.
220 E Katella Ave, Orange, (714) 633-3760; facebook.com/pages/The-Tulsa-Rib-Company-Restaurant-and-Catering/117570748269324
1. Robert Earl's BBQ (Long Beach)
We declared Robert Earl's BBQ the best barbecue spot in 2014, and here's why: from Texas-style brisket to super soft ribs, they've perfected the art of smoking flesh–all of which happens in a backyard setup of meat cookers. And then there's mac and cheese, collard greens, baked beans, and the rest of the sides that pull everything together, strangely proving that though well-done barbecue meats are deserving of praise, so are the vegetables.
Robert Earl's BBQ, 703 E. Artesia Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 726-1116; facebook.com/R.E.bbq