You walk in, see the skyscraper-like trophies strewn throughout Brazen BBQ Smokehouse and Bar and immediately assume whoever is responsible for the menu and that incredible mixed aroma of smoldering wood and slowly melting animal fat must be from somewhere else. That guess seems even more logical after digging into the assortment of barbecued meats—particularly the Texas-style brisket—being served up at this two-month-old Hillcrestian newcomer.
At least I did. But, to be fair, that was as a result of many disappointing samplings of local barbecue fare. Still, like a Padres fan who keeps heading back to Petco Park each year in hopes they’ll someday reach the promised land despite so many indications to the contrary, I've clung to the dream that quality ‘cue would make it to San Diego as well as the notion it would come via infusion of some out-of-town free agent talent.
I’m elated to report that Brazen BBQ’s the real deal—all smoke and no mirrors. Even more surprising than that, the moist, well seasoned, smoke ring-adorned beef and pork that’s their meaty bread and butter, is the product of a native San Diegan who honed his skills on a big bad smoker up in Escondido starting from a very early age. His name is John Bracamonte and he and his BBQ partner Brad Thomas are responsible for the restaurant’s extensive assemblage of brass-plated hardware.
Big ol' hunks of meat adorn the smoker at Brazen BBQ in Hillcrest.
What I found most award-worthy on the night I scouted Brazen BBQ were the items I didn’t expect to like. I’d always thought brisket was one of the least appealing ‘cue cuts—dry, tough and simply not that flavorful. Turns out, I really like brisket…when it’s cooked well.
And Brazen BBQ’s is; smoked to the level of doneness and seasoned aggressively enough that the salty, spicy exterior bark provides adequate flavor for the whole hunk of beef. It doesn’t hurt that the meat remains juicy, enough so that no sauce is necessary (and this is coming from a guy who’s been known to douse pulled pork with the same abandon as a four-year-old left to their own devices with French fries and a 32-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup).
A sampler platter featuring pulled pork, ribs and easily the best Texas-style beef brisket in town.
Diners who are already big and knowledgeable brisket fans will be pleased to learn that, on special request, Brazen’s kitchen will fix up “burnt ends.” The immensely charred, fatty ends of the brisket are served glazed with sauce and smoldering away in a miniature skillet. It’s the best live food porn my eyes have happened across in some time.
Behold the West Coast rarity that is "burnt ends," the blackened, chewy ends from Brazen BBQ's beef brisket.
Ribs are sizable, fall-apart in texture and saturated with Brazen’s 50/50 blend of hickory and apple wood smoker fuel. A bit dry and not as seasoned, the pulled pork is perhaps the only item I sampled that registered as just a notch above average.
But any problem some sauce can fix is dismissible at a barbecue joint. Brazen offers a duo of sauces, both of which are fine, but nowhere near as delicious as the much-utilized dry rub, which even makes its way onto the restaurant’s chicken wings. Those yard bird appendages get a healthy rub, then spend time in the smoker versus hot oil. The result is a zesty, juicy respite from greasy wings stricken with fryer-induced rigor-mortis.
Any doubts about the authenticity of this smokehouse are dispelled by the masterful crimson smoke ring adorning the outer edge of their meats.
The Padres may never win the Series, but at least one of San Diego’s great waits is over. A trip to Brazen is a reminder—and for some people who’ve never had good ‘cue—proof that barbecue is a culinary art form. Brazen BBQ is located at 441 Washington Street.