Dipping your mop into the world of barbecue can be a precarious business. Other than pizza and burgers, there is no other food that Americans are more opinionated about. Some folks insist that your cooking vessel makes all the difference, whether it’s a kettle smoker, a barrel smoker, an egg shaped smoker, a flux-capacitor based meat vaporizer or just the back of an ’84 Celica. Other barbecue Einsteins insist that it’s all about the sauce, whether it’s a mustard sauce, or a tomato sauce, or a molasses sauce, or a vinegar sauce, or a tears-of-a-dolphin sauce. Don’t even start me on dry rubs.
So, suffice it to say, interjecting an opinion about anything barbecue is dangerous. That being said, I’m going to stick my neck out here. Are you ready for it? Can you take it?
Big Joe’s BBQ is the best barbecue in Sacramento.
Owners Joe Dunlap and Kathie Pine know what they’re doing. The menu sticks to the basics–pork, hot links, tri-tip, ribs, chicken–with the standard compliment of sides–beans, potato salad, macaroni salad, greens, and cornbread. And every part of that menu, at least every part I tried, was flawless. The hot links were smoky and juicy, the red potato salad was dense and flavorful, the beans were sweet and spicy, and the cornbread was just about perfect, neither too sweet nor too plain.
The one element of the meal that could have been improved, and we’re talking only a fractional improvement here, is Joe’s sauce. The spicy and hot sauces were just a little too two-dimensional. I tend to like more sweet undertones in my barbecue sauce, and at least four dimensions–sweet, hot, spicy, and space-time.
More than anything though, more than the warm reception from Joe and Kathie, more than the myriad compliments that diners all around me were making about the spectacular ribs, more than the glory of the MLB’s opening day, what really swayed me in favor of Big Joe’s BBQ were the answers to three simple questions I posed to the owners:
Q: How hot is your hot sauce?
A: Depends how I’m feeling that day.
Q: You make the corn bread in house?
A: We make everything in house.
Q: Vehicle Voltron or Lion Voltron?
A: Vehicle Voltron…duh.
Ok, I made up that last one, but there’s no doubt that Joe and Kathie are doing the lord’s work in their little corner of Citrus Heights. Speaking of Citrus Heights, I’m sure I’m not the only one that would love it if their storefront were a little closer to home (my home that is), and I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love this type of food in a more fleshed out restaurant with a beer and wine license rather than the small, bare-bones storefront that Joe’s currently calls home.
Other than the ambiance, or lack thereof, of the small strip mall location, there’s really nothing more you can ask of Joe’s. That is, unless you have some burning questions about Ultra Man, or my favorite, M.A.S.K.
Big Joe’s BBQ– 7967 Auburn Blvd, Citrus Heights
Food**** Atmosphere** Service****