I've been going to KC's BBQ at 2613 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, since I moved to the Bay Area in 1993. I would not be surprised if I've been there more than 100 times, even 150 or so. I started out getting chicken and pork ribs, then 3-way combos including links or occasionally beef.
What I like about KC's:
1) The meats are almost never overcooked. At every other BBQ place I've been to in the East Bay, I've gotten badly dried out, often outright burned meats. (Flints, Everett & Jones (Berkeley, Jack London), Doug's, and Chef Edward's). It's particularly true with chicken, especially the white meat, but there should be no excuse for ribs whose fat disappeared hours ago.
2) The meats have a nice spice rub to them (except the links). I've no idea if any of the other places do or not. That is to say, I've never been able to identify one. I acknowledge that this may be a matter of taste.
3) I really like the links. A mixture of coarsely ground pork and beef, with a mild spice. These are different from the finely ground spicy links more common in the environs. Again, a matter of taste.
Why other people may not like KC's as much:
1) The sauce is quite sweet. They'll serve it on the side if you like. Melanie Wong has described it as lighter and fruitier than E&Js, and I think that's fair. But it's quite sweet, and I suspect a lot of people would consider it 'characterless' compared to a lot of other sauces, especially smoked sauces.
2) The meats are not as obviously smoky. This may correlate to the aforementioned 'never burnt' quality, but they are still obviously smoked. Friday I had the beef again, and it clearly had the smoke ring present. I should note here that in all these years I've never gone before 5pm, so that may also make a difference.
3) Baked Beans and Potato Salad are the only sides. I like the potato salad fine. It's not terribly sophisticated. The beans are relatively new, having been added a few years ago. In the beginning I though they were terrible, but lately I've been eating them. Not great, though.
How I compare KC's to some of the other places:
1) Flint's: Based on people's recommendations, I went a couple of times to the Shattuck location 8 or 9 years ago and got horribly overcooked pork ribs. After reading a lot of recent and older posts here, I recently went to the San Pablo location for a 3-way combo: pork ribs, chicken, and links. The links were fine, but the ribs and chicken were all dried out. The sauce was unexciting to me. I will say that it was a huge amount of meat, though. I'd say close to 3 lbs, for about $15.
2) Chef Edward's: I've been here a dozen times at least over the past few years. A large selection of sides, but I always get the greens, often good, and the cabbage, always good but often sold out. I like the Piggly Wiggly mentioned by others, a sliced pork sandwich served with cole slaw (too sweet for me) and the BBQ sauce. This is also a sweet sauce. It's maybe a little unsophisticated, as the pork shoulder is not so obviously smoked, but tasty. The actual BBQ is ok, on the dry side, but otherwise unremarkable to me. I haven't tried the turkey leg.
3) Everett & Jones: Many times to the Berkeley location, fine, smallish portions, ok sauce, darker and not too sweet. Except for a dried out chicken, rarely burned all to hell. Once to the Telegraph Ave. location. Fine, but never thought to go back. A few times to the Jack London location: love that there's a choice of sides, potato salad and cole slaw maybe a little too sour but the greens are fine, and cornbread is available. I like that it's a sit-down place, too. This is the location of the three that it seemed to me like they'd done something to the meat before smoking it (to me a good thing). Generally good quality stuff, but one time I did get very dried out pork ribs, though, they were interestingly crispy, like lechon.
4) Doug's: Been half a dozen times over 8 yrs, but never made either a good or bad impression on me. Never tried the goat, though, or deep fried turkey, both of which seems to excite people.
1) After reading a lot of old posts here, I've got to try Memphis Minnie's.
2) Ordering chicken at a BBQ place is mostly a losing proposition (though I will continue at KC's).
3) Besides KC's, I often consider going to Chef Edward's (mainly cause of the sides), and E&Js Jack London, though I rarely make it anymore. (Become a bit of a fitness nut lately, and don't eat as much as frequently).
4) I've got to order the beef more often, as it does seem easiest to judge the cooking on it.
5) I like spice rubs, and other pre-smoking adornments.
Well, that's probably more than you wanted to know. Cheers, ericf
KC's (2613 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-1140)
For what it's worth, KC's got a positive mention in Gourmet a while back.
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