I am regularly mocked by my husband (who grew up in Texas and Kansas) for engaging in the native Southern Californian habit of calling anything thrown on a grill “barbecue.” Apparently, this does not qualify as real barbecue by Southern standards.
Thus, our relationship has been a long education in “real barbecue,” although I am by no means an expert. We have visited many a barbecue joint together in the almost 20 years we have known each other—we have had barbecue in Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and possibly Georgia and Texas as well (it has been so long, I have lost track).
All that to say, as far as I can tell, Canyon City BBQ is the closest I have come to the real thing in our immediate vicinity. First off, it is truly a hole-in-the-wall dining establishment.
In barbecue terms, that is not an insult. For some reason, in all my BBQ travels, this quality is an essential prerequisite for any authentic barbecue place.
The exterior is an unassuming adobe house with iron rails over the windows. Upon walking in, I am immediately hit with a case of Southern BBQ déjà vu.
From the license plates and vintage posters trimming the walls to the 1960’s standard-issue cafeteria tables with vinyl and metal chairs scraping across linoleum floors, down to Xeroxed menus shoved in clear-front report covers, this place could have been plucked right out of the South and dropped, like Dorothy’s Kansas house in Oz, right here in Azusa.
I order the beef brisket platter ($11.99) and ask my server about the size of the brisket. He points to a husky man sitting the next table over and says, “He’s got it right there.” Surprisingly, it is smaller than I expected, so I also order the BBQ slider sampler ($6.99) just to be on the safe side.
When my platter arrives, I am greeted by six thick slices of brisket about the length of my platter that have been slowly smoked for 12+ hours until fork-tender and drizzled with a robust, smoky sauce.
Then it dawns on me: the man next to me must have been about halfway through his brisket when the server pointed it out to me. It turns out that the brisket is, in fact, ten ounces of tangy, sweet, meaty goodness.
The brisket comes with your choice of two sides; I selected baked beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. Both included little morsels of meat in the sauce or gravy. The beans were sweet, but not cloying. The potatoes were dotted with little chunks that proved their homemade nature.
The sliders are two ounces each of pulled pork, beef brisket or pulled chicken on a simple roll. I sample a bite of each one and am delighted to find the pork and chicken to be as tender as the brisket. Often, I do not like pulled chicken because it can be dry, but the chicken was as moist as the other meats.
The barbecue is served with two kinds of sauces on the side. The first falls in the category of a traditional hearty, tomato-based barbecue sauce that has a smoky flavor and depth with sweetness.
The second is a lighter tomato-based sauce that has a different sweetness (perhaps from honey) and more of a zesty, spicy kick than the first. Both are delicious, although the first is probably the house barbecue sauce that is used to glaze the meats.
As you can imagine, I had plenty of leftovers. This allowed me to run Canyon City BBQ through the final gauntlet. The leftovers were even better the next day—and the meat still unbelievably tender and moist. Although they offer plenty of other items on their menu, from nachos to hot dogs, you are missing out if you do not try their barbecue first.
Canyon City BBQ
Address: 347 N San Gabriel Ave, Azusa, 91702
Business Hours: Wednesday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Phone Number: (626) 815-4227
Price Range: $4.99 - $18.99
Type of Cuisine: Barbecue
Standout Dish: Pulled Pork and Beef Brisket