Meat Meet

Crossroads Barbeque is a family operation, but that family also claims Salinas City BBQ, Mission St. BBQ in Santa Cruz and Aptos St. BBQ in Aptos.

For some reason, brisket simply baffles most Californians, even those dedicated to the smoker struggle when pitted against the tenacious cut. Maybe they don’t want to be out managing glowing timber at 2am. Perhaps they take the phrase “slow and low” as a suggestion. Whatever – brisket is rigid in its demands. When it comes to barbecue, 12 hours in the smoke is a bare minimum. Even then, the meat may insist on more time.

Tri-tip is not such a stubborn cut. What emerges after five hours in the Crossroads Barbeque smoker is remarkable – plush slices, the fibers collapsing easily, juices draping the palate like a fleece cloak. Again, a trail of smoke follows each bite, countered by a sweet splash of apple. It’s as if they splashed the meat with juice, but the sweetness is really a trick of the oak.

And the pitmasters at the new Carmel spot come as close to Lockhart with brisket as you might find on a ’cue tour of California. They smoke it over Carmel Valley oak long enough to develop a nice acrid ring and swarthy bark. The rub provides a patina that alerts the palate with little pops of salt and pepper, but doesn’t interfere with the rich haze from the smoke ring – an impression of wood just scarred by flame. Gushing streaks of fat lend that glistening sensation of fortune prized from such a rugged piece of meat.

But Lockhart is deep in the heart of Texas barbecue country, where perhaps the stars just shine bigger and brighter and the wakeup call is earlier. In The Crossroads shopping center, the fire starts at 5am. Brisket that soaks in smoke all day must be brought back up to temperature before serving. Unless a cryovac is involved, allowing the meat to cool and then finishing pushes brisket back into one of its moods.

Still, pitmaster Frank Ingram and his team understands this and they try to ease it gently back to rendering temperature. It makes for a reasonable introduction to something other than the ubiquitous tri-tip.

“We’re turning a lot of people into believers,” manager Hendrick Bouwens says.

The new restaurant is not out to push boundaries. The lineup involves chicken, hot links, ribs and pulled pork in addition to the red meat. The pork renders for a dozen hours or so, but manages to fend off the smoke, instead developing a deep, toasted, nutty impression. Strands of the meat drip with fat, giving it that fall-apart appeal. When dressed with a Carolina-style sauce (served on the side), it picks up a bright, fruity zing balanced by a muted heat. But really, this pork doesn’t need sauce.

The smoker leaves reminders of charred wood throughout the ribs, and this pungent note finds harmony with a coating of sweet sauce. However, you want meat to drop from the bones. While the Crossroads crew bring good flavors, the meat is tense.

A few bumps can be expected from a new place, though. Crossroads opened in December and is planning a grand opening event for March 1-3. But they seem to be doing just fine already.

The Crossroads Barbeque, 241 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel. 11am-9pm daily. 250-7616,

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