Good Southern barbecue can’t be found on every street corner in the IE, but it can be found. And that’s a hallelujah we just sent up. With origins that pre-date the Civil War, barbecue as it’s done in the South—predominantly pig, but still beef abundant—is still damn close to the only way to barbecue to connoisseurs of the smoke and briquette. There’s something about collard greens, some corn bread and a basket of charred rib-tips that is wholly American on the taste, just like Jazz is on the ear.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but the Grinder Hut in Norco is some of the best barbecue you’ll discover within a 50-mile-radius—save maybe for Redhill in Rancho Cucamonga. Here are full slabs, half slabs, tri-tips, hot links, whole chickens, brisket baskets and pork sandwiches prepared with extreme (and very friendly) care. Some locals know about it, and they’ll be the ones looking at you suspiciously as the newbie at the to-go window. Just tell them a friend insisted, and they’ll smile and corroborate and gush about the Grinder’s authenticity. In fact, on my initial visit, there was a woman from Texas who’d licked her fingers at the great Salt Lick, who’d spoiled her notions at Kreutz’s and slid the meat off the bone at Iron Works. And she puts Grinder’s right there, daddy-O, right freaking there. That’s some good company.
Just don’t look to sit in the restaurant proper (if you can call it that)—there are two tables in a non-air-conditioned room, with scattered seating outside. There are pictures on the wall of things like peach cobbler and Muhammad Ali. There’s chatter in the kitchen, where the tonging of meats becomes a form of artistry. No, this is better than any damn John Grisham version of the South, and ten times tastier than anything the Mongolian’s can come up with. This was down home.
My friend and I—whom have eaten together at some the best barbecue joints in the country, and fairly trip over ourselves at the notion of good bob-ah-cue—happened by this unassuming place one day on a work call and . . . the eyebrows went up like apostrophes. So we inspected the two large barbecue grills in the parking lot, one of them closed and hissing, and did what anybody with a sensible approach to sophisticated gourmandry would do—ordered enough food to floor Eric “Butterbean” Esch. We went with a half slab of ribs, a full order of rib-tips, a small thing of collard greens, and some red beans and rice. A sack was handed over feeling as if a Persian cat were inside of it. But what blisses were therein, reader, what Southern channels of spirit. (Note: There were no wet-naps, however).
With copiously slathered barbecue sauce—cayenne, lemon, vinegar, the whole ten yards of thick elixir—the ribs were tender, bursting, and slipping off the bone; the rib tips those in miniature, absorbing the low pressures of the sauce. The trick was not to eat too fast. We aren’t good with tricks. Just as fine collard greens should (essentially kale with salted meats such as ham hocks, cooked in vinegar and spices), these tempered the richness of the meats. The red beans and rice were advancements from the Creole originators; these were backyard sides in the dead laziness of summer—truly amazing.
And now here we’ve let the cat out of the bag—diehards, send us your hate mail.
Grinder’s is only open three days a week, from Thursday–Saturday. But, they cater any time, so, if you like Southern barbecue the way it was meant, have the pros cook for your next shindig.
Grinder Hut Southern Style Barbecue, 2462 Hamner Avenue, Norco, (951) 737-7141 or (909) 214-8536 for catering. Open Thursday–Saturday, 11AM–8PM. Lunch for two, approx. $25; MC, V