Pitmaster Matt Horn is a self-taught craftsman. On most days, the California native is busy smoking and perfecting a unique culinary art — West Coast-style barbecue. As a leading authority on this unique barbecue region, Horn’s accolades are many, ranging from his acclaimed Horn Barbecue restaurant (awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand) in Oakland, California, to being named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in America.
Now, Horn has authored a new cookbook,, documenting every glorious detail of his distinctive style. The book is a testament to Horn’s passion for the art of barbecue, a craft that represents a greater life purpose beyond the accolades.
“I just wanted to do something for once that wasn’t driven by money, but something that touched my soul, something that really moved me,” said Horn.
While Texas and the South are dominant regions of American barbecue, the West Coast is often overlooked as a barbecue location. Although the West Coast doesn’t have the same historic lineage of Southern American barbecue, it does feature its own distinctive style. One item that’s unique to Californian barbecue is tri-tip, a cut of beef from the bottom “tip” of the sirloin. Cooked whole before its sliced thin, this distinctive cut is extremely rare outside California.
Another factor to West Coast barbecue is the immense cultural diversity, particularly in the Bay Area, where Horn centers his barbecue operations. Growing up in California’s Central Valley and operating a restaurant in multi-cultural Oakland, Horn takes notes from the countless cuisines and cultures of California. While much of his barbecue is an homage to the American South, Horn’s barbecue techniques often feature spices and flavors outside the standard lexicon, capturing the essence of Northern California.
But in Horn’s opinion, what truly makes West Coast barbecue unique is its flexibility. Unburdened by the boundaries of regions and styles, West Coast barbecue is free to experiment. This means that Horn can do Carolinas-style whole hog barbecue along with Northern California style tri-tip, all while creating inventive dishes like smoked oxtails or whole rabbit.
To document West Coast barbecue, Horn has chosen an ambitious creation — a cookbook. The production of the cookbook was a taxing journey, one that required long hours of recipe testing and tastings. That hard work is apparent upon reading the cookbook. Filled with detailed, expert guidance from Horn, this cookbook is a barbecue aficionado’s dream. Besides barbecue classics like brisket and whole hog, the cookbook also features Horn’s take on sides dishes, sauces, and desserts.
As a testament to West Coast barbecue, the cookbook also showcases some truly unique dishes well outside standard American barbecue fare. Surprisingly, one of Horn’s favorite things to make is smoked whole duck, something that’s more common in Chinese barbecue than in the American South. All of this is just another testament to the center of Horn’s motivation for barbecue, a passion that seeps from him in every pore.
“I look at it (barbecue) as a blank canvas for art, like a painting,” said Horn. “Because for you to take raw meat and turn it into something beautiful that also creates memories, that’s a beautiful thing.”
Tri-tip steak was popularized more than 70 years ago in open Santa Maria-style pits; it is so often associated with this region of California that you can ask for it as a “Santa Maria cut” or “California cut.” My strategy here is to treat the steak to my brisket technique and create a tender, smoked steak ideal for a family-style meal.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes, plus 20 minutes to rest
Yield: Serves 6
- 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
- 1 (3-5 pounds) tri-tip steak
- Olive oil for the steak
- Preheat the smoker to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you are burning a clean oxygen-rich fire.
- In a small bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano until well-blended.
- Trim any loose fat from the tri-tip. Rub the meat with olive oil and evenly apply the rub on all sides.
- Place the tri-tip in the smoker and smoke for 20 to 25 minutes until it reaches an internal temp of 135 degrees Fahrenheit, checking it periodically. Once done, remove the meat from the smoker, wrap it in aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Unwrap the meat and slice it against the grain to serve.
Grilled chicken is an excellent humble family dinner, although the marinade in this recipe adds an incredible glaze worthy of a restaurant meal. The brown sugar speeds up the caramelization and deepens the flavor of the finished poultry.
Prep Time: 10 minutes, plus 20 minutes to marinate
Total Time: 42 minutes
Yield: Serve 4
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- In a medium bowl, whisk the olive oil, brown sugar, garlic, thyme, and rosemary to blend. Generously season the mixture with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade.
- Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and toss to coat. Refrigerate the chicken to marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to overnight.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high.
- Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 6 minutes per side, basting with the reserved marinade until cooked through and the juices run clear.
- Garnish with parsley before serving.
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