I tasted Dan Frengs' extraordinary ribs at last month's New Taste Marketplace, but Frengs' Slow Hand BBQ stand also shows up outside Mission bars The Homestead and Dirty Thieves and, farther afield, the Concord, Walnut Creek, and Brentwood farmers' markets. Your best tracking device: Frengs' Twitter feed. As I was preparing this week's review, I gave him a call.
SFoodie: How did you decide to drive a smoker around the Bay Area, selling brisket and ribs?
Frengs: Slow Hand started last April. Before that, I was in the beer business for 25 years. I've been wanting to do this for 15 years, starting with my first trip to Texas and that first taste of Texas-style brisket. The whole universe of barbecue outside California really opened my eyes. I started daydreaming, and over the years, I traveled all over the country, taking in every region. I'd come home from my trips and smoke a lot of meat to try and copy what I had tasted.
When I worked for Duvel and Chimay, I just started bringing barbecue to promos just for shits and giggles. People liked it. One of my friends, a marketing guy, said, "Your stuff
is good, but let's see what happens when you try to sell it. Give people
barbecue and they'll love it. Put yourself out there, sell it, and
you'll know whether you can go forward with the idea." I was friends with
the guys at The Trappist in Oakland, and they let me barbecue there, and then I
started at the Brentwood farmers' market last April. I lost my
job in the beer business ― and then it was decision time. It has been an interesting ride, and so far, I'm going to keep it going.
I started selling at the Homestead at the end of August, and Dirty Thieves
at the beginning of January.
How often do you make appearances these days? And how often do you come into the city?
Right now, it's two, three times. But now the Brentwood farmers' market
and the Concord Tuesday market are starting up. I make it into the city
about six times a month.
Is there a particular regional style of barbecue you're emulating?
Well, I do a pulled pork with a Carolina-style mustard vinegar sauce.
The brisket's out of Texas, and I do ribs my way. I keep the seasoning fairly
simple ― salt, pepper, cayenne on the meat ― and I concentrate on the smoking. I
use pretty much white oak, and buy it by the cord. The sauces are my
own. The main one is based on a recipe out of an old Great Chefs of San Francisco
Cookbook ― the recipe calls for ketchup and chutney, but I spice it up
my own way.
[On a day I'm going to appear,] I'll pre-smoke everything ahead. Ribs
get three to six hours, spareribs smoke for an hour a pound ― up to 14
hours. When I get to where I'm going, I'll get the fire going and then
smoke the meat for another hour and a half, two hours.
Any designs on a restaurant?
That's all up in the air. Everything would need to be right. I'm
committed to people smoking the meat outdoors. That's the problem with
most commercial barbecue ― there are some restrictions, and many cities
and counties won't let people have open-burning pits in an indoor bar.