Copper Top BBQ, located in the small - population 1700 - town of Big Pine, has achieved quite a reputation, as in 2015, according to Yelp and the Los Angeles Times, it received the title of "America's Best Restaurant." That's quite a title for a small, roadside barbecue restaurant, in the small Inyo County town of Big Pine!
As with all of reviews that I publish, I have no affiliation with the restaurant reviewed, and there is no monetary gain on my part, as I am simply a person who likes to eat, and I love to write-up, and publish my dining experiences.
Photo: It's early Monday afternoon, April 02, 2018, and I'm visiting the small Eastern Sierra town of Big Pine, and I'm in the mood for barbecue. Actually, I'm always in the mood for barbecue.
I have definitely come to the right place, as both Yelp and the Los Angeles Times newspaper voted Copper Top BBQ as "THE BEST RESTAURANT IN THE U.S.!" That's an amazing achievement!
Photo: Barbecue is informal and communal, and it's no exception at Copper Top BBQ. Guests relax on the patio, in front of the restaurants, under shady umbrellas. On this early April afternoon, the temperature is in the low 80's which makes it pleasant to dine outdoors. Big Pine, at almost 4000' elevation experiences seasonal climate change, as it's not uncommon for the temperature to be above 100 degrees under a blazing summer sun, to single digits in the winter, with plenty of snow on the ground. All is good on this early afternoon
Photo: Meet Hank Otten, the super-friendly owner of the restaurant, and pitmaster, as he gets a fire going in the pit dedicated to grilling chicken. The menu posts three varieties of meat: Chicken, tri-tip and pork ribs.
Photo: At Copper Top BBQ, like most real barbecue restaurants, you make your selection from the posted menu, walk up to the order window, place your order, pay for it, and wait for your name to be called. Barbecue, by nature, is informal, so there are no wait staff, and this isn't a "sit down" restaurant.
Photo: This friendly couple was enjoying a great barbecue lunch, at the communal table, as smiled as I snapped their photo.
Photo: If you don't care to dine indoors, there are several table under a metal covering which provide protection from the elements. It would be interesting to dine here when it's snowing, or when the temperature is in the single-digit range.
Photo: From the order window, you get a peek into the small kitchen. Most cooking is done outdoors, either on a smoker, or a grill, and the meals are mostly packaged and assembled in the kitchen. Of course side dishes are prepared in the kitchen. I actually didn't step inside the kitchen - that would be a breech of protocol - but I did manage to take a photo through the order window.
Photo: When your order is ready, it's placed at the pickup window, your name is called, and you pick up your order, as this lady is doing.
Photo: Meet Mr. Hank Otten, the super-friendly owner and pitmaster of the restaurant, rubs pork ribs before he puts them in the smoker. I've attended the annual Nugget Rib Cookoff, held in Sparks, Nevada many times, but I've never had the pleasure to enjoy ribs as good as Hank's.
Photo: Two slabs of pork ribs, cooked, and ready to enjoy. When you order ribs, each order comes with four bones.
Photo: Hank takes ribs off the smoker. Some of the ribs are cooked without being wrapped in aluminum foil, and others are first seared, then wrapped in foil. Hank's ribs are "St. Louis style" ribs, but they aren't dripping in barbecue sauce. I asked Hank his secret - not expecting him to divulge it to me - and with a chuckle, he replied, "Smoke and seasoning." That's as good as it gets...
Photo: I proudly display my "St. Louis Pork Rib Meal" before digging in, and enjoying some of the best barbecue in California, or maybe on the planet.
Photo: I ordered the "St. Louis Pork Rib Meal," which included a roll, and one side dish of my choice. Today, my choice of side was "Fire Roasted Green Chili with Beans."
How do I begin to describe my meal? How can you describe "rib excellence?" Perhaps the word "perfection?" I don't know... Each bit into the juicy, flavorful rib catapulted me to "rib heaven." The ribs weren't drowning in sauce, and the sauce that was on the ribs simply enhanced the flavor. Look at the photo... don't the ribs look amazing? Multiply the beautiful presentation by 100 times and you'll get an idea of how wonderful these ribs are. Ditto for the beans.
In two little words: Perfect Barbecue.
Three days earlier, on Friday, March 30, 2018, I paid a visit to Copper Top BBQ for the first time...
Photo: It's early Friday afternoon, March 30, 2018, and I'm in the mood for barbecue, and I've come to the right place, as Copper Top BBQ had been voted by Yelp and the Los Angeles Times newspaper as "The Best Restaurant in the U.S." back in 2015, and in 2018, I suspect nothing has changed.
Like most barbecue restaurants, you choose from the menu, place your order at the order window, pay for it, and wait for your name to be called. Sit-down barbecue restaurant? No way, as Copper Top BBQ serves authentic barbecue, and it's informal, as that's the way barbecue is supposed to be.
The restaurant features three pits, one devoted to St. Louis style pork ribs, another for chicken, and a pit/grill dedicated to roasting the finest Santa Maria style tri-tip on the planet.
Photo: The menu is posted just to the left of the order window. Copper Top BBQ doesn't attempt to cover all barbecue bases, as the meat is Santa Maria style tri-tip, St. Louis style ribs and chicken. Where's the brisket? Who needs brisket when you have this kind of barbecue perfection...
Photo: As I placed my order for my "Tri-tip Meal," I got a peek into the kitchen and I was able to watch sandwiches being made. All meat is cooked outside in the pits, or on the single grill used to cook tri-tip.
No, I didn't barge my way into the kitchen, but I was able to snap a photo through the order window after I'd placed my order.
Photo: Meet the owner of the restaurant, and the pitmaster, Mr. Hank Otten, as he places a rack of pork ribs on the grill to start the process going to make his amazing St. Louis style pork ribs. Hank opened Copper Top BBQ back in 2013, and has been going strong ever since, producing some of the best barbecue in the country.
Speaking of country, do you remember that hit country music song by Donna Fargo, titled, "Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.?" You could put Hank's barbecue to the same tune and title it as "The Best Barbecue in the Whole U.S.A." Seriously...
Photo: As I was taking photos, I asked Hank to open the rib pit for me, and he obliged, so I got to see many racks of pork ribs cooking. Ah the smoke smell! I asked Hank what variety of wood they use, as I noticed many bags of mesquite charcoal stacked near the pits. He told me they start each pit with mesquite charcoal, and then switch to oak or walnut. He also added that all their meat is organic and locally sourced. Sounds good to me!
Photo: Hank's son, Matthew, gets a rack of tri-tip started on the grill that's used specifically for tri-tip. Note the beautiful snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains in the background, on this beautiful early Friday afternoon in late March.
Photo: Mmmmmmmmmm.... Santa Maria style tri-tip cooking on the grill, which heat rays distorting the background Sierra Nevada scenery. Beautiful!
Photo: I smile, as I pose with my wonderful meal, and a beer, that I'm about to enjoy. Thanks to a friendly next-door diner who took this photo, on my request.
Photo: The red umbrellas that provide shade from the ever-present Inyo County sun tint the photo on the "pink" side, but you get the idea that the meat is good, the potato salad side is fantastic, and the Hawaiian roll is all it should be.
That being said... You get a half pound of the best Santa Maria style tri-tip known to man. Look at the photo, as the meat is juicy, tender, perfectly cooked and mouth-watering wonderful. Ditto on the wonderful potato salad. The presentation is superb, but multiply this by 100 times for the taste... If barbecue is your "thing," and if you love great barbecue, take one bite into Copper Top BBQ's ribs, and you'll be transported into "Barbecue Heaven." Yes, it's that good...
My thoughts about Copper Top BBQ? There are many phrases and absolute superlatives that come to mind, such as delicious, amazing, and "the best barbecue ever." I don't know about "the best," as who am I to judge? But I CAN say that Copper Top BBQ is as good as barbeque gets.
Copper Top BBQ
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