Forget roses. Everything is coming up barbecue in the Central Valley.
Slick Fork BBQ in Hughson is the latest new restaurant to prove that while summer may be over, the grills are still smoking. The barbecue joint opened at the start of September offering al fresco dining or takeout for its low-and-slow cooked meats and from-scratch sides.
Owner and pitmaster Kevin Bradley has opened his new eatery on the corner of Santa Fe and Hughson avenues, right at a busy intersection where plenty of passersby can see, and smell, the smoke coming from his custom-built smoker barrels. The Hughson resident and childhood friend Raul Gudino started cooking competitive barbecue together about eight years ago. But people kept asking them where they could get it outside of events.
So about four years ago Bradley started thinking about opening his own place. Then, earlier this year, the spot along a busy intersection of Santa Fe Avenue became available. The space had been a catering company, so already had a kitchen set up. Bradley got the keys in July and opened the doors Sept. 1 after some paint and renovations. Diners walk up to the window to order or pick up, and can then eat at one of its outdoor picnic tables or take the feast home.
Bradley and Gudino and members of their family all work at the restaurant now, which is open Thursday to Sunday from 11 a.m. until they run out of meat. And, believe me, they will probably run out of meat. Most days by 2 p.m. the Texas-style brisket, which is smoked for upwards of 16 hours, is all sold out.
The menu is simple by design. Slick Fork smokes brisket, tri-tip, pulled pork, pork spare ribs and sausage. You can get any of the meats as a sandwich (which run $8.50 to $10) or buy it by weight (which ranges from $8 to $10 per pound, or $24 for a full rack of ribs and sausage for $4 per link). Their sides feature traditional barbecue favorites like baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad and their signature “Cowboy Corn” (cut corn mixed with cream cheese and jalapenos). Then, end your meal with their peach cobbler, which is made fresh every morning.
Bradley, who only lives a few block away from the restaurant and bikes in to work daily, said cooking has always been a big part of his family’s heritage. He comes from a Swiss and Italian background, and used to cook barbecue with his father and other relatives at the Swiss Club in Ceres. The restaurant is a family affair as well with Bradley’s father and both men’s children working there.
“It’s just in my blood and DNA. I love cooking and am really passionate about barbecue,” said Bradley, a Hughson native who previously worked in construction.
Like any low-and-slow smoked barbecue, patience is a virtue. Meats are coated in their dry rub, made in house, and start going in the smoker at 4 a.m. the day before. His smokers are two custom-made converted butane tanks that used to service rural residents in the area. The largest of the two can fit about 800 pounds and both use local almond and oak wood. After smoking for up to 18 hours, all the meat is cut to order, from the ribs to the tri-tip and brisket.
“It’s a lot of work making barbecue, but that’s what happens when you want to do it right,” Bradley said.
And about that name, Slick Fork can be interpreted a couple ways. Bradley said he originally chose it because it refers to a slick-fork saddle, a style of Western saddle also known as an A-fork. But it also has another, more food-related connotation.
“We want them to leave here and say the food was so good all that was left was a fork that is nice and slick,” Bradley said.
The restaurant is the second low-and-slow barbecue joint to open this month in the valley. The Burnt End in downtown Modesto had a soft opening this week and will open for regular lunch and dinner service at its Ninth Street site later this week.