Once and a while you’ll get the newest shining star of the BBQ world, and obviously what follows is a media storm of accolades and high praise! Matt Horn might be your average Californian who is getting a lot of attention in a very short amount of time, but is his BBQ technique measuring up against others who were born and raised around the smoking pit? Here’s an honest insight into what Matt Horn is doing to influence the new California BBQ craze.
What is California BBQ?
Like many things that happen on the west coast, if something is good, then everyone has to get on the bandwagon. Just like the success story of Spago and Chef Wolfgang Puck, who started the revolutionary California Cuisine menu in the 80s. Well, not exactly… Ed LaDou was the first to create this style using a new concept called Farm to Table’ cooking when he worked at Chez Panisse in Berkley, California.
This concept is not uncommon, since many of the radical ideas that come from Northern California emerge as eco-friendly solutions. And this is where Matt Horn uses the same concept with his vision of ‘Clean Oxygen-Rich Fire’. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. But, then again- this is California that we’re talking about, and for Matt Horn, it’s just another success story that might be more fluff than proof in the pudding.
Trial and error
Matt admits he practically grew up in Fresno but also mentions that his grandparents grew up in the south. Yet, goes on to specify that his style of BBQ is closer to central Texas-style BBQ! It couldn’t be more evident that his smoked meats are all using seasoned white oak, which is prominent in Central-Texas BBQ- Even the Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin admits that seasoned white oak gives smoked brisket a smoky sweetness similar to Kentucky bourbon.
And though he claims that he has relatives who grew up in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama who all shared a BBQ experience, it was his grandmother who lived in Fresno who taught Matt how to smoke his meats. He has also said time and time again that he learned how to smoke meats for many years, but according to his own words from his book, “The first brisket I ever cooked was untrimmed and cooked it too hot and too fast”- Pg. 26
He also states that his Grandmother taught him to use seasoned Mesquite wood- Pg. 22, which gave the meat a distinct texture and flavor. But perhaps white oak suits his tastes now… When he had enough experience, that’s when he started to make BBQ at farmer’s markets and various locations in the Bay Area. It was often hit or miss pitching a tent and grilling up BBQ at these various open market locations.
Pop-Up BBQ ambitions
Matt started to take his BBQ game to the next level in 2016 when he purchased an offset mobile smoker and would travel to many more locations cooking smoked meats and side dishes. He finally secured a deal with a local Oakland microbrewery called Ale Industries which helped tie in an alcoholic beverage that he would sell with his BBQ menu. Heavily using social media and photos of his food attracted fans that grew to 3000 in less than a few months.
After this, Matt started doing BBQ Pop-ups in other states including Georgia, Texas, and Wyoming in addition to California. The press wasted no time calling Matt Horn the newest rising star of the Bay Area. After 2019, he finally had enough to open his own brick-and-mortar location aptly named Horn Barbecue. Everything was going to plan until the city of Oakland had a problem with his location using any kind of wood-burning grills.
The pandemic, BLM, and black pride
Matt admits that his dedication to becoming a known name in the BBQ industry is a tough nut to crack. Famous blacks in the BBQ circle are often lesser-known but include Kansas City’s Henry Perry, Rodney Scott, and Desiree Robinson (who recently was inducted into the BBQ Hall of Fame in 2020). Much of Matt’s passion for barbecue has also followed the turmoil of the BLM riots and oppression that many blacks face in society across America.
He’s not shy to talk about the past-time BBQ culture that black people helped to create. His story has been featured even further by Forbes magazine, Food & Wine, The New York Times, and even from the Michelin Guide as an influential New Discovery’. His critics are not far from the sidelines that have tried his BBQ and are not so easily fooled. Some have even called his BBQ lackluster, dry, and way too over-priced.
That hasn’t stopped Matt from starting many new Pop-Up food projects, book deals, and many more marketing stunts. He has done a fine job of helping to feed homeless people for free, but only time will tell if this new wave of California BBQ will change or influence die-hard fans of smoked BBQ in the future.