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The Barbecue Pit

920 E. Plaza Boulevard, National City

For all intents and purposes, the Barbecue Pit is identical to the Wrangler Family Barbecue. Not only does the menu board read the same — with the addition of chicken and slightly higher prices — it flat-out looks the same.

That’s because, way back in the day, the Wrangler was a branch of the Barbecue Pit. The original Wrangler Family Barbecue crew took over, rebranding the restaurant as their own. As the decades have passed, branches of the Barbecue Pit have opened and closed all over San Diego.

As of now, besides the National City location, there’s one at 2388 Fletcher Parkway in El Cajon. Recently, one branch opened in North Park, and swiftly closed to all but catering operations.

When it’s decision time, the Barbecue Pit doesn’t quite measure up to Wrangler. It’s a close contest, but the sauce is less flavorful, the meat less exacting, and the dessert selection less riddled with gorgeous cream pies. That’s not to say things falter. Far from it. Barbecue Pit’s meats still deliver a deep, smoky flavor courtesy of a legit pit smoker; it’s just not quite up to the caliber of its nearly identical twin.

Peach pie and a small cup of coffee at the Barbecue Pit.

Peach pie and a small cup of coffee at the Barbecue Pit.

The Barbecue Pit’s website tells the restaurant’s story, about how the founders moved to San Diego from Texas in the 1940s, opening the first restaurant downtown in 1947. The place is still in the family, several generations down the road and thousands of miles from Texas.

That’s Dallas, Texas, to be precise, which is an interesting town for barbecue. As far as 'cue is concerned, Dallas is as far west as you can go and still be in East Texas. East Texas barbecue is almost indistinguishable from the proper South. Pork has at least an equal hold on the BBQ-consciousness as beef, and the smoking tends to be on the subtler side. Logically enough, East Texas barbecue forms a bridge between the classical styles of the South, especially the ribs of Memphis and St. Louis, and the cowboy style that characterizes the rest of Texas...but we won’t go there, not yet.

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