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A sampler platter at Up in Smoke BBQ on San Marcos Boulevard in San Marcos. Photo by David Boylan
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Serious BBQ at Up in Smoke in San Marcos

Every few years, when I discover a new BBQ joint, I feel compelled to give a brief education on its true definition and clarify the difference between BBQ and grilling.

Yeah, I’m one of those freaks who tends to correct the well-meaning friend who invites me over for a “BBQ” when he is simply grilling burgers or the like.

It’s pretty simple: BBQ involves cooking and flavoring low and slow with smoke, and grilling involves cooking over a hot open flame. I won’t even get into the charcoal versus gas grill debate … because there is no debate. Charcoal rules!

So, there you go, it’s quite easy; next time you throw something on an open flame, tell your friends to join you to “grill some hot dogs and burgers” or whatever the case may be.

So now that we have all that cleared up, there’s a new-to-me BBQ joint in San Marcos called Up in Smoke BBQ. And I don’t know of anyone of a certain age who does not automatically reference the classic Cheech & Chong movie, “Up in Smoke,” which, if you have not seen it, is the classic stoner culture movie good for a few laughs.

The Pulled Pork sandwich with coleslaw and the sampler platter at Up in Smoke. Photo by David Boylan
The pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and sampler platter at Up in Smoke in San Marcos. Photo by David Boylan

Up in Smoke BBQ started as a food truck in Escondido in 2012, when they began serving meaty sandwiches outside of breweries, office parks and events.

The first thing I noticed and appreciated about their newish (2019) Up in Smoke BBQ restaurant location was that it is tucked in the back of a random bunch of buildings off of San Marcos Boulevard, a little rough around the edges with a long bar and a few tables inside and picnic tables out on a deck.

Nothing fancy here, folks, and that’s a good thing when it comes to BBQ joints. Any place serving authentic BBQ that is sparkling clean in a modern environment should invite skepticism.

There also should be the scent of burning wood wafting in the vicinity, which was the case at Up in Smoke. There is a full bar, but I prefer a Coke with my BBQ. But if your preference is booze with your BBQ, they have you covered.

I love the introduction to the menu, titled “Meet the Meats.” It’s there that they describe, in detail, their dry-rubbed, then 11-hour-smoked chopped or sliced beef brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis-style pork ribs that are brined for 24 hours before smoking, superior Angus beef back ribs, pork belly that is smoked then crisped on the grill, braised chicken and one of their signature dishes: the burnt ends.

They come from the point half of the beef brisket, a slightly fattier piece of meat, cut into smoky chunks of goodness, seasoned with a dry rub then grilled. I heard folks travel from the far reaches of San Diego for these.

And while on meat topics, they have an American Wagyu Burger. These are the foundations of the various combination dishes, so they have the meats.

The house BBQ sauce is honey bourbon, so it has a sweetness to it that I prefer. Mains include several platters where you can mix and match your choice of meats and sides or have the meats served on fresh greens or all mixed up into their fabulous mac and cheese.

The sides are co-starring here, with the coleslaw and baked beans standouts among an excellent lineup.

We got a side of steamed broccoli to balance the meat fest we were embarking on. The portions of the sides are enormous, with one side of beans efficiently feeding two people and maybe three.

My companion ordered the three-meat sampler with sliced brisket, pork belly and pork ribs. Everything on that plate was smoked to perfection and plenty moist. I went with the pulled pork sandwich topped with their fabulous coleslaw, which was like a cowboy Reuben — smokehouse style — and I loved it.

Ribs are available on their own, and they are all smoked to perfection and then finished on the grill with BBQ sauce on request only. I love that touch as the grill caramelizes the BBQ sauce, making me happy.

The crazy thing about Up in Smoke BBQ is that besides the full BBQ menu, they have a lineup of burritos, mostly stuffed with their BBQ meats, along with burgers, chili, wings, hot dogs and even a couple of salads.

And yes, if you have a vegan in tow for whatever reason, they have that covered with vegan meatballs and an impossible burger.

There is an extensive dessert menu that, upon my return, I will have to save room for as these are some serious eater portions, folks. Big hearty plates of everything did not leave a sliver of my imagination to consider dessert.

I’d give Up in Smoke a try if you are serious about your BBQ or simply dabble in it. Check them out at 925 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos or