Although it was hotter than hell in my North Park apartment one recent August afternoon, the prospect of having a salad or smoothie for lunch was downright depressing. Why let the heat win? My dauntless quest for manly summertime fare ultimately prevailed and prompted a trip to Lemon Grove, where succulent hunks of meat are known to ripen deep inside the smoky pits of Coop's West Texas BBQ (2625 Lemon Grove Ave.,).
In the time it takes to wait in a mile-long line for the grill-flames-and-liquid-smoke sort of "barbecue," you can already be eating the real-deal, low-and-slow barbecue at which the state of Texas rules. When I arrived at the small, strip-mall shop mid-afternoon, there was but a solo diner mackin'; admittedly, I really do enjoy pigging out amid the energy of a packed meat hall, and since the scene at Coop's wasn't happening, I placed my order to-go. Confident that I could single-handedly recreate such fervor from my couch, I left equipped with half a slab of pork spare ribs and plenty of spicy barbecue sauce for dunking.
Spare ribs sit right on top of the pig's belly, which means denser, fattier meat than the popular and wussy baby-back variety. The trick, however, is cooking 'em to the delightful consistency that makes fans of pork fat drool at the mention of its fluffy, distinctive richness. Rubbed down with seasonings, then smoked over mesquite wood and charcoal for three hours, the results are orgasmic. Soft, moist skin gives way to smoke-penetrated meat, followed by a layer of pork-like jam that melts into the hammy flesh I willfully sucked off the bone in ecstasy. These ribs hardly require barbecue sauce, but Coop's spicy variety—evocative of sweet, Memphis-style 'cue—is the perfect condiment to round out the itis-inducing trip.
"The main difference in San Diego," Coop explained of his Texas barbecue, "is that businesses take short cuts—boiling the meat, baking it first and adding liquid smoke that tends to overpower. I smoke mine start to finish, and there's nothing like it." As cartoon hearts poured out of my eyeballs, Coop went on to proclaim his shop "California's barbecue destination"—an attitude I dig, and so should you.