by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com

Whether it’s celebration, tradition or summer heat that’s forcing you out of the kitchen this Fourth of July, grilling is almost certainly on the menu for many of us. And when it comes to barbecue, there’s plenty to choose from in these parts. Whether it has feathers, hide or hooves, Ventura County vendors promise to set you up with something local, high quality and delicious.

BUTCHERS

Buying local meat is one of the smartest moves you can make for your tastebuds, your home economy and the environment. Local ranchers take care to treat their animals right, offering room to move and graze, a chemical-free lifestyle and a husbandry approach that works in harmony with the land. Many Ventura County butchers turn to these Central Coast ranchers (and some farther out) to bring healthy, grass-fed, free-range quality to the table.

Laird’s Butchershop and Deli
574 W. Main St., Santa Paula
805-525-3517
www.lairdsbutchershop.com

Hometown butcher and full-service meat counter offering beef from Harris Ranch as well as pork, chicken and turkey. The sausages are a local favorite, made in  house with the freshest cuts and inventive ingredients. The selection changes frequently, and includes jalapeno chipotle, Italian (hot and sweet), Andouille, Baja chicken, spicy turkey and more. Get trimmed and seasoned tri-tip roasts or kabobs for the grill, meats pre-stuffed and oven ready and even pot roast and beef stew that can be served after just a few minutes in the microwave.

Main Street Meats
3049 E. Main St., Ventura
805-643-0318
www.mainstreetmeatsventura.com

Main Street Meats’ bacon burger patties, made with a blend of fresh-ground beef chuck and bacon. Photo from the Main Street Meats Facebook page

Farm-to-table is the name of the game here, for everything in the meat case or out. If the dry-aged steaks don’t tempt you, the plump chickens, perfectly formed burger patties, meatballs, pork chops and sausages will. Butcher Box subscriptions are a great way to save big on large orders, meals ready-to-eat make it easy to put dinner on the table, and Main Street’s own deli meats go into delicious sandwiches. During the pandemic, the butcher became more of a market, and has continued to offer fresh produce, milk, eggs, bread and other staples, so this just might become your one-stop shop. The $25 BBQ Pack, which includes three pounds of chicken, four burger patties (one-half pound each) and five hot dogs, is one of the best deals around. Add some fresh brioche buns, ready-made potato salad and coleslaw, and you’ll be walking out with a barbecue feast that can feed six to eight people.

The Ventura Meat Company
2650 E. Main Street, Ventura
805-667-9159
www.vtameatco.com

Just half a mile from Main Street Meats is this beloved purveyor of sustainably sourced meats. Steaks, roasts, ground meats, poultry, pork, bison and Wagyu beef . . . plus some of the best bacon in town. Always fresh and responsibly obtained, and you can taste the quality. For quantity, variety and savings, try one of the “package” options that include 9-26 pounds of meat in a mix of popular cuts ($70-$200). Delicious seasonings and vinegars are also available. 

Watkins Cattle Co.
105 E. Roblar Drive, Meiners Oaks
805-640-1179
www.watkinscattleco.com

Ventura County’s own ranching family that grazes cattle on thousands of acres of pastureland in the Tri-County area, including 400 in the Ojai Valley. The cattle are always on pasture, and subsist on grass, hay, alfalfa and, in a very SoCal twist, spent brewery grains from local microbreweries. Animals are never treated with antibiotics, hormones or steroids. Popular with restaurateurs and caterers as well as local shoppers, Watkins costs more, but the flavor and quality are worth it. Watins has a butcher shop in Meiners Oaks, but is also readily available at many Certified Farmers Markets in Ventura County (where you can score some great deals) and at Rainbow Bridge in Ojai.


BARBECUE

No time, space or interest in firing up your own grill? No problem! Let these wonderful barbecue joints do the smoking, sizzling, slathering and serving for you!

Bandits’ Grill and Bar
1980 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo, 805-445-4742
589 N. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 805-497-7427
www.banditsbbq.com

A Conejo Valley favorite and available in Old Town Camarillo, too. Tri-tip nachos and riblets are great for “light” bites or a nosh with a beer. When you’re ready to really dig in, you can choose from chicken, pork, ribs, tri-tip, steak, salmon and shrimp, all grilled over oak and served with sides like dirty rice, yams, homemade macaroni and cheese and fries (sweet potato, shoestring or herb garlic). No complaints about the preparation, but the secret is in the sauce. The sweet barbecue slather is a crowd pleaser, but spice heads find the jerk sauce positively addictive. Try it on the barbecue chicken sandwich or shrimp.

J Wolf Catering and BBQ
2271 N. Ventura Ave., Ventura
805-628-9416
www.jwolfcatering.com

Barbecued chicken from J Wolf Catering and BBQ. Photo from the J Wolf Facebook page

A frequent winner in our Best of Ventura County readers’ poll for barbecue. The beef comes from Watkins; the pork is sourced from small, sustainable, family-owned farms; and the company looks to farm-to-table, organic and non-GMO ingredients as much as possible. But it’s the flavor that makes this a local favorite. The taste is rich, deep and smoky, and J Wolf’s own barbecue sauce is thick and tangy with just the right amount of spice. Whether you’re craving ribs, tri-tip, pulled pork or wings (or any of the non-barbecue items, all excellently prepared), you’ll leave J Wolf fat and happy. 

Marshall’s Bodacious BBQ
6353 Ventura Blvd. #18, Ventura
805-650-0650
marshallsbodaciousbbq.com

Owned and operated by a Ventura local (and former butcher) for 20 years as of August 2021. You can smell this Western-themed spot from blocks away, thanks to the large grill operating out front. All the best barbecue meats are here: tri-tip, pork and beef ribs, juicy chicken, succulent steak, pulled pork and hot and mild sausages. Marshall knows his way around spices and sauces, too, using a deft hand to season everything just right and offering up barbecue concoctions that complement rather than cover up. Dinner plates are generous portions, served with salad, sides and garlic bread, and the sandwiches are enormous and filling. But the burritos have a following all their own: Some folks just can’t get enough of those smoky meats folded into a soft tortilla with pinto beans and cheese. 

Q-Time BBQ
445 N. Ventura Ave., Oak View
805-535-5676
www.qtimebbq.com

The Carolinas, Kansas City, Memphis and Texas all have their own claims to fame in the barbecue department. California has Santa Maria-style, based on the method used by vaqueros of the Central Coast’s Santa Maria Valley. Q-Time in Oak View, located at the Ojai Valley Ranch Market, follows this tradition. Tri-tip, chicken, baby back ribs and big, meaty sausages are cooked to perfection and available in (famously generous) combinations served with a variety of sides (fries, chili, etc.), as well as sandwiches and salads. Burgers may not be associated with Santa Maria, but Q-Time grills a mean patty, too. In addition to prepared barbecue, Q-Time offers a selection of fresh meats and sausages you can cook at home.