Get in Line for Sonoma County’s Best Barbecue Collab

Local pitmasters Kris Austin and Marvin Mckinzy team up for the perfect BBQ collab in Sebastopol.

Just before 11 a.m. on a hazy spring Friday, a line is forming outside A&M BBQ’s modest storefront just off Sebastopol’s South Main Street.

A man sits patiently in his truck. Two others perch on a ledge beneath the restaurant’s plate-glass windows. Every few minutes, a few more people join the queue as co-owners Kris Austin and Marvin McKinzy hustle inside, making final preparations for their 11:30 a.m. opening.

Austin and McKinzy are always mindful of the growing line, which will swell exponentially around noon, but there’s no fevered rushing. The duo has been up since 5 a.m., minding the meats and prepping sides — long-simmered collard greens, sweet baked beans, jalapeño cornbread and coleslaw. With their oft-repeated mantra of “low and slow” — as in low heat and slow cooking — they are efficient, not frantic.

At 11:15 a.m., Austin takes the time to cut a few slices of tri-tip for the morning’s eager beavers, heading outside with a paper plate to distribute a sneak preview of the day’s offerings. If time allows, they’ll continue offering samples, rallying the crowd in barbecue bliss.

A&M Barbecue
A&M Barbecue co-owner Kris Austin slices brisket in Sebastopol. (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)

Both pitmasters in their own right, Austin (of Austin’s BBQ) and McKinzy (of Marvin’s BBQ) joined forces to create A&M this spring (which is not named for the Texas university, but for their first initials). But you’d be forgiven for the mistake because their wood-smoked barbecued meats are Lone Star-inspired, with a seasoned dry rub instead of slathered with sauce. All the better to see the perfect pink smoke rings around the edge of the brisket, tri-tip and pork ribs, the bark of the rub and lacy bits of fat.

Covering the whole thing with sauce would be a shame, so don’t. A little dip or two is fine, but great barbecue doesn’t need to be hidden beneath a blanket of ketchup because the smoke does the real work when it comes to flavor.

By noon, a firetruck had come and gone, along with several police officers. All departed with a wave and sticky fingers rather than an arrest, and one lucky officer was enlisted to hand out brisket samples while waiting for his lunch. (At Marvin’s BBQ, McKinzy built a loyal law enforcement following, who competed to see who can eat the most barbecue. Firefighters tend to win.)

Behind the counter, McKinzy, Austin and two employees cut, weigh and plate tender brisket, peppery tri-tip, hot links, pork ribs, barbecued chicken and pulled pork. It’s now sold by weight rather than portion. They’re all great, but the thinly sliced brisket makes my knees weak. Even more so with a few ends thrown in.

A&M Barbecue
Co-owner Marvin McKinzy of A&M Barbecue in Sebastopol with a tray of ribs, brisket, chicken, pulled pork, links and sides. (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)

The line continues to grow, and you can see the respect Austin and McKinzy have for each other. Both built their businesses independently but met through social media and started hanging out. When McKinzy parted ways with a former business partner, the time seemed right for a merger. They’re like salt and pepper — both good on their own but better together.

The Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays that A&M is open go by quickly, and depending on the crowd, they may sell out by 2 p.m. or even earlier. Some days, they go a little longer. But once the meat is done for the day, it’s done. The restaurant features picnic tables and high-op seating with convenient paper towel holders (for those messy moments).

“People come in at 5 p.m. and are upset that we’ve sold out. But I tell them I’ve been up since 5 a.m.,” Austin said. The shop closes, and work for the next day begins.

So, if you’re serious about getting some of Austin and McKinzy’s slow- and low-cooked meats, there’s only one way to guarantee you’re going home with greasy fingers and a full belly — get in line early and wait.

A&M Barbecue
Texas Toast, cornbread muffins, pork ribs, links, brisket and tri-tip, bbq chicken, baked beans, coleslaw and collard greens at A&M Barbecue in Sebastopol. (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)

Best bets

Brisket ($38/lb.): I’m a Texas BBQ girl, so I’ll always be team brisket. This is as good as I’ve ever had, with tender meat and a Goldilocks fat ratio — not too much, not too little. Seasoning is simple with just salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder — a required part of any order. We ordered a half-pound, which was plenty when paired with sides.

Tri-Tip ($28/lb.): This is McKinzy’s specialty, and it has a powerful blend of uniquely California-inspired spices. Excellent.

Pork Spare Ribs ($30/lb.): You shouldn’t need teeth to eat ribs, and I’ll die on that hill. A good rib falls off the bone with the slightest pressure and shouldn’t require you to gnaw on it. I mean, you can gnaw on the bone, but that’s your call. These ribs fit the denture-approved bill with change to spare.

Pulled Pork ($24/lb.): Excellent, but if you’re putting it on a sandwich with barbecue sauce (which is your right), it kind of misses the point. But I’m not turning it down.

BBQ Chicken ($15/half, $30/whole): Somehow, they keep this chicken super moist, which is some sort of witchcraft because barbecue chicken is never moist.

Collard Greens, $5.50: Perfectly cooked to a soft but toothy consistency. My Atlanta-raised friend said they were perfect. I’m a little funny about them requiring being cooked in bacon or ham hocks, and this version had turkey bacon. 8.5/10 for me.

Baked Beans ($5.50): These are perfectly cooked, sweet as honey, real-deal beans. I’m absolutely in love.

Coming soon

A&M BBQ is hiring a dessert chef and promises to have banana pudding soon. McKinzy also said something about cheesecake, but I stopped listening after the banana pudding. Beer and wine are also in the works.

495 S. Main St., Sebastopol, 707-799-2892. Open from 11:30 a.m. until sold out Friday through Sunday.