When I read that Copper Top BBQ off Highway 395 in Big Pine, California was first in Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2015, I was surprised. Out of all the places in the world, I would least expect a restaurant in the tiny town of Big Pine to be ranked one of the top in the country.
I am quite familiar with Big Pine as I often find myself driving along Highway 395 on the way to Mammoth Lakes for some of the best snowboarding and fishing in the county. Though beautiful, the only time I have ever stopped in Big Pine was for fast food, gas, or to head up Big Pine Creek. The highway passes through some one of the most beautiful scenery in the world along the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Every time I drove past by Copper Top BBQ, I was curious but never made the stop for one reason or another. When I saw that Yelp awarded Copper Top BBQ the best in the nation for 2015, I knew I finally had to make the effort to check it out.
I arrived at Copper Top BBQ on a hot summer weekend. The first thing that caught my attention was all the meat being smoked and grilled in front of the restaurant by a man in a cowboy hat. This man was Hank, one of the owners of the restaurant. You could tell that Hank loved his job and that there was nothing fancy going on here, just great smoked and grilled meats. Hank’s son Matthew is usually found inside dealing with customers and social media.
Another thing to be aware of was that there was no indoor seating. There was only a few picnic style benches out front. The weather in Big Pine can be blistering hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, so be prepared for the weather if you plan to stay and eat at the tables outside of the restaurant.
Thanks to Yelp, Copper Top BBQ has exploded in popularity. When I arrived, the place was busy, mostly with road trippers passing through Big Pine on their way towards Los Angeles or destinations in Northern California.
Because of this popularity, there was a line of about ten people waiting to order in front of me. Luckily, it only took about ten minutes to reach the front of the line to order. I used the small wait to take photos of the restaurant and take in all the sights and smells of the amazing meat cooking out front.
The Copper Top BBQ menu was quite simple. They offered four types of proteins: tri-tip, pulled pork, chicken, and Saint Louis style pork ribs. You could order just meat or meat in a meal with a sweet roll and two sides. In addition, you could order two types of sandwiches with tri-tip or pulled pork.
On my visit, I forgot to try any of the sides which I heard were delicious. Sides included fire roasted green chill with beans and potato salad.
Adam’s Favorite Pulled Pork Sandwich
After much debate, I ended up ordering Adam’s Favorite Pulled Pork Sandwich ($9.15) with coleslaw. The Santa Maria Tri-Tip Sandwich will have to wait until my next visit.
After placing my order, it took about ten minutes for my order to be ready. When I walked to the window, I was handed the sandwich wrapped in foil along with a small side of coleslaw. It was nothing fancy but a great sign to me that the food was the main focus.
To me, BBQ should be simple. All you really need is meat, smoke, heat and maybe some spices and sauces. The pulled pork sandwich served at Copper Top BBQ was so simple yet delicious.
I’m not by any means an expert on BBQ, but this pulled pork sandwich was one of the best I have ever had.
When I unwrapped the foil, I was rewarded with a mountain of pulled pork piled high inside a pretzel bun. As you can see in the photo, Copper Top BBQ is very generous with their pulled pork portions, unlike other BBQ restaurants I have visited in the past.
The pulled pork was so simple yet some of the most tender I have ever put inside my mouth. It literally melted in my mouth and yet was not fatty at all. It was juicy, tender, messy, and oh so smoky. Honestly, you can’t find better.
If you enjoy your meat drenched in BBQ sauce, you might want to ask for an extra side of sauce. The pulled pork was lightly covered in a sweet BBQ sauce, but not so sweet that it overpowered the great smoky flavor of the meat. The balance of smoke and sweet BBQ sauce was perfect. Why would you want to mask the flavor of the meat with too much sauce anyways?
Adding the simple coleslaw on top of the pulled pork was a must. It added a great crunchy texture to the otherwise soft pulled pork and soft pretzel bun. What I liked about the crunchy coleslaw was that it was not doused in mayonnaise and had a great bite from vinegar.
Last but not least, the pretzel bun, which I am a huge fan of. The lightly toasted bun was thick, soft, sweet, and worked well holding in all the juicy pulled pork. I seriously wish I asked Copper Top BBQ about where they got their pretzel buns from. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made them in-house.
There really wasn’t much interaction with workers of Copper Top BBQ other than when I was ordering and picking up my food.
Hank, the friendly man in the cowboy hat who was tending to the BBQ and smoker, was friendly, allowed me to take photos of him grilling and smoking, and often stopped to answer questions. It’s great to watch him do his magic.
I love places like Copper Top BBQ, small joints off the beaten path that serve up some delicious homemade food.
Whenever I read that a restaurant has been labeled “the best restaurant in the county” I usually have my doubts. Copper Top BBQ definitely did not let me down. Whenever I travel up the 395 in the future, I will stop by again.
Is Copper Top BBQ the best restaurant in America? That’s for you to decide.
- Meat was cooked outdoors in front of the restaurant
- Pulled pork was smoky and juicy
- Cool location in tiny town surrounded by beautiful mountains
- Limited outdoor seating
- No indoor seating
- Closed Monday and Tuesday
- There is often a line to order food
- Open until food runs out