What Happens When the West Coast Barbecue King Sets out to Conquer Fried Chicken?
Pitmaster Matt Horn’s new cookbook, Horn Barbecue, is a master class in how to make mouthwatering barbecue. His restaurant, Kowbird, is a tribute to fried chicken. Here, he shares some of his recipes and tips.
Matt Horn continues to evolve the flavor profile of West Coast barbecue.
The Oakland pitmaster is chasing perfection, tracing the edges of his culinary foundation built on central Texas barbecue, but layering on ingredients and techniques that are familiar here in the West. Think Pacific Ocean sablefish and cold-lake trout, brined and lightly seasoned; juicy, spatchcocked chicken marinated in brown sugar, rosemary, and thyme; or seasonally fresh watermelon cubed into a chilled mint-basil salad, a refreshing palate cleanse with each bite.
“West Coast style is utilizing our seasonal bounty and incorporating creative sides to pair with our smoked meats that aren’t categorized as ‘traditional’ to barbecue,” Horn says. “Utilizing everything that is around us here on the West Coast, from ingredients to cultural influences, is the true essence of who we are.”
It’s been over a year since Horn opened his first barbecue restaurant in Oakland amid the pandemic, and he’s not even close to slowing down. He debuted his second restaurant, Kowbird, in the city earlier this year—a tribute to the South and the importance that fried chicken has played in African American culture, the pitmaster says.
He’s also behind a taco truck concept called Dalia where homemade tortillas meet smoked meats, eggs, and salsa—“the kind of place I find myself eating at for breakfast or lunch,” Horn says. And this spring, he plans to open another Oakland restaurant, Matty’s Old Fashioned, to bring his version of a classic American burger joint with hot dogs and handcrafted milkshakes.
Photos courtesy of Horn Barbecue and Kowbird
Through it all, Horn somehow found the time to write his first cookbook, Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ, “only one of a handful of African American-authored barbecue books published in the last 30 years,” writes James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller in the foreword.
As Horn finds himself at the forefront of epicurean innovation in Oakland—acutely aware of the city’s “rich history as a destination of the Great Black Migration,” he says—the pitmaster reflects that barbecue has taught him to stay patient, and stay focused. He wants to honor those who came before him and continue to grow as he carries “the culture of barbecue” into the next generation.
“Barbecue, from a traditional standpoint, has always shown us its ability to bring people together,” Horn says. “Barbecue may be a labor of love, but it is the great unifier.”
Horn is “more than ready to build on what the elders before him created and take barbecue in new directions,” writes Miller. “Are you ready for this soul-satisfying journey?” We are. Here, Horn gets us started by sharing some of the recipes from his history-making cookbook.
You can order a copy of Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ at quartoknows.com.