Oakland’s 4505 Burgers & BBQ Roasts a Whole Hog Every Day

Chef/butcher/restaurateur Ryan Farr takes his time — sometimes as long as 18 hours — to barbecue a whole hog at his Laurel district location.


Photo by Ryan Farr

Does barbecuing a whole hog sound easy? Light the flames and lay it on the grate?

Not so fast, warns chef/butcher/restaurateur Ryan Farr, who founded San Francisco’s popular 4505 Burgers & BBQ 10 years ago after launching his own streetcorner chicharrones business. Having showcased his ’cue-craft at East Bay pop-ups for a while, he established a brick-and-mortar Oakland location this year.

“There’s nothing easy about whole-hog barbecue,” Farr said of the South Carolina standby now gaining traction nationwide. “You can’t just throw a pig on the grill and expect it to be OK.”

Not some simple “set-it-and-forget-it deal,” the multipart process can occupy 18 hours.

Although whole-hog barbecuing happens only on special occasions at San Francisco’s 4505, “we’re excited that we can do it every day in Oakland.”

After choosing “the best meat possible — and, luckily, Northern California ranches such as Llano Seco, Riverdog, and Cream Co. produce amazing hogs” — his staff smokes the dressed animal in-house over hand-hewn California oak coals.

“We’re not buying briquets,” Farr said curtly.

Then, in an open-air cooker, “we cook it Carolina-style, as the best wood we can find imparts flavor and aroma to the highest-quality animals we can work with.

“Then you must be patient. Babysit it. Realize that this is not something that’s going to happen right away, like tossing steaks on a grill. You stand there. Take care of the fire.

“A lot of thought goes into every step prior to its happening,” Farr said. “You have a lot of options to choose from. It’s an art form.”

The social side is part of the art.

“Being from Kansas City, I grew up eating barbecue — and obviously I love meat,” said Farr, whose two meat-ifestos — Sausage Making and Whole Beast Butchery — were published by Chronicle Books.

“Wherever you are, the one thing that’s consistent about barbecue — and the beauty about it — is the sense of community. It’s a meeting place. You stand in line, waiting for food, next to a stranger. You’re served next to a stranger. By the end of the meal, you’re no longer strangers.

“At barbecues, you’re next to people. It’s warm. We want to share that experience with our guests.”

4505 Burgers & BBQ, 3506 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 415-231-6993, 4505BurgersAndBBQ.com.

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