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As you drive through the small Yuba County town of Wheatland, a cloud of smoke, and the smell of delicious barbecue will get your attention, as you pass by Max's Black Bear BBQ.  Max's barbecue is real barbecue, as the meat is cooked for hours, low and slow, in a wood-fired smoker, and all sauce is Max's recipe, made in-house, using fresh ingredients.  That's barbecue!

Photo:  Max's Black Bear BBQ has been in the same location, on the north end of Wheatland, for about a year and a half.  Oddly, the restaurant is located in the parking lot of an elementary school; go figure.  At least the teachers and the children have access to some of the best barbecue available in the Sacramento Valley!  "Mad" Max told me future plans include to build a shelter over the "pit" area, to protect it from the elements, and to install a couple of picnic tables for on-site dining.  As of this writing, Saturday, November 22, 2014, Max has only one outside patio table, unprotected from the elements, and on this rainy Saturday morning, dining outside wasn't an option.

Photo:  Max's "Lunch and Dinner Meals" menu is quite basic, but that's what barbecue is all about.  The other side of the menu features "A La Carte, Sides and Drinks."  Check out their complete menu on their web site at www.thebrisketbarn.com.  As it was noon, on this Saturday morning, and opening time, we opted for the lunch menu, which offers the same sides as the dinner menu, but with a little less meat.

Photo:  Meet Mr. "Mad" Max Hill, owner and pitmaster of Max's Black Bear BBQ.  Max is quite a guy, and an absolute genius in the barbecue pit.  He shows me some of the trophies he has won, during his years on the barbecue competition circuit, his membership of several Barbeque Associations, and his tenure as a competition judge on at the Kansas City Barbeque Society.  Besides the trophies, he has numerous framed certificates on the wall, which attest to his barbecue prowess.  All that is good, but when the "meat meets the mouth" taste is the final judge, and Max has definitely nailed that one.  Note the graffiti on the walls posted by many lovers of serious barbecue.

Photo:  This cinder brick wall is covered with graffiti, posted by fans of great barbecue.  Take note that Max's Black Bear BBQ does NOT have a dining room, as the order area is tiny, by any standard.  As of this writing, Max's focus is on take-out and catering, but he does plan to install a cover over the pit, and include a couple of picnic tables for your outdoor dining pleasure.

Photo:  Meet Dena Hill, owner of Max's Black Bear BBQ, as she removes meat from the pit.  For smoking, Max uses wood pellets, along with almond and peach hardwood, which is readily available in Yuba County, and makes excellent wood for smoking meat.

Photo:  On Saturdays, Max opens at noon, but the meat has been smoking for many hours before being taken out of the smoker.  Dena removed the meat from the smoker, and placed it into large pans, according to category, and wheeled it inside on this cart, to be cut up and processed.  I joked with her that she's a "macho chick" and that I would never mess with her, as she'd easily overpower me, which is likely true.  With barbecue, nothing is "exact," due to the long cooking time, but that's one of the things that makes barbecue so delicious, and interesting.  On this early Saturday afternoon, they didn't have brisket available, so I chose "Burnt Ends" instead.  Mmmmmm....

Photo:  The format is really simple, as you pick up a menu from the counter, make your selection, pay for it, and when it's ready, Max or Dena will bring I to you.  Max's Black Bear BBQ isn't "fast food," as the barbecue is smoked, and the sides are prepared in-house, using fresh ingredients, so it might take a few minutes - or more - until your order is delivered to you.  No worries, as the short wait is worth it!  I belly up to the counter and take a photo of Max and Dena hard at work on my order.  If you are at the counter and they can't hear you, just pick up the yellow cow bell - it embraces the heroes at nearby Beale Air Force Base who are regular patrons - ring it, and you'll get Max or Dena's attention. Note the graffiti on the walls, which encouraged, as Max offers pens for those who feel so inclined to put their "mark" on his fine restaurant.

Photo:  While Max and Dena prepare your meal, they're happy to chit-chat, which is something that I love.  Max told me that chatting with customers actually makes his barbecue better, so maybe that's one of the reasons why I've found Max's Black Bear BBQ to be a superior barbecue restaurant in the Sacramento Valley.  Of course, I had to get "snapped" with my delicious barbecue lunch, as to let the world wide web that I truly love Max's barbecue!

Photo:  I ordered a "lunch meal," which includes Max's BBQ beans, coleslaw and their sweet cornbread "moppin' muffin."  My meat of choice?  Burnt Ends!  Yee haw!!!!   "Burnt Ends" are normally a "Texas thing" and I can't recall any time I've seen them available in California.  But, they're at Max's, so I just HAD to have them today, as I love 'em, and they would make good fodder for this review.  Of "Burnt Ends," Max's menu says, "We barbecue the brisket "packer" for 8-12 hours, than take the "point" off of the "flat" and rub it again for round two of the "Burnt End" process, smoking the "point" for another 4-6 hours...  "Beef Candy!"  

So much for the menu; let's talk about Texas.  Texas.... I love the place.  Max's "Burnt Ends" taste like something that I remember from my trips to the Hill Country in Texas.  Yes, Texas!  Where in California do you find "Texas-style" brisket burnt ends?  At Max's!  Yee haw!!!

Photo:  My beautiful wife, Sharlene, enjoyed a lunch of "Barbecued Pork Spare Ribs."  The menu describes them as, "Large, meaty, Award Winning Pork Spare Ribs cooked "low and slow" over seasoned orchard woods.  Rubbed and cooked "dry" with "Mad" Max's Gold Top Rub, then drizzled with "Mad" Max's "Molasis Madness Pork and Rib Sauce."  Fantastic!  We loved the barbecue sauce and the sides.  Actually we loved everything about Max's Black Bear BBQ.

Late Friday afternoon, January 30, 2015, I stopped by Max's Black Bear BBQ to pick dinner "to go."  For myself, I ordered a dinner of brisket, and my wife wanted pork ribs, so by the time I brought dinner home, we did the "mix and match" so we were able to enjoy the best of both worlds.  My dinner of brisket, barbecue ribs, "moppin'" muffin, Max's beans - which are as good as it gets - along with his mouth-watering cole slaw.  Such a fantastic barbecue dinner!

Max's Black Bear BBQ is truly a one-of-a-kind, "old school" barbecue restaurant, that produces barbecue the way barbecue was meant to taste.  The owners are friendly, the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious, and the sides taste the way mom used to make them.  When it comes to outstanding barbecue, "Mad" Max and Dena Hill have definitely put Wheatland on the map.

Max's Black Bear BBQ
1 "D" Street (HWY 65 South)
Wheatland, CA 95692
530 633-4575

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