Road Trip through the Eastern Sierra Nevadas: Snow and fantastic BBQ

Before the sunrise, a road trip to Virginia City was about to begin. The Honda CR-V packed for an extended weekend, it was time to get on the road to beat the LA traffic.
  • Travel Tip: For this time of year, the weather in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas can change at a moment’s notice. If Southern California calls for rain, there will likely be snow on your way north. Pack extra water, food, and snow chains. If there is heavy snow, you will be stopped and required to put them on your car. Also, beware of black ice, where rain freezes onto the road causing you and others to lose traction. Plan on extra time for slow driving through the Sierras for your safety and others around you.
Mojave, CA is a great place to stop to top off the tank and grab a quick breakfast. McDonald’s is good place to stop for a quick breakfast. The Big Breakfast with Hotcakes is a great breakfast to split. It comes with a buttermilk biscuit, sausage patty, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and 3 hotcakes. Add a couple of coffees and you’re golden. With an 8 to 9 hour road trip ahead, it is better to eat light. Heavier meals can cause unexpected bathroom stops along the way, which are few and far between and assuming they are even open.

Due to a storm from the west, rain started to glisten the road as the ascent to the Eastern Sierra Nevadas began. As the temperature began to dip, the rain changed to sleet, and then to fluffy white snow that glided off the windshield like tiny little feathers. Fortunately, it was very light so snow chains were not required.

Big Pine, CA is a great place to stop for gas and grab some lunch. Nestled in the Owens Valley, snow-capped mountains sparkled on each side of valley on this March morning. The wind whips through town just like Santa Ana winds in SoCal, claiming anything not secured in its windy grip. But the near freezing temperature and wind did not stop a little place called Copper Top BBQ. As if sending smoke signals that lunch was almost ready, Copper Top BBQ’s smoked meat aroma filled town as if to say, “Chow Time!”

Copper Top BBQ started with Hank Otten, originally from SoCal. His family owned a dairy farm in Artesia. After college, he settled with his wife and children in Bakersfield, CA. As a sales rep for John Deer, he began to travel California visiting his farm accounts. Big Pine was a town that he passed through on his sales calls most days. After 18 years, he decided to follow his passion for BBQ. All the stars seemed to be in line – an available lot on the highway through Big Pine, tried and true BBQ, and great support. In June 2013, Hank, along with the help of one of his sons, Matthew, opened Copper Top BBQ. In 2015, they were voted #1 restaurant in the USA on Yelp’s Top 100 List. You’ll know why they were voted #1 after the first bite of their BBQ.

Big Pine Sampler Platter ($17.38) includes 5 ounces of Santa Maria tri-tip, two pork ribs, a quarter chicken, and a Hawaiian roll. These are all cooked out front in the smoker and grills so you know what you are getting. The tri-tip is cooked Santa Maria-style and seasoned with Hank’s own dry rub. The meat is juicy and full of savory beefy flavor that will have you coming back for more. The pork ribs are BBQ competition worthy with a good bite where it is tender but doesn’t just drop off the bone. The flavor has a good balance of smoky, sweet, and savory flavors. The chicken, whether you order white or dark, is moist and tender. The skin has the perfect caramelization with dark golden brown color. You can also taste the freshness of the chicken as it doesn’t have any irony flavor notes at all. The meat is almost sweet and the smoke imparts a great flavor throughout. Rating: 5/5

What is BBQ without sides? Fire Roasted Green Chili with Beans ($3.66 - 8 oz., $7.32 – 16 oz., $13.73 – 32 oz.) is a different take from the sweet barbeque beans usually served with BBQ. These are some of the best beans you’ll ever eat! The savory flavor with green chile pepper tones works well with the black and chili beans. The flavor pairs well with the BBQ whether you have tri-tip, chicken, or pork ribs. If you have any tri-tip and beans leftover, cut up the tri-tip into small pieces and mix them up with the beans when you warm them up. It’s amazing like hearty, chunky chili. Rating: 5/5

Potato Salad ($3.66 - 8 oz., $7.32 – 16 oz., $13.73 – 32 oz.) is not your ordinary picnic salad. The potatoes are cooked just right, not hard and not mushy. The seasoning and mustard are balanced - the mustard flavor does not overpower it. The pickles and olives add just the right amount of salt and acidity. The presentation is very colorful as well. Rating: 4.8/5

With tummies full enough, it was time to get back on the road. Only 4 more hours until the destination, Virginia City, NV. Stayed tuned!

For more information:
Copper Top BBQ
310 N. Main St.
Big Pine, CA 93513
Parking: Dirt lot just behind the restaurant
Seating: Exterior only, dress accordingly.

Copper Top BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato