It seems hardly a 12-hour smoke has gone by since the days when polling around for the 5 Best Barbecue Joints in L.A. inevitably elicited those, “Well, if you have to eat barbecue in L.A.,” and similar asterisk-studded brisket conversations that ended in buying a side firebox smoker (literally). We're still dreaming of those two-day road trips to Lockhart, but today there are enough good BBQ restaurants in the L.A. area to make a solid showing in Lynchburg. In fact, one of our top picks did the competition circuit for several years before debuting his fantastically blackened slabs of meat to the organic produce-toting farmers market crowd a few years ago. Gotta love L.A.
And while we have nothing against our longstanding citified barbecue joints, or gastropubs that also happen to smoke some 'cue, and we certainly love any new barbecue-centric food truck (Mobile smoked meat!), those that follow are the places we'd be confident taking friends visiting from Texas, no rationalization required. The sort of tunnel-vision establishments that make no excuses for the occasional overdressed coleslaw and unmistakable Velveeta-tinted mac & cheese. These are not great places to have a beer, nor are they great places to linger for hours. In this old school-inspired smokers' club, it's all about the meat.
J “n” J's has been around long enough to still have that old-L.A. barbecue restaurant (here, more of a shack) game plan: Cater to the smoke-averse with menu additions like burgers and Philly cheesesteaks, and you'll have something for everyone who drops by. It's also the sort of place that offers virtually every type of barbecue: Sliced beef, pork ribs, chicken, hot links, chicken sausage, pulled pork. It's an odd, and often unsuccessful, please-everyone game plan for such a loyalty-driven food as barbecue. But here, it works. Perhaps in part that's because the owner, Jay Nelson Jr., is from just this side of Texas barbecue and due south of those Carolina pig pickins'. The meat hodgepodge tastes as Louisiana-appropriate as that plastic lawn furniture appears, and the menu prices read like they've stayed true to Nelson's swampland days (sliced beef is $6.25; a half rack of beef ribs, $12). Nelson once worked in the lumber business, which is perhaps why he uses an unusually democratic mix of oak, hickory and pecan wood. Take a tip from Mr. Gold and skip the brisket and sliced pork here; focus instead on the beef ribs and, sure, the chicken. The collard greens are a side dish must, as are the family's homemade pies. 5754 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-933-7366.
Dr. Hogly Wogly's may have 40 years of San Fernando Valley smoke puffing notoriety, but it's relative newcomer Smoke City Market that's getting us out to Sherman Oaks these days for Texas-style barbecue. Piles of brisket blackened to perfection, beef ribs that you swear you can't finish but always do. As Gold notes, it's wise to steer clear of the pork ribs — Smoke City Market does Texas-style barbecue well, and we'll leave it at that. The sides here (creamed corn, German potato salad, red cabbage) are better than most for perhaps not-so-obvious reasons — the restaurant is the brainchild of a couple of former high-end restaurant managers and chefs. But unlike most chef-helmed restaurants, their resumes are nowhere to be found on the website. A wise move, as authentic central Texas barbecue fans might take such a culinary pedigree as a sign the meat takes second fiddle to the sauce and sides, which is certainly not the case. Keep in mind that the beef barbecue goes fast, so call ahead or you might end up with those pork ribs. 5242 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 818-855-1280.
Turn the page for #3, etc…
Bigmista just sounds like the sort of place where you want to lay out a really big order for brisket. It is. Pit master Neil Strawder started out on the BBQ competition circuit. But by 2008, he had decided to sell those competition creations at, of all places, the Watt's Healthy Farmer's Market (Strawder and his wife, Phyllis, have since expanded their business to several area markets). There's something satisfying, or perhaps just hilariously entertaining, about knowing his hybrid BBQ (a little Texan, a little North Carolina), “burnt ends” (crusty bits of charred meat and fat) and pig candy (sugared and caramelized bacon) are hanging out among organic produce destined for a local vegan restaurant or two. If those Bigmista collard greens can bridge such a vast American culinary divide, we can only imagine their briny presidential campaign trail potential. Farmer's Markets: Sunday, Atwater Village and Long Beach; Wednesday, Harbor City; Thursday, El Segundo; Saturday, Torrance.
If pork ribs are your thing, you already know about the peppery version Phillips' has been pushing through its To-Go windows for more than 20 years. They're leaner than some (not a bad thing here), but we'll stop there as Mr. Gold can convince you to taste them more effortlessly than we ever could. The sauce debate is one we try to avoid in polite blog conversations. But as we're talking about Phillips' pork barbecue, not the beef offerings (stick to the pork, the beef often comes off as too dry here), the “hot” barbecue sauce is spicy, tangy and pretty hard to beat if you can hang with the heat. Expect a long wait (Tip: It's wise to call ahead with your order, and you will still wait). Think of it as more time to contemplate the beauty of restaurant sarcasm. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 292-7613; 1517 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, (310) 412-7135; 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 731-4772.
Turn the page for our #1 pick…
1. Bludso's BBQ
Some may prefer vinegary Carolina slaw or that sweet Kansas City sauce, but there is something about Texas-style beef barbecue — the shameless amount of smoke, the blackened edges, that meaty to-the-bone core — that makes sides and sauce a necessary afterthought. Texas transplant Kevin Bludso doesn't need to mess around with such frivolities at his namesake barbecue stand, either (at least on the beef side; go to Phillips' for your pork craving), though his sauce and sides do happen to be pretty great. You go to Compton for the brisket and beef ribs, naked and unadorned. You don't take an iPhone pic, Facebook message your friends or Tweet. You just eat. 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton, 310-637-1342.
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