If the fires are burning high and you turn up at the right time of day, the barbecued beef brisket at Bludso's can be as good as barbecue gets — an impressionist painting of meat, a damp vapor you inhale so fast and so unconsciously that you barely remember you were eating meat at all. At Bludso's there is only bloodlust, smoke and salt, the need to pry the dripping brisket out of the heat-warped foam container, to feel the meat and the juice and the ribbons of fat slide down your throat like liquid, each slice generating the desire for the next, until the container is empty and you feel a bit like an anaconda that has unwisely decided to engulf a pangolin. At Bludso's, the only proper amount of meat is way, way too much.
It doesn't matter how many times you've braved the line behind the old Watchtower building for a crack at Phillips, sat on a traffic island outside Jay Bee's or passed organic cabbages on your way to the Bigmista concession at the Atwater Farmers Market, Bludso's is what all of us imagine a Los Angeles barbecue joint should be — a bright, crowded storefront on a busy corner of Compton, with a handful of stools and never enough corn bread. A dining room next door does double duty as a church on Sundays. A pair of smoke-belching barbecue engines take up most of the parking lot, the ancient traditions of fire-cooked animal translated into a ton of hot, black iron.
The first time I visited, Kevin Bludso sat in his pickup, drinking a soda, gazing out at his smokers with a tenderness I associate with fathers looking in on their sleeping sons. When young Muslims pour out of the small mosque just up the street and Bludso's parking lot fills with families from the dining room church, it feels like all of Compton is concentrated on this block. Even the customer in full motorcycle-club leathers, who dominates the pickup counter the way a Pro Bowl tackle dominates an offensive line, is on his best behavior here.
The restaurant, which has been celebrated in the last several months by everybody with two pixels to rub together, may be one of the least-obscure corners of the Southside populated both by folks from the neighborhood and people who seem a bit too pleased with themselves for having made the drive from Manhattan Beach. “Yo, 'sup?'' the guy ahead of you barks into his iPhone. “I'm gettin' ribs, dawg. In Compton.'' His girlfriend studies the newspaper clipping depicting Drew Brees being mauled by the Cowboys' defensive line, and wishes she had gone for brunch at the beach instead.
I have rarely had better greens than the stewed collards at Bludso's, seasoned with immodest quantities of ham hock and taken off the fire before they collapse into total softness. The macaroni and cheese is of the school that seems to contain twice as much cheese as noodle; the meaty beans could pass for molasses-sweetened chili.
This isn't timid Carolina barbecue, hickory-sweet Kansas City barbecue or grilled Chicago ribs. What Bludso's serves is Texas barbecue, which is to say thick hunks of cow, cooked long and slow, oozing sweet grease, ringed with a deep, ruddy stain where the smoke from the pit have penetrated deep into the muscle. There is sauce, sweet and peppery, thick as engine oil, but Bludso's brisket needs no sauce. Neither do its baronial beef ribs, big as a billy club, or the coarse-ground Elgin-style sausage that sometimes pops up on weekends among the more typical hot links and chicken hot links. Pork may be something of an afterthought — the dryish pulled pork is the only dish here I haven't liked much — although the intensely smoky pork ribs, ever so slightly on the flabby side, are cooked so long that, like Gaul, they divide into three parts if you attempt to wave them about.
Meals at Bludso's are enormous, even the inexpensive sandwich specials are, but the standard unit of consumption seems to be the innocuously named Texas Sampler, an extravagantly portioned container of every meat in the smoker, easily enough for three or four hungry adults, with leftovers for lunch the next day.
BLUDSO'S BBQ: 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton. (310) 637-1342. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 12:30 p.m.-7 p.m. MC, Visa. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. Takeout. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12-$25. Recommended dishes: collard greens, brisket, ribs.