Does Kevin Bludso make the best brisket in town? There are certainly a lot of people who think so. The Compton man with Texas roots opened Bludso's BBQ about three years ago, and his small shop was quickly discovered and pushed through the cycle of Internet food fanaticism. In short, he got the blogosphere bump. Bludso's has since been reviewed by our own Jonathan Gold, and featured by L.A. Magazine, where he has been praised for his tender greens, hulking beef ribs, and of course, that fatty, smokey brisket.
We met with Bludso on his day off (they're closed on Mondays) in the empty concrete parking lot beside his restaurant. After pulling some tattered old chairs into a shady spot off in the corner, we looked on at his sleeping barbecue pits, and spoke on subjects like family history, his time spent with the Department of Corrections, and whether or not white folks (and Asians) know anything about barbecue. Turn the page for part one of our interview and check back later for the second part, and a recipe.
Squid Ink: So you come from a long line of Texans, right?
Kevin Bludso: Yes sir, yes sir. I'm a fourth generation.
SI: How long has your family been making barbecue?
KB: Man, I guess — my granny's 90. And her father — she's been making it since she was 10 so — I just got back from Texas. I guess we've been saying over a hundred years.
SI: Is she still making it?
KB: She still is. She still is now. 90 years old. Still drinking Hennessy, still making barbecue. They try to keep her away from the pit, but she gets on the pit, you know, so…
SI: Did she have a restaurant back in Texas?
KB: She used to have a kind of like a stand back in the day, like a roadside stand. They were there on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays. In Corsicana, Texas.
SI: Were you learning down there from her?
KB: From the time I was 9 — I'm from out here — I was sent to Texas from the time I was 9 years old, every summer, so I wouldn't get in no trouble in Compton. I would work with her all summer. You know, I started playing football so that used to cut my summers, but I used to always swear up and down I was never gonna go into food service. And she would say, “You're gonna have to go into food service. You're gonna have to have your own business, because you're too much of an asshole to work for somebody. You think you know everything.”
So after I graduated college, I came back here and I worked for the Department of Corrections, and I ended up getting terminated because I was an asshole. I hated it, you know what I'm saying?
SI: What did you do to get terminated?
KB: Just, you know, it's a long story. I ended up winning my case. But put it like this, I saw the out and I took the out. I took the out and that's what really financed me on doing what I'm doing later on down the line. I was young, but I saw the out, and I said, “you know what?” I knew I couldn't do that. I'm 45 now. I left the department when I was 30, I think. 31. But at 30, I knew I couldn't do it for the next — they might not get me now, but they'd get me. You know what I mean? So I took the out.
SI: How long did you work there?
KB: 11 years.
SI: What was your day-to-day like?
KB: I was a corrections officer, and I started off at CMC in San Luis Obispo. And I opened up Donovan down in San Diego. Then I came to paroles in Exposition Park in Downtown L.A. It was cool, but it just wasn't for me. My dad's a 30 year L.A.P.D., retired, and I just couldn't do it.
SI: Granny was right.
KB: She was right. She talks about it to this day.
SI: So how long was it from finishing up with the D.O.C. to starting up Bludso's?
KB: It was still a while, because even while I was working for Corrections, I was catering. If somebody was having a party, I would do that for them. I catered for years. We've only been here for three years, so I'd say almost ten years.
SI: So you had a smoker back then?
KB: Yeah, I had a backyard big old smoker that I had built, that was in my backyard, that we used to cater with. Then I would do dinners out of the Salvation Army down here in Compton, because they had a kitchen. So on Fridays I would sell dinners out of there and do my catering out of there. And that's what kind of got the ball rolling. Then I started dealing with a few people, and dealing with a lot of things for the city, and then you got to get a spot. And this spot came available and we've been on it ever since.
SI: So you had a little bit of a clientele lined up from the beginning.
KB: Yeah we had a huge grand opening. But like I said, that was local. You know. The guy who really got it going for us was Tony C. He runs the — Sinosoul. You know Tony C.? He was the first one. In fact I went on Chowhound one time. I baited it. I didn't know that they could look at your HTTPs and say, “oh, this is Bludso.” I didn't know! You know, at the time…
I wrote, “Hey you guys ever try Bludso's BBQ?” So I did that, and he hit it. He bit. He said, “Yeah, it's the best so-and-so, so-and-so,” you know. And I was like, “uh-oh.” So Tony started coming in, and he introduced himself. And from then on he was the one who really got the buzz going, and bringing his totally different culture of people from everywhere.
SI: That must have been pretty crazy. Did you know much about food blogs when that started happening?
KB: Not really. My son, he's 21 now, and he would tell me certain things. Because I'm not that big on computers, unless I'm looking up what's going on with my Cowboys and getting mad. But I didn't know what a foodie was. I know what a foodie is now. You know, so, and then meeting Tony, and then of course Yelp, and all the different blogs, and different sites and all that. I realized now you have to be known on those sites to make it.
SI: That's how you get the commuters coming in.
KB: It is, but it's a new age now. You have to, some type of way, you have to be known in social media or you're not gonna make it. And it can make you or break you.
SI: If you're bad they find out.
KB: You know what I mean? Even here you got people saying stuff. “Oh, they don't know nothing. So-and-so don't know nothing about barbecue. White folks don't know nothing about barbecue.” I said, “Let me tell you something. Some of the people who come in here. White, Asian, they gonna know more about barbecue than you have. Because some of them have been on a tour! To Carolina, I'm talking about from the Carolinas to Memphis to Texas. They did the whole barbecue tour! They know more about barbecue than I do.
Check back later for part two of this interview, and a recipe…