Does Los Angeles have its own style of barbecue?
For many die-hard local barbecue fanatics from Texas to Kansas City to the Carolinas, the short answer (which will certainly be served with pursed lips and a shudder) would be straightforward: no. But that succinct review doesn’t come close to explaining the breadth and richness of LA’s smoked meat scene. There’s a deep passion here, from traditional barbacoa traditions to the Portuguese sausages that have survived for centuries as part of the Santa Maria style barbecue. Los Angeles is a city where barbecuing is not a national devotion; rather, it is a personal journey told through Rauch and generations.
To put it simply, Los Angeles is one of the best barbecue cities in America thanks to its enormous size, history and diversity. Countless styles, techniques, and family traditions are represented in the local smoking scene, giving LA an edge that almost no other grill town has. Over the course of an afternoon, it’s possible to enjoy smoky, barky Texas brisket, chorizo verde hot links, cheeky southern-style spare ribs, and goat barbacoa cooked overnight in a pit in the Central Valley. And while strict adherents of certain regional styles (like Carolina Whole Pork Pork) may not find the exact place to scratch themselves, that’s fine. Southern California’s hundreds of grill restaurants, rotating pop-ups, and weekend stalls are playing a completely different game.
There are traditional dishes like the impeccable Central Texas-style cue (viewed through a Californian lens, of course) produced by Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Cistrano. There’s the new school taste of places like iii Mas BBQ, which combines smoked meat with the spices of the large Armenian diaspora of LA. In Orange County, a Smoke Queen Pit Madam runs a 500-gallon offset smoker and makes Sino-American delicacies, including rich, greasy, slow-smoked char, on a weekly basis. There are completely forgotten genres of local barbecue that once permeated Southland, as well as a modern push to bring black-owned and south-facing barbecues back to the fore in the smoked meat discussion. There are pitmasters who are surprising and delicious breaking new ground with long-time cuts of meat and a one-of-a-kind rib fanatic who works magic out of a trailer in a parking lot in Pasadena.
This entire week, Eater LA will be dissecting and devouring the plethora of ribs, brisket, pork shoulders, and side dishes that the Los Angeles barbecue scene has to offer. We have ms for local pop-ups and ms for out-of-town grill restaurants. Features on famous grill faces and lesser known comers; a winding story of the connections a single South LA smoker can make across generations; and the complicated story of a once legendary barbecue tradition that has almost completely disappeared. Welcome to barbecue week. – Farley Elliott