In search of the Californian grill tradition
Compton-born Pitmaster Kevin Bludso of Bludso’s Bar & Que never understood why California pitmasters are often excluded from national barbecue history, which has a rich history well beyond the Santa Maria style.
“LA once had so many grill restaurants stretching from Watts to Compton,” he said. “When African Americans immigrated here from Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and other places, they brought their style with them, changed it, and built legendary LA restaurants in the 1970s.”
Around this time, when Mr. Bludso was about 8 years old, he was walking down Slauson Avenue with his brother and sister for snacks: ice cream for them, Woody’s Bar-BQ for him. His order was a lemonade, half a rib, and a couple of pieces of soft white bread.
Mr. Bludso spent most summers with his grandmother in Corsicana, Texas, where his family was from. She smoked meat every weekend to sell in the jukebude next door.
He learned the trade from her, but he worked with red oak and smoked the meat more gently than his grandma. And he quickly learned to cook a thicker barbecue sauce – Angelenos vehemently rejected his grandmother’s thin, almost watery sauce. That was not a problem: like the pit champions who had established themselves here before him, he adapted the style he had learned.
When he opened Bludso’s in Compton in 2008, Mr. Bludso cooked ribs and ribs, but also chicken. These were grated to mimic the tangy, soothing flavors of the pollos asados made by the street vendors who used makeshift grills throughout his community, but they weren’t cooked on grills. The chickens were cooked slowly and slowly in the pits, as his grandma might have done. The chickens were kissed with red oak smoke.
Mr. Bludso’s grilled chicken is delicious and could have been a hit anywhere, but it always belonged where it was made. It always belonged in Los Angeles.
A’s BBQ, eastlossoulbarbecue.com
Barba Kush, instagram.com/barbakush
Bludso’s Bar & Que, 609 North La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles; 323-931-2583; barandque.com
Horn Barbecue, 2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland; 510-225-6101; hornbarbecue.com
Moss Craft Barbecue, 2118 N Broadway, Los Angeles; 323-379-3635; mooscraftbarbecue.com
Smoke Queen, smokequeenbbq.com
The Hitching Post, 3325 Point Sal Road, Casmalia; 805-937-6151; hitchingpost1.com