Compton-born pitmaster Kevin Bludso of Bludso’s Bar & Que never understood why California pitmasters are often left out of national barbecue history, which has a rich history far beyond the Santa Maria style.
“At one point LA had therefore many barbecue restaurants, stretching from Watts to Compton, ”he said. “As African Americans migrated here from Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and other places, they brought their styles, changed them, and built legendary restaurants in Los Angeles in the 1970s.”
At that time, when Mr. Bludso was around 8, 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 soda, half a slab of baby back ribs, and a few pieces of fluffy white bread.
Most summers, Mr. Bludso went to live with his grandmother in Corsicana, Texas, where his family was from. She smoked meat every weekend to sell at the juke joint she kept next door.
He learned the trade from her, but he worked with red oak and put a milder smoke on the meats than his grandmother. And he quickly learned to cook a thicker barbecue sauce – Angelenos categorically rejected his grandmother’s thin, almost watery sauce. That was no problem: like the pitmasters who had settled here before him, he fine-tuned the style he had learned.
When he opened Bludso’s in Compton in 2008, Mr. Bludso cooked ribs and short ribs, but also chickens. These were rubbed to mimic the spicy, heartwarming flavors of pollos asados prepared by the street vendors who used makeshift grills throughout his community, but they weren’t cooked on grills. The chickens were cooked gently and slowly in the pits, as her grandmother might have done. The chickens were kissed with red oak smoke.
Mr. Bludso’s barbecue chicken is delicious, and it could have been a hit anywhere, but it has always belonged to where it was made. It has always belonged to Los Angeles.
A’s BBQ, eastlossoulbarswick.com
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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; hornbar barbecue.com
Moo’s Craft BBQ, 2118 N Broadway, Los Angeles; 323-379-3635; mooscraftbar barbecue.com
Queen of Smoke, smokequeenbbq.com
The Hitching Post, 3325 Point Sal Road, Casmalia; 805-937-6151; hitchingpost1.com