Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Bludso's BBQ in Compton, CA

"A Lil Taste of Texas."

The words hand painted on the wall within Bludso's BBQ says so little, yet says so much. Other than a few hours of layover at DFW, I had never visited Texas in the truest BBQ sense of the word. As if the aroma of BBQ smoke wafting through the air wasn't enough, it made me feel at ease. In my eyes, this was going to be some legit Texas-style BBQ.

A Lil Taste of Texas

A half hour drive away was all it took to be transported to the city of Compton and onto the front steps of Bludso's. The location isn't exactly "Straight Outta Compton" by Ice Cube, but more like hey, it's a quick getaway to the freeway part of Compton. This was no hole in the wall. This was a shack, a "B-B-Q Shack" to be exact. If only all shacks smelled this good.

For a mere $28.50, the Texas Sampler includes a bit of everything on the menu -- brisket, pulled pork, rib tips, ribs, chicken, and two different types of sausage. I went with the hot BBQ sauce on the side, and picked the potato salad and the mac 'n cheese. Bludso's even throws in slices of white bread, for good measure. The styrofoam box was literally bursting at the wrap seams, and I felt like a plastic surgeon unwrapping a patient's face after reconstructive surgery.

Plastic wrapped, handle with care

Yeah, we happy

With the box finally opened, it was straight out of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent opens up the suitcase for the first time, and a bright gold shine illuminates through. Vincent just stands there for a few moments, admires what he sees, and takes a long drag of his cigarette before Jules interrupts his thoughts and says "we happy?" Yeah, we happy.

As fellow blogger Foodoofus and I tore through everything like a rabid, 2-man wolf pack, my favorites began to shine through -- the brisket and the spare ribs. The much talked about brisket lived up to its reputation. In my early career smoking BBQ meats, I've had the most experience with brisket, and I'm always looking to smoke a more tender, juicier brisket. Bludso's version was thinly sliced and was bursting with juices. The ribs had a nice bark, and the meat had just enough of that addictive smoky favor. The meat was tender, but none of that overcooked, mushy mess that plague many BBQ joints. The meat still clung onto the bone, letting your teeth rip off all the porky goodness.

For the sides, my favorite was the potato salad. Bludso's version of the potato salad had more of a creamy consistency, which was a perfect contrast to the hot BBQ sauce. The sauce had a nice, spicy kick, but was neither vinegary or sugary. The slices of white bread might throw off some people -- but do as do in Texas, a la Smitty's Market. It's the perfect vehicle to sop up the meat juices and the BBQ sauce. My quest for great BBQ in the LA/OC area is taking a turn for the better, and Bludso's BBQ is surely leading the pack.

BBQ plate of goodness
Mac 'n cheese, potato salad
Use that white bread to your advantage

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Burnt Ends: It's Like Beef Bacon

Several years ago when I first started learning about BBQ, I had no idea what burnt ends were. Was it the stuff that you throw away, because it was no longer edible? Was it lumps of charcoal? To my knowledge, I don't know of any BBQ restaurants around LA/OC that serves burnt ends (or it's not advertised on the menu). Eventually I learned about burnt ends from watching television and, of course, on the Internet.

So when I started BBQ smoking, I originally thought burnt ends were strictly the 4 corners of the brisket (hold the laughter, please). I cut the pieces off, started chewing, and thought... this was it? While bursting with smoky flavor, it was terribly dry and chewy. Obviously, there was more to burnt ends, and it was right under my nose. I just had to take the additional steps.

First time making burnt ends

So if you're familiar with the cut of brisket, there are two sections of the brisket -- the flat and the point. As I mentioned in a previous post, the flat is what most people know, the larger part that is sliced and served. On the other hand, the point is a section of the brisket that has considerably more fat content, and is usually removed from the flat before serving. Well, what do you do with that point? Chop it up into cubes, season it even more (optional), and throw it back into the smoker or oven for another few hours.

The result is BBQ gold, a "delicacy" if you will, made famous by Kansas City. All that extra fat has been rendered off and will have a good, smoky charred bark on the outside, that's a bit crispy and crunchy in texture. On the inside, it should be tender and juicy. Then you can dip or slather the burnt ends with your favorite BBQ sauce. Simply delicious. Why is it so good? Well, I think it's the beef equivalent of bacon. I thought my first time making burnt ends was a mild success. Since I like spicy foods, I mixed in some Siracha sauce to give it a little kick. Burnt ends, I wish I knew ya earlier.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Use Mustard Before Dry Rub?

By Dru Chai

The other day, I was thinking about something. Why do some people slather a coat of mustard on their meats before applying the dry rub? Is it simply a method of improving the way the dry rub sticks to the meat, or does the mustard itself impart some type of flavor? Why not use something else, like olive oil, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, or heck, how about some maple syrup?

I did some research online, reading forums and articles, and the opinions are widely varied. Some are firm believers of the mustard coat, because it improves the hardening of the bark after such a long period of smoking the meat. The general consensus is that most people use mustard so that the rub adheres to the meat (which I've never had a problem with before). Mostly everyone said that you can't even taste the mustard when the meat is done.

Mustard rubbed brisket
Well there's only one way to settle things, and it's to see for myself. Many people I've seen on television only use mustard for pork butt/shoulder and spare/baby back ribs. Since all I have is a brisket, I decided to use that as my guinea pig (or cow, har har). I just took some plain organic yellow mustard that I had in the fridge and slathered it all over on both sides.

Then, I used a slight variation of my Dirty Smoke dry rub:

- Grounded black pepper (heavy)
- Seasoned salt
- Granulated garlic
- Paprika
- Cayenne pepper (very little)
- Cumin (very little)
- White granulated sugar
- Brown sugar

I put the dry rub on the top of the mustard-covered brisket, and honestly couldn't tell much of a difference if there was no mustard. The seasonings stuck onto the meat just fine. I wrapped it up in foil and it's in the fridge for now, waiting to be smoked. To be continued...

So what happened? Click here to read my update.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

OC Fair: Deep Fried Paradise, Bad BBQ

There's always a core group of Orange County, CA residents who love going to the OC Fair when mid-July rolls around, smack dab in the middle of the hot and sweaty summer. This year is no different. Yesterday was opening day, so I decided to check it out since the first hour was free admission. Every year, there's a different theme and this year, appropriately enough, it's "Let's Eat."

Live, eat, and grow... FATTER after eating at the fair

The OC Fair has its fair share of decent attractions and overpriced carnival games, but it is first and foremost a foodie's paradise -- chock full of deep fried concoctions that will make your arteries contract at the mere sight. There's always something new being introduced, and this year the hot item is Deep Fried Kool-Aid. 5 pc for $6.75. I tried them, and they are actually not bad at all. They taste like kool-aid (or strawberry, cherry, etc) flavored donut holes or mini round cakes, and they aren't terribly sweet or greasy. It could use a little dipping sauce on the side -- Kool-aid glaze or reduction, anyone?

Deep fried kool-aid (fluffy and moist on inside, not bad at all)

The evil provider of fried kool-aid

As you might expect, the BBQ scene at the fair is weak. Everything is essentially mass produced on large grills, like from this company, so you'll find yourself eating soul-less, dry pieces of meat -- whether it's chicken, burgers, or turkey legs. Sure, you can find more traditional BBQ items like pulled pork or brisket sandwiches, but I've tried most of them and they are all bland and dry, not to mention expensive. And if you're searching for legit ribs, fuggedaboutit.

But the OC Fair is all about having a good time, so the majority of people there don't care whether they're plunking down their hard earned cash for terrible BBQ. It's not a BBQ competition, and for these vendors, and it's all about cranking out as much food as possible while making a hefty profit. One thing's for sure, it seems like everyone always has a good time at the fair.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My BBQ Taste Buds Need a Break

I don't know about everyone else, but I think I need a little break from all the recent BBQ madness over the past couple of weeks. July 4th weekend really pumped my gut full of meat, hot dogs, and burgers. I even had to throw some leftover hot link sausages into the freezer, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat those anytime soon. It's time to detox, relax, and let the next BBQ cravings come in naturally.

In the meantime, I've been perusing the web for any interesting BBQ news. My blog was featured on the LA Times! Well, sort of. Anyone can just submit a photo -- but I thought it was cool that the LA Times Food blog added my BBQ brisket sandwich to their photo gallery. Just go to photo #44.

Featured on the LA Times food blog! (well, sort of)

Taking pictures of food has really become an art form. Some people may affectionately call it "food porn," but it takes a good eye and some camera skill to produce worthy food shots. You can see some of the high quality photos at websites like TasteSpotting, where thousands of people submit photos to be features on the home page. For food bloggers, getting their pictures on the site means heavy traffic. One day, I hope to produce a good enough photo for that site. One day!

Got a Weber grill and a photogenic smile? I follow Weber Grill's twitter account, and I saw a tweet about submitting photos to be featured on their home page or Facebook account. The page and contest name is called Me and My Weber. Maybe I'll submit a picture or two.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

BBQ Padawan Here, Ready to Learn

Recently, I signed up for Slap Yo Daddy's BBQ 101 Backyard Pitmaster class. His monthly class is in such high demand, that you have to sign up 2-3 months in advance. I was shooting for the September class, and there were plenty of spots available at the time. But by the time I sent in my registration, it was filled up! So I got bumped to the October class. I can't wait.

In between winning awards in BBQ competitions all over the place, Mr. Harry Soo has been building his BBQ brand and empire. He recently launched his own Meat Rub, which comes in original, lower sodium, and added MSG. Harry said his runaway best seller by far is the lower sodium version. Of course, after eating tons of BBQ meat, it'll make you feel just a little less guilty, right?

Mr. Slap Yo Daddy

Not that I've interacted with tons of other BBQ or food "celebs" or public figures, but what sets Harry apart is his accessibility and passion. I won't meet him in person until his BBQ class in October, but just from exchanging emails, researching for a previous blog post, reading his website, and his comments, you can just tell he loves sharing his knowledge and recipes (without giving away all his award winning secrets).

Here's a link to Harry's Amazon review on the WSM. He gives his tips on how to season a brand new WSM, and his recommendation on NOT using any water in the pan -- simply foiling it will give you better and faster bark on the meat. I actually have been experimenting both with and without water, and the only thing with not using water is that until you've got it down to a science, you have to carefully watch the temperature so the WSM doesn't run too hot.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dry Brisket Lesson Learned

By Dru Chai

I hope everyone had a fantastic, safe, and BBQ-filled Independence day weekend. I spent the majority of my time eating a smorgasbord -- smoked brisket, smoked chicken, hot links, corn, potato salad, etc. I needed a nap after every meal. There were plenty of leftovers, that's for sure. The chicken turned out awesome, extremely moist and flavorful, with just enough of that smoky apple wood flavor. Dare I say -- could it even be competition worthy? The brisket was an entirely different story. But there was one critical mistake I made before firing up the WSM.

My BBQ smoked chicken - competition worthy?

For this smoke-out, I bought a 6 lb brisket at Costco and a 6-pack of bone-in chicken breasts. It was essentially the exact purchase from my previous experience. But there was one huge difference -- The brisket was not in sealed cryovac packaging like this. Instead, it was simply plastic wrapped like all the other meats --  with the styrofoam plate on the bottom with tightly sealed plastic wrap all over.

Turns out, I made a rookie mistake. Here is an excerpt from Virtual Weber Bullet:

Avoid small, super-trimmed brisket flats with the point removed. They may be advertised as "first cut", "nose off", or "cap removed". These are fine for braising in the oven, but are hard to barbecue without drying them out. If this is all that's available to you, a layer of bacon placed on top may help to keep the meat moist during cooking.

No wonder. I thought that the brisket was missing something when I unwrapped it -- the entire cap, which contains a lot of fat, was completely missing. The fat helps keep the brisket moist through the hours of low and slow smoking. So how did my brisket turn out? You guessed it. It was dry. So I had to slather the brisket with plenty of BBQ sauce. Lesson learned.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 4th BBQ: Say NO to Bad Hot Dogs & Burgers!

Ah, the 4th of July. Chances are, you'll be chowing down on some hot dogs and burgers. Let's hope you're not eating some shriveled up and dry hot dog or some overcooked hockey-puck sized burger. I go to an annual homeowner's association community BBQ, and they have the EXACT same food every single year... for the last, oh decade or so. What do they have? Yep, you guessed it. Shriveled up hot dogs and overcooked burgers.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the usual hot dogs and burgers. That's why I'm so happy using the Weber Smoky Mountain where I can smoke meats for TRUE BBQ. Sure, it's more expensive and takes longer, but there is such a huge satisfaction and self accomplishment when you take that first juicy, tender bite of a smoked brisket. Speaking of, I'll definitely be smoking some BBQ during the July 4th weekend. I'm already salivating.

Check out some July 4th stats:

Number of hotdogs to be consumed on July 4th: 150 million
Amount of chicken purchased in the week leading up to July 4th: 700 million pounds
Amount of red meat/pork purchased in the week leading up to July 4th: 190 million pounds
Percentage of American households with outdoor grills: 87
Percentage of American households with Weber Smoky Mountains: WAY TOO LOW!