Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bludso's BBQ on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives

By Dru Chai

Uh oh. Hopefully, the Diners Drive-Ins and Dives curse doesn't hit my favorite BBQ spot in Southern California (aside from Phil's BBQ in San Diego). This past Monday, the long-time Food Network show visited Bludso's BBQ in Compton, CA. The bleached, spikey-haired host did his usual horrible job of trying to be funny with owner Kevin Bludso. When Kevin was taking out the ribs from the smoker, he said "wanna try some of this?"

To which Fieri sarcastically replied, "No I thought I'd just sit here and watch you bring them out." Okaaay. Make no mistake, the show is all about the restaurants, the people behind them, and their food. It is the only reason I've been watching the show since the beginning and has given me lots of ideas for my own home cooking recipes. The host thinks he's the star of the show, but we all know the truth and how everyone feels.

The usual shtick with the red convertible. You know you're in Compton, right?

Kevin is probably thinking, get too close or annoying and I will cut you

Among the highlights of the show, Kevin shares his recipe (I'm sure he left out a few secret ingredients) for his spicy BBQ sauce and rub, that he smokes with red oak and pecan wood at 250 degrees F for his ribs, what the "Compton trim" is (vs. the St. Louis trim), and his mom's collard greens recipe.

A couple of years ago when I started my low and slow BBQ journey, the spot that changed it all for me was Bludso's. Southern California obviously isn't known for good BBQ and is over-run with chained restaurants advertising "fall-off-the-bone" BBQ. Of course, Bludso's is different. I drove to Compton, demolished most of the BBQ in minutes, and was so excited that I wrote the blog post as soon as I washed my hands from that spicy BBQ sauce. It was my first introduction to Texas-style BBQ and I was hooked.

They do have its quirks, however. They slice their brisket with the grain, but it's still reasonably tender because it's sliced real thin. Usually brisket is sliced against the grain to prevent chewiness and it's how most people like to do it. By default, they like to slather the meat with their BBQ sauce, so if you're someone like me, be sure to ask for their sauce on the side. Although Bludso's is known for their brisket, it was their smoky black bark on their spare ribs that had me drooling for more.

I haven't returned to Bludso's since, as I've enjoyed my own backyard BBQ over the last couple of years. Earlier in the year, Bludso's Bar & Que opened up in West Hollywood, CA at the corner of Melrose and La Brea. I have yet to visit, but it's more of an "upscale" and larger version of the original location with much higher prices ($20/lb for brisket?!), indoor seating, and a bar. I've got bookmarks of LA-based BBQ restaurants to check out, so I'll be sure to add them to my list.

Bludso's Spicy BBQ Sauce Recipe - Ingredients

- Water, chopped onions, chopped garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, mustard powder, salt, granulated garlic, sage, dark brown sugar, crushed red pepper, black pepper, cayenne, cider vinegar, liquid smoke, worcestershire, soy sauce, molasses.

- Cook down for about 3 hours, let it sit overnight, then strain.

Bludso's BBQ Rub for Ribs - Ingredients

- Brown sugar, white sugar, seasoning salt, chili powder, granulated garlic, black pepper, cumin, cayenne, oregano, granulated onion.

Bludso's Collard Greens (Mom's Recipe) - Ingredients

- Water, chicken base, chopped garlic, chopped onions, chopped yellow peppers, smoked turkey necks
- Cook down for hour and a half, then add collard greens.
- Add crushed red pepper, onion powder, seasoning salt.
- Cook for about another hour until nice and tender.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Eating Out: Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas

By Dru Chai

Texas Monthly just recently announced their list of Top 50 Barbecue Joints, where they proclaimed Franklin BBQ to be #1 -- the best of the best. But who is Texas Monthly and what makes them the authority to judge BBQ? What criteria did they use? Was this based on just one visit or multiple visits?

One thing's for sure, they want you to subscribe or buy the magazine when the issue releases. They are enjoying publicity boost ever since their hiring of Daniel Vaughn as their BBQ Editor. He was a part time blogger, and quit his day job in the corporate world. Several years later and over 600 BBQ restaurants eaten notched on his belt, his dream became a reality. Oh, and it also helps to be on TV with Anthony Bourdain.

A few months ago, I had never even heard of Texas Monthly. To a native Southern Californian with a passion for BBQ who has only visited Texas once, almost all of the BBQ joints listed are unfamiliar. I've maybe heard of about a dozen of them. During my short trip to Austin, I only went to 4 BBQ places -- Smitty's, The Salt Lick, Black's, and Franklin BBQ.

Arrived at 8am and there was already 20 people waiting
The line at around 9am. Doesn't anyone have work? Hey, I'm on vacation.

My favorite of the 4 would have to be Franklin BBQ. I can see why they are listed as the top by Texas Monthly. Their fatty brisket is undeniably delicious, and so is their smoked turkey. They've been mentioned in numerous magazines and publications -- Bon Appetit named Franklin the best BBQ in America. They are always mentioned on television when it comes to Texas BBQ, and the owner Aaron Franklin (doppelganger here) is one of the judges on BBQ Pitmasters.

Franklin BBQ uses all post oak wood, you can see the shacks for smokers
The line when Franklin BBQ opened at 11am

So you can understand why a place with that much publicity can generate so much buzz and "hype" -- there is always a 2-hour wait and they routinely sell out and run out of food. On my particular visit, owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin was walking around each table, talking to customers, and posing for pictures in his grease stained t-shirt. I enjoyed my short chat with him, as he was down-to-earth and humble, even with his newfound BBQ celebrity status.

The inside is small and cozy, about 5 tables. More seating outside on patio.
The menu

Brisket is my favorite meat to smoke, so I was really looking forward to trying Franklin BBQ's brisket. After waiting in line for 2 hours, my mind was a bit delusional (not to mention hungry) so I ordered 2 pounds. What I saw in front of me was practically heaven on butcher paper. Ultra black and smoky bark, beautiful pink smoke ring, with meat juices flowing out left and right.

2 lbs of brisket along with a few slices of smoked turkey. Drool.
Love that ultra black and crusty bark against the pink smoke ring

The brisket was tender, but it actually lacked a little seasoning and flavor if I didn't include some of the smoky bark or a dab of Franklin's house made BBQ sauce. It was definitely great brisket, but would I wait in a long line again? Probably not. Once was enough for experience. The other standout was the smoked turkey -- it was by far the best I've ever had, and something I hope to replicate every Thanksgiving. I'm glad I got to try Franklin BBQ, and while they have their critics (what does being hipster have to do with good BBQ?), it really is worth a try for the first-time visitor.

Franklin BBQ - Austin, TX - (Dirty Smoke Rating of 5/5 stars)
The Good - The fatty brisket and the smoked turkey.
The Bad - Forget the sides, save the room for the meat.
The Ugly - The ribs were horrible. Overcooked, mushy, and bland.

Monday, May 6, 2013

West Coast BBQ Classic '13 at the Queen Mary

By Dru Chai

May is national BBQ month and 6 days in, I haven't had any BBQ yet. So with a hankering for some Dirty Smoke brisket, I visited my local Restaurant Depot looking for some Angus beef brisket packers and I couldn't find a single one. My guess is that plenty of local BBQ competition teams snapped them up in preparation for the 2nd annual West Coast BBQ Classic this upcoming Saturday on May 11th.

As a BBQ judge at the inaugural event last year, my tasting samples were all over the place. The chicken was fantastic, but the brisket was atrocious. That's just the luck of the draw sometimes. But the competition is a much stronger field this year -- with 60 teams competing, it will just about double last year's turnout. So I have a good feeling that the quality of BBQ will be much improved.

For a BBQ competition and festival, it doesn't get any better than The Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. With a picturesque view of the waters, grassy, and shady areas, it sure beats an event held at a hot parking lot or a dusty field. If you plan on going, do yourself a favor and go early. There will be a good turnout and who wants to wait in one long line after another? Check out my tips on how to enjoy a BBQ festival.

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