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Here's How to Make LA's Barbecue Scene Better

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Let's get real

Slicing ribs at Barrel & Ashes
Slicing ribs at Barrel & Ashes
Michelle Park

Let's be honest: Los Angeles isn't really up there on the top lists of barbecue cities in America. And that's a damn shame, because this town does indeed love its smoked meat. Yes, there have been some really solid places to open in the past few years, along with old standbys like Bludso's in Compton, but LA simply hasn't been able to support a notable, nationally competitive barbecue place in the vein of La Barbecue, Franklin, Dallas's Pecan Lodge or even Charleston's Lewis Barbecue. What gives?

Los Angeles hasn't been able to support a competitive barbecue place

Here's my take: Los Angeles lacks the breadth of knowledge and the commitment to true pit barbecue that other places in America has in spades. It's not something we can't fix, and it's not like there aren't great pitmasters already in the city (read: Adam Perry Lang, who makes incredible barbecue). So what is LA to do? If I was mayor (for a hot second), here's what I would do to make LA a great barbecue destination:

There will be smoke. Deal with it.

Make it easier on restaurateurs and small business owners for barbecue restaurants to smoke outdoors. If the restaurant is in an industrial or semi-industrial zone, and/or far away from residential zones, why not let bona-fide barbecue spots fire up a smoker outside? It's not often talked about publicly, but this is the number one reason why it's been difficult for barbecue restaurants to flourish in Los Angeles.

Yes, this city already has struggles with emissions and smog, and the smoke certainly won't help. But I'm going out on a limb to say that the amount of smoke produced by outdoor pit smokers is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of cars stuck in traffic every day, and other cities in America have already implemented plans to mitigate smoke without losing their thriving barbecue scenes. We can do this.

Barrel & Ashes barbecue Michelle Park

Spraying the barbecue at Barrel & Ashes

Better barbecue when you limit the hours

Ease restrictions on daytime-only barbecue restaurants. Encourage places to offer their smoked meats for a limited number of hours per day, instead from lunch through dinner. Sure, there's more money to be made if you're offering full liquor to all-day diners, but why not allow a special kind of barbecue license, one that doesn't require a full kitchen build out, so that folks can line up and enjoy quality (not quantity) barbecue? While it'd be great to have a julep with your meat, I think most people are fine with some craft beer or a glass of wine. Also ease restrictions on seating requirements for these special daytime outdoor barbecues, making it easy to enjoy the endless summer sun.

Smoke rings look better than red tape

Simplify the application process for new business owners. The county health department and city Building & Safety divisions are already overwhelmed, but if a specialist can create a system that streamlines the process, everyone wins. Remove red tape and develop a framework that's unique to barbecue restaurants. Lower the barrier to entry and the market will grow.

Brisket being sliced Michelle Park

Brisket at Barrel & Ashes

Make it our own

Develop a unique style that's endemic to Los Angeles. This one is really up to chefs and pitmasters. Smoked meat from Texas and the South is already fantastic, but that doesn't mean LA can't develop its own approach to 'cue. Maybe that means warping table-top Korean barbecue flavors with the slow-and-low cooking style of Texas. Maybe it's a combination of Mexican and Central American spices into a sauce. Just like with LA's taco and burger culture, let's find the our city's own unique way to do barbecue. If the city of Angels can develop its identity has a bona-fide style, we'll earn a place in the canon of American barbecue.

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