Burt Bakman just keeps standing over the open doors of his new smoker. The man better known online as the one that brought Trudy’s Underground Barbecue to life is now leaning over inside his new West Third Street restaurant, Slab. He wants to, needs to, make sure the briskets still look alright as they rotate slowly inside a heavy steel box smoker. It’s no small thing, this moment, because as time compounds with smoke and low eat, tiny early issues can unfold into big finished product problems.
Luckily Bakman has experience with this sort of thing. He’s been taking notes on butcher paper for years now, noting cook times and temps and little nuances of fire and smoke that can make or break even the best barbecue man. Except previously he was doing all this from his own back yard, working from an off-set smoker like the ones found all over Texas. Not so at Slab, where the confines of the kitchen and of the city’s own byzantine building and health permits make off-set smokers impossible. So here has been Bakman, leaning in and learning lots over the past few months, while a restaurant gets built around him.
Slab is Bakman’s first restaurant project, but he’s not alone in the endeavor. The newcomer is backed by the H.Wood Group’s John Terzian and Brian Toll, along with Tony LaPenna, executive chef Lord Maynard Llera, and with design help from John Sofio of Built, Inc. They’re a prodigious team that continues to push deeper into the restaurant space with new places like 40Love, but all that operational expertise still stops at the smoker doors. That’s where Bakman will be living for the foreseeable future.
After the brisket, the rest of the menu starts to fall into place. There will be ribs, both pork and market-priced beef ribs, as well as everyday staples like pulled pork and smoked chicken. Sides span the gamut from mac and cheese to collard greens and potato salad and even frito pie, with dishes parsed out by weight. The menu starts up at 11 a.m. daily, and once the meat for that day is gone, it’s gone.
As the doors click back into place, Bakman prepares to step out into his brand new dining room, all wood-paneled and lined with photos of his time in the back yard. It’s a far cry from this new full-fledged restaurant, patio and all, but also just a few literal miles away. Plus there is connective tissue of the low-and-slow process between them. No matter the environment or the equipment, any good barbecue experience is still ultimately up to the pitmaster in charge. That’s why Bakman gets to stand in front of those doors. Slab opens on Tuesday, November 20.
Slab. 8136 W. 3rd. St., Los Angeles, CA.
Open seven days a week starting at 11 a.m. until sold out.
- LA’s Essential BBQ [ELA]