Barbecue is one of America's most contentious cooking traditions, with people standing steadfast behind regional styles associated with places like central Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, and North Carolina. The woods and sauces can fluctuate wildly, but there are a couple of constants. Meats should be cooked with wood smoke, since grilling won't deliver nearly the same effect, and every region celebrates ribs. Los Angeles has a wide variety of barbecue rib styles, from Texas to Kansas City. Here now, where to find the best smoked ribs in town, from Long Beach up to the Valley.Read More
Where to Find LA's Best Barbecue Ribs
Tender at the bone
Bigmista's Barbecue & Sammich Shop
Neil and Phyllis Strawder graduated from farmers markets and now run two Long Beach restaurants, but only Bigmista’s Barbecue & Sammich Shop serves ribs. Their Los Coyotes Center outpost features two sidewalk tables, a few counter seats, and a wall menu. A smoker out front burns pecan wood and compressed oak “mojo bricks.” Pork spare ribs are chilled and seasoned with a dry rub that includes salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, chile powder, sugar and cinnamon. Smoking for three to four hours results in substantial smoke rings. Choose from regular or spicy sauce, which the counterman described as “hot enough to make your lips tingle, but not blow your head off.”
People perpetually fill red chairs in the airy waiting area of Kevin Bludso’s BBQ emporium. Behind glass, you’ll find a photo of the pitmaster with his grandmother, who taught him to smoke meat at her stand in Corsicana, Texas. Now he delivers “A Lil Taste of Texas” to Compton. He mans smokers out back, which burn red oak. Pork spare ribs are available by the slab or ½ Slab with either mild or hot sauce. The ribs are rubbed with brown sugar, salt, pepper garlic and “a few more secrets” before getting smoked “low and slow” for four hours. The process results in a pronounced outer bark, and meat that’s quite tender. Ribs are partially submerged in a dark red sauce. On weekends, he sells big Angus beef ribs, which often sell out by lunch. All the food is grab-and-go. You’ll no doubt be tempted to eat the ribs in your car, but be ready with a splatter guard, because sauce is bound to fly.
Chef-owner Aaron Robins presides over Boneyard Bistro, a versatile Sherman Oaks restaurant and bar with some of the San Fernando Valley’s best barbecue, comfort food, and craft beer. He slow-smokes baby back ribs and St. Louis-style pork ribs over hickory, resulting in smoky pink-edged specimens that go down easy. Baby backs spend about three and a half hours in the gas-free J&R Manufacturing smoker from Texas, and St. Louis-style ribs enjoy an extra 30-45 minutes. Before cooking, Robins removes membranes from each rib, maximizing tenderness. He applies a proprietary spice rub that’s sugar-based, versus salt and pepper. Robins also credits “high quality natural pork from the Midwest” for rib success. Both ribs are available dry, wet, or chipotle-glazed.
Josiah Citrin’s corner restaurant in Venice features almost every plate touched by charcoal’s kiss. Past glass bar shelves, you’ll see a kitchen with a Big Green Egg and grill. The smoke comes from 100% natural lump charcoal, which is made of oak and hickory. Meaty lamb ribs with high fat content are smoked for five hours, blessed with fermented black bean BBQ sauce and served with parsley and chives. Bone-in beef short ribs are smoked for nine hours, brushed with red wine chipotle BBQ sauce and finished on the grill, resulting in beautiful caramelization. The well-marbled beef is sliced thin, draped on the oversized bone, and available with smoked paprika mustard chimichurri, red wine chipotle sauce, J-1 steak sauce, and Basque vinegar.
Hambone's BBQ and Po'Boy Sandwiches
South L.A. County has become a treasure trove for BBQ fans, and Mississippi native Kenneth "Hambone" Hamilton has created one of the best ‘cue destinations. . On a cool day, the shaded back patio is pleasant, and a dining room with green walls shields diners from the heat. Since 2011, Hambone has fueled his smoker with two different woods. Avocado wood is a match for beef, and red oak lovingly cooks pork. Glossy baby back ribs arrive in a shallow pool of spicy barbecue sauce that builds in flavor with every bite. Customers supplement with collard greens, six-cheese mac, and sweet Swamp Water. Hambone’s method seems to be working, as he's since expanded to Huntington Beach.
Meme’s Texas BBQ Smokehouse
The Hernandez family has been smoking meat for three generations, dating back to their days in Seguin, Texas, a tiny town that resides between San Antonio and BBQ Mecca Lockhart. Since 2011, Manny has smoked meat at Meme’s BBQ Smoke House in East L.A., naming the restaurant for his grandfather, who appears in a photo on the wall. Wife Julie runs front of house and works as pastry chef. The space is spare, with only four tables, tan walls with a steer skull, Texas license plates, an American flag, and painted Texas road map, including Route 66. Manny Hernandez rubs pork spare ribs with a 13-spice blend including smoked chilies and “a couple ingredients you can’t find in the store.” Ribs are smoked with a mix of apple wood and hickory for three to 3 ½ hours before getting drizzled with BBQ sauce made with tomato base, apple cider vinegar and eight spices. Beef ribs are available on the weekend.
Odys and Penelope
Karen Hatfield and husband Quinn named Odys + Penelope, their fashionable Mid-City restaurant, for key characters in “The Odyssey.” Wood-smoke is vital for the their industrial chic concept, which features exposed wood rafters and brick walls. Geometric shelving frames an open kitchen and holds four different woods, which each fuel a different grill or smoker. Pork spare ribs receive a secret dry rub, including rosemary, paprika, brown sugar, Kosher salt and “a few other seasonings.” They’re smoked to pink with apple wood for about four hours, finished on the Santa Maria-style red oak grill, and coated with sticky maple sherry rosemary sauce. Still, their short rib is the showstopper, smoked with apple wood for eight hours, allowing the rich meat to form a beautiful outer smoke ring before getting served with Western sweet barbecue sauce.
The Park's Finest BBQ
Johneric Concordia and his longtime friends started by cooking backyard feasts and eventually earned enough money from catering jobs to open a basic but fun BBQ restaurant parallel to the 101, near Historic Filipinotown. The crew’s Filipino heritage and passion for barbecue meld beautifully on the high-value menu, which centers on meats smoked with both alder and pecan woods. Mount Malindang Pork Ribs & Riblets are named for a volcano on the southern Filipino island of Mindanao. St. Louis pork ribs and rib tips are both juicy, with high gnawability factor, and deliver peppery kick. Dress your ribs with two different sauces, a tomato based sauce sweetened with pineapple and coconut oil, and a vinegar based sauce with garlic, soy, and spices.
Barbecue aficionado Ray Ramirez grew up in Huntington Park, but studied ‘cue in Texas from Pecan Lodge in Dallas to Franklin Barbecue in Austin, with many stops in between. He previously worked as a banker and as an AT&T Wireless (Cingular) district manager in St. Louis and Kansas City before selling smoked meat from his home. Since the end of 2014, he’s run Ray’s BBQ in Huntington Park’s St. George Plaza. The space features orange and wood panel walls, durable grey picnic table seating, a pink pig out front, and a logo of a maniacal pig holding cutlery amidst flames. Rosy baby back ribs are hit with a brown sugar based rub, smoked for about three hours over oak, and glazed with a tomato-based Kansas City BBQ sauce seasoned with brown sugar, garlic, and Worcestershire.
Robert Earls Real Deal BBQ
Two generations of Robert Earls contribute to the success of Robert Earl’s BBQ in north Long Beach, which debuted in 2013. The dining room contains tables with red and white checked cloths and wall-mounted sayings like "Don't cry over spilled milk...it could have been beer." The original Robert Earl grew up in nearby Compton and Carson, but his family has deep ties to the South, which is where his barbecue education kicks into gear. He built the network of barrel smokers behind the restaurant. That’s where pork ribs smoke for four to five hours over either pecan or hickory, depending on which wood’s available. The results are pink at the edge, with winning caramelization from sauce.