Los Angeles BBQ Festival: Smoke in your eyes and yummy in your tummy


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After a first year troubled by long lines and vendors running out of food, everything seemed right on Q at the second Los Angeles BBQ Festival on Sunday.

“This year is 10 times better – no lines. It’s like it should be,” said Jason Sinroll of Manhattan Beach, who was bitterly disappointed in last year’s festival.


Organizer Dan Silberstein of DrinkEatPlay saw to it that last year’s problems would not be repeated, increasing the number of food vendors and drink stations and putting in more seating. The food stalls were plenty busy, but what lines there were moved quickly. Finding a seat at a table with an umbrella could be a challenge, but getting a chair somewhere didn’t take long.

“How could it be any better?” asked Brian Stein, pit master of Susie Q’s in Santa Maria, as he supervised tri-tip cooking over red oak (at right). “We’re in Santa Monica, the pier’s right there … barbecue and tri-tip in Santa Monica on Mother’s Day.” He was ably assisted by a Le Cordon Bleu student, plus a guy the Susie Q’s crew met in the parking lot and hit it off with. Brian’s wife, Nancy Stein, said that’s part of the Susie Q’s family atmosphere, adding, “It’s really sweet how everyone is all sweet.”

The Susie Q’s plate ($10, as were all barbecue meals) was a miniature culinary tour of its home Santa Maria Valley: a tri-tip sandwich served with a salsa garnish (tomato, onion, green pepper) and the area’s indigenous pinquito beans (at left). The tri-tip, first popularized in the Santa Maria Valley, was juicy and just chewy enough. Festivalgoer John Jackson of Santa Monica was won over by the sandwich after initial skepticism: “I was like, ‘What, no barbecue sauce?’ ” A few bites told him the sandwich needed none. The sandwich was served on a buttered French roll, which the Susie Q’s crew said was provided by DrinkEatPlay. Its tri-tip is usually served on a sourdough roll, but the French roll came through in the clutch.

Baby Blues BBQ, which has locations in Venice and West Hollywood, won fans with a rich macaroni and cheese, though its ribs meat had to be wrestled from the bone.

Silvio Correa, owner of Silvio’s Brazilian BBQ restaurant on the Hermosa Pier (the eatery grew out of his longtime catering business, which still feeds the likes of Coachella, Hollywood parties and more), started doing barbecue at age 16 in his native São Paulo, cooking for friends at the beach. Soon, he was being invited to parties – and being asked to bring his chicken churrasco, a tender dish cooked with rock salt and beer. After moving to California in 2000, he started what he says is the L.A. area’s first Brazilian catering business. And he’s still getting invited to all the parties, but now he’s being paid for the chicken.

Throughout the afternoon, the longest line (though it moved quickly) was for LC’s Bar-B-Q from Kansas City, Mo. L.C. Richardson’s booth was serving its (appropriately) Kansas City ribs, rubbed with a mix including paprika and sugar and served with a tomato-based sauce, and baked beans. Richardson, or “what’s left of him,” as the man himself puts it, has been making barbecue since his childhood on a Mississippi farm, picking up hickory chips to cook hamburgers and hot dogs. “Seems like yesterday, the smell of the hickory. I believe in the hickory wood.” As his Southern California relative Essie Coleman (on the right, with L.C. and Shirley Gadiok) ate a rib, Richardson said, “Shine the bone.” She lifted up the bare bone and Richardson laughed and said, “She shined the bone. It’s ready for painting.”

LC’s KC ribs were tender indeed, and the sauce was smoky. The baked beans (with some meat in ‘em, of course) had robust flavor.

Though Chad Zaputil, with Stephanie Charles, both of Long Beach, said, “We haven’t had anything that’s not been good,” the couple’s pick after four shared plates was the baby back ribs and beans meal from Memphis Championship Barbecue in Las Vegas. Picking that restaurant as No. 1 is no new thing: Its Mike Mills is the only four-time winner of the renowned Memphis in May competition, and, his business partner Carlos Silva said, the restaurants have been named the best barbecue places in Las Vegas in 12 of the last 14 years. And let’s not forget that Bon Appetit magazine declared Mills’ ribs the best in America in 2007. A big part of the Memphis Championship Barbecue ethos: “The flame never touches the meat,” Silva said. “Direct heat toughens it up – like too much sun on the skin, it gets rough.” (See the sauce being applied to the rotating racks of ribs at top; above left, from left; Charles, Zaputil and Siroll.)

Smack Your Lips BBQ from New Jersey was another popular crowd pick. Owner Butch Lupinetti, sitting with barbecue circuit friend Hubert Green (North Main BBQ in Euless, Texas), is an expert in North Carolina barbecue, and his pulled pork sandwich and mild sauce (at right) won a legion of admirers – not surprising, as his Q has won more awards than there is pork on that bun. Asked for his barbecue philosophy, Lupinetti said, “Good meat ain’t cheap and cheap meat ain’t good,” prompting a laugh and nudge from Green: “You stole that, you rascal!”

-- Blake Hennon

For the Record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly gave Jason Sinroll’s last name as Sim.