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Woody Smokes

You can no more influence a person’s choice of barbecue pit than you can what brand of cigarette he or she smokes, and a lot of people think Woody’s Bar-B-Que in Los Angeles is the best barbecue place in town.

On Sundays, when Phillip’s Barbecue (run by Woody’s cousin) is closed, Woody’s is hands-down my favorite barbecue pit too. On weekends, Woody’s stays open until 3 in the morning.

As you blast down Slauson toward the Westside, Woody’s is visible from a long way off. A white plume that looks from a distance as if it might come from a belching bus or a car fire quickly sorts itself out into a meat-fragrant cloud of wood smoke you could probably smell all the way from the Harbor Freeway if the wind were blowing right.

Even if Woody’s had no sign and no smoke, you could find the restaurant by looking for a line of cars waiting to make a left turn into the lot.

Woody’s is a simple place, a low building next to a mini-mall, chocolate brown trim, lunch specials posted in the window. A mean-looking cartoon bulldog painted on the wall outside has a thought bubble coming out of its head that says, “I think y’all better have some BAR B. Q.” Not a bad idea. A plastic menu board inside lists the usual slabs and sandwiches and dinners. Photographs of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Mandela decorate the walls.

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You place your order, pay and sit on a communal bench until your number is called. It’s more or less impossible to sit on the bench for more than a couple of minutes without becoming involved in a conversation, which these days tend more toward the Raiders than toward politics.

If you come on a Sunday after church, when Woody’s is really busy, you can hear a precis of pretty much every sermon delivered in the greater Crenshaw area that morning.

What you get here is more or less industry-standard stuff: sweet beans, sweet-potato pie, eggy potato salad, the goods. Which is to say, y’know, barbecue : crusty pork ribs spurting with juice; thick, blackened hot link sausages with the chaw of good jerky; chewy, meaty little rib tips; giant beef ribs; charred, only occasionally stewy-tasting slices of well-done barbecued beef brisket that even Texans condescend to like. (You do need teeth to eat Woody’s beef.) Sluice it down with strawberry pop. Or grape.

The chicken is crisp-skinned, dense-fleshed, deeply smoky all the way to the bone like those fancy turkeys that cost a mail-order fortune. If a caterer decided to pull a fast one, the chicken would get a lot of compliments at a fancy society buffet.

The sauce is one of the sweet brick-red kinds, hotly spiced with red pepper flakes, seeds and all, which you sop up with slices of damp white bread until it is gone. It exudes from your pores for hours; it seems less like a condiment than like a way of life. It makes you breathe hard, if not precisely to speak in tongues. All hail to the sauce.

Woody’s Bar-B-Que

3446 W. Slauson Ave., (213) 294-9443. Open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Takeout only. Cash only. Dinner for two, food only, $8 to $15.


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