Jonathan Gold: Barbecue you need to be eating right now

Neil "Bigmista" Strawder feeling the smoke.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Barbecue may be a religion in the South, but this time of year, it is everywhere in Los Angeles -- in backyards, storefronts, suburban chains, farmers markets and barrel smokers in church parking lots. Here are a few places we like a lot. No reservations required.

Bigmista’s Barbecue

Can the downtown Bigmista’s open quickly enough? Because while some people calibrate their weeks to the appearance of Neil Strawder’s rig at the Sunday Atwater Farmers Market and the Wednesday market at Pershing Square, many of us need our dose of Bigmista’s pig bacon, brisket and mega-smokey pastrami on a somewhat more regular basis, even if his current schedule does let us pretend that we’ve really gone out for chard or organic kohlrabi. It is hard not to love a barbecue guy whose offerings include a combination he calls a Big A$$ Pile of Meat.


Mobile; (562) 423-4244(562) 423-4244;

Phillip’s Barbecue

When I did my first barbecue roundup for The Times 20 or so years ago, I got dozens of sorrowful responses that all said more or less the same thing: I had neglected to include Phillip’s, tucked behind an old theater in Leimert Park, which they considered the single best barbecue restaurant in town. And even to a Los Angeles native brought up on the finest from Carl’s and Mr. Jim’s, the first bite into a Phillip’s sparerib -- a lean, sinewy smoke-reddened strip of meat pulling away in my teeth, all lean, muscled flavor -- proved my correspondents absolutely correct. They were the best spareribs in town at the time. Decades, and several branch locations later, they still may be.

4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 292-7613(323) 292-7613. Also in Inglewood and in the West Adams district.

Bludso’s BBQ

When the breeze is blowing right, you can almost smell Bludso’s from the freeway, the perfume of black-steel smokers puffing behind the crowded Compton storefront. When Kevin Bludso sets up plastic tables and chairs in the parking lot, it feels like the Compton Riviera. Like so many of L.A.’s barbecue masters, Bludso moved here from Texas, which means he specializes in thick hunks of slow-cooked cow stained deeply with smoke: beef ribs, coarse sausage and sliced brisket that disappears so quickly if it weren’t for a feeling of satisfying fullness you might swear you had less eaten it than dreamed it. If a trip to Compton isn’t on your schedule (although it should be), the related Bludso’s Bar & Cue up on La Brea sings barbecue in the same key.


811 S. Long Beach Ave., Compton; (310) 637-1342(310) 637-1342;

Smoke City Market

If you’ve trawled through rural Texas looking for barbecue, you know that the good stuff is less likely to be found these days in that fragrant old place downtown than at the shiny prefab out by the highway. So it should come as no surprise that some of the best Texas-style barbecue in town should come from this gleaming Sherman Oaks restaurant, where the ambiance may be store-bought, but the icy Shiner Bock, the black-eyed peas and both the crackly skinned sausages and the dripping, tender slabs of long-smoked brisket might well have come from Hutto, Taylor or Luling. Barbecue is served here as the good Lord intended: heaped high on sheets of butcher paper, sauce very much on the side.

5242 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 855-1280(818) 855-1280;

Woody’s Bar-B-Q

After church on Sunday, it can seem as if half of South Los Angeles is packed into Woody’s, sitting on communal benches, waiting for big trays of takeout to emerge from the kitchen. And it’s worth that wait for the crusty pork ribs spurting with juice; thick, blackened hot link sausages; chewy, meaty little rib tips; fancy-tasting smoked chicken and charred slices of well-done brisket. Don’t forget the strawberry pop.


3446 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 294-9443(213) 294-9443; Other locations in Rialto and Inglewood.

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