BBQ is a culture like sushi, or Menudo. People will drive hours to find it. It’s a multi-geographic culture. There is Texas BBQ, Memphis BBQ, North Carolina has its own version and is famous for 12-hour cooked pulled pork shoulder, and of course L.A. is full of Korean BBQ restaurants.
But there’s a difference between real BBQ and “faux” BBQ.
Faux BBQ is meat that is grilled and sauced instead of smoked over wood for a long time. It can be pretty good. The Danish riblets at Misfit are sweet and flavorful, and have great texture. But they are not smoked.
The grilled ribs at Hillstone on Second Street and Wilshire Boulevard are very good, if a touch mealy in texture, with good BBQ flavor. But they are not smoked.
It’s disappointing that the ribs at Mr. Cecil’s are just grilled, with no real BBQ smoke or wood flavor. This is advertised as real BBQ, and it’s in a really cute little building that I’m told was once part of a chain of baked bean restaurants (it looks like a baked bean can). But it’s not really BBQ.
So where can I go around Santa Monica to get real BBQ? Well, I know of two places. The best is Baby Blues BBQ. They have a real wood smoker, the meats are slowly smoked like BBQ is supposed to be, and they have a variety of BBQ sauces, including one that puts hair on your chest, as BBQ aficionados say. As an added bonus Baby Blues has the side dishes that go with BBQ: okra, baked beans, black eyed peas, and so forth.
A close second is Bubba Diegos and Crossroads BBQ that just opened up just outside of Santa Monica, on Sepulveda Boulevard near Pico. They too have a real wood smoker, and serious ribs. Bubba is two restaurants in one. One is a typical, but slightly upscale Mexican restaurant. There’s a separate room dedicated to BBQ. There’s a pretty good hickory BBQ sauce, but not the selection the Baby Blues has. Having the option of ordering both BBQ and Mexican food is a nice feature.
There’s one more aspect to BBQ that the serious BBQ fan should know about, and that’s texture. A lot of BBQ ribs are boiled, then grilled. This causes the meat to fall off the bone, which is the way some people like it. Not me. Real BBQ people like to have to chew the meat off the bone, like ancient ancestors did. Real BBQ has to have texture, and a slight chewy quality to it. You get that only by smoking in a low temperature oven for four to six hours. That’s what real BBQ restaurants do, but not what faux restaurants do because it takes time, and time is money.
One more pointer: pork is different from other meats. You can reheat beef or lamb without a big change in flavor. That’s not true of pork. When you reheat pork it has a different flavor that is less succulent. That’s the case with the pulled pork at Bubba Diegos. It tastes reheated. The pulled pork at Baby Blues and at Cecil’s does not have that defect.
Surprisingly, however, one of the best pulled pork sandwiches in town is at Hooters on Santa Monica Boulevard near Fourth Street. It’s not smoked but the good buns and sauce make up for it. I’m referring to the buns on the plate, of course.
If You Go
202 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Baby Blues BBQ
444 Lincoln Blvd.
Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs
12244 W. Pico Blvd.
Bubba Diego’s and Crossroads BBQ
2927 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at email@example.com