Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Smoky, Meaty, Tender Barbecue (or, The Mouth-Watering Beef Brisket, Spare Ribs and Pulled Pork of Bludso's BBQ)

In the world of Food, while everyone's taste is subjective, there are certain hot button topics that can spark a non-stop debate for years if not decades. Just mention the word "Burger" or "Pizza" and there will be no end to the amount of discussion that ensues. (^_~) "Barbecue" falls into this category as well, and the diversity of what constitutes as "BBQ" might be even greater than the Burger or Pizza Wars, ranging from a restaurant grilling some Chicken and pouring over mass-produced BBQ Sauce and calling that "BBQ Chicken", going all the way up to the intricate discussions on authentic styles of "Eastern North Carolina Barbecue" vs. "Western North Carolina Barbecue" vs. "Memphis Style", etc. I'm no Barbecue expert, but when I can enjoy slow-cooked, smoky, meaty but tender, fresh-tasting Beef and Pork in So Cal, call me happy. :) Such is the case with a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Barbecue joint known as Bludso's BBQ.

I still remember my first visit 1.5 years ago. Hearing some Hounds talk excitedly about Bludso's great Barbecue made this an immediate "must try" on my list of restaurants. :) Walking up to the storefront, my guest and I notice that they're still not open, but we could smell this amazing, delicious cloud of smoky meat vapors wafting around the building. Stepping around the corner, we see a parking lot and a giant BBQ smoker and are warmly greeted by two people tending to the slow-cooked meats. They turn out to be BBQ Master-Owner Kevin Bludso and his Assistant Pit Master Larry. Kevin Bludso originally learned about Barbecue from helping at his Grandma's restaurant near Corsicana, Texas since the age of 9.

I also smell some incredible deep-fried goodness and realize they're making Deep Fried Turkeys (they make them upon request (order in advance) and during Thanksgiving).

You often hear about Southern hospitality, but seeing it in person, and all the charm and joviality surrounding Bludso's BBQ made me feel like I was sitting at a friend's backyard party. Mr. Bludso mentions that they're running a little behind, but offers up some chairs and water or soda while we wait as they open up the shop. And as they're removing the Beef, Pork, Chicken and Links from the smoker, you can hear them zinging each other to pass the time:

Larry (from Louisiana) gives Kevin (grew up in Texas and Cali) some flack about Texas.

Kevin Bludso (chiding Larry): "Man, you so old, yo' Social Security number is ONE!" (^_^)

The store is open at this point and we head up front to order. Bludso's BBQ is really a takeout stand; they have ~5 stools and a small counter where you can eat, but no tables (I've eaten at their counter a couple times and it's fine if you don't mind the limited space).

Wanting to try all of their amazing BBQ, we order their Texas Sampler, which includes their Barbecued Pork Spare Ribs, Beef Brisket, Rib Tips, Chicken, Beef Links, Pork Links, Chicken Links, and Pork Shoulder (Pulled Pork). You can add their Angus Beef Rib as an option for $2 (on Weekends Only). It sounded like a lot, but we had no idea about how gargantuan this was (it turns out to be about ~5+ pounds of food(!)). :)

Note: Be sure to ask for the Barbecue Sauce on the Side, so that you can enjoy the smoked meats on their own and control how much Sauce you want (some of the pictures below are from my 2nd visit where in my haste, I forgot to request this, so you can see how much Sauce is used regularly).

We start with their Barbecued Pork Spare Ribs (listed as simply "Rib" on the menu).

There's a gorgeous smoke ring and nice bark. And I take a bite...

Tendrils of complex smokiness pervade my senses; a beautiful aroma of Pecan and Oak Wood combined with Mesquite Charcoal from the slow-cooking. It's followed by this true succulence: A wave of juicy, meaty porky happiness, with notes of Apple, Brown Sugar, Pepper, Oregano and other Spices. Awesome! (^_^)

And then there are those delectable crunchy bits of Pork Cartilage that any Nankotsu (Chicken Cartilage) fan can appreciate: The Cartilage is cooked long enough to provide some crunchiness but soft enough that it doesn't require much effort to chew through; a lovely textural contrast. :)

Consistency is a very important aspect in regards to Barbecue: All too often you might find some fresh-tasting, juicy Ribs during 1 visit at a restaurant, only to be stuck with Barbecue that's been sitting too long on another visit. For my 3 visits to Bludso's BBQ, all of the Barbecue has been consistently well cooked each and every time (I also visited them on different days of the week each visit, to see if that made a difference).

Bludso's offers up 2 kinds of their Homemade Barbecue Sauce - Hot or Mild - and this is where there might be controversy amongst some purists.

I've met people who turn their nose in disdain if anyone attempts to use Barbecue Sauce on their Barbecue; they claim that great Barbecue doesn't need any Sauce at all, and it's all about the Rub and the meat itself. And then there's the taste and thickness of Bludso's Homemade Barbecue Sauce: Mr. Bludso has mentioned that he had to adjust his Barbecue Sauce over the years (from the original style he learned and developed from his Grandmother) because his customers here in California wanted it thicker and sweeter.

While I have no idea what that original Sauce might've tasted like, the current Homemade Mild Barbecue Sauce that Kevin makes is simply delicious. :) It's a Tomato-based Sauce, with Molasses, Cayenne Pepper and his proprietary blend of other Spices. There's a great sweet tang and peppery quality, along with a very mild heat.

The Homemade Hot Barbecue Sauce turns up the heat level a few notches higher, with a medium burn (but nowhere near, say, Jitlada's most incendiary dishes).

If there's one "filler" item in the Texas Sampler, it might be their trio of Beef, Pork and Chicken Smoked Links.

The Links are outsourced, but Kevin cooks them up in the same Smoker as the rest of his meats, giving each type of Sausage Link a meaningful smoky edge. They're not "bad" at all (if you enjoy Smoked Sausage Links they're fine), but it's clear that their made-from-scratch Barbecued Meats are the real stars here.

The Barbecued Chicken is surprisingly well-executed.

As expected, there's a great smoky quality that seeps into most of the Chicken, along with Black Pepper, but the most surprising aspect is that the Chicken Breast / White Meat portions have been at least semi-moist to juicy during each of my visits. It's thankfully never been dried out. But overall, in light of the other offerings, their Barbecued Chicken - while healthier - isn't something I'd seek out if I had a choice.

And then there's the 15 Hour Slow-Roasted, Pork Shoulder (also used in their Pulled Pork Sandwich).

Besides Pork Spare Ribs, I'd have to say Pulled Pork / Pork Shoulder is my 2nd favorite type of protein when eating Barbecue. :) And thankfully Bludso's Pork Shoulder is very good. Being cooked for over 15 Hours, the Pork Shoulder has consistently been very tender with the Oak and Pecan woodsiness present in every bite without it being overpowering. It's also tasted *fresh* (i.e., not leftovers or reheated) each time I've gone, and has become my favorite Pulled Pork locally. Excellent! :)

And while their Pork Spare Ribs are top-notch, those that prefer more soft Cartilage and Meat (and no Bone), should consider their Rib Tips.

Indeed, the Rib Tips are an extension and continuation of where the delicious Pork Spare Ribs left off, having a great bark and smoke ring, as well as a little more fat and much more of the satisfying crunchy Pork Cartilage. :) The very end piece (the very tip) does tend to be drier, but there's so much concentrated Barbecue goodness that the dried out portions don't feel like a loss. Delicious. :)

Breaking up this meat madness is probably my favorite Side Order at Bludso's: Collard Greens (listed simply as "Greens" on the menu).

On paper, it sounds boring enough, but these Collard Greens are wonderfully garlicky, tender and lightly spicy.

I generally tend to shy away from Barbecued Beef Ribs, as they're usually gargantuan and a bit too unwieldy at times, but Bludso's Angus Beef Ribs (Weekends Only) maintain the quality level of their other offerings.

There's a hardcore Coarse Black Pepper and Salt flavor that comes through on the crust, followed by a more intense smokiness (more than their other Barbecue dishes). The Angus Beef Ribs have always been consistently juicy on each of my visits, and it pairs well with their Mild Homemade Barbecue Sauce.

But perhaps the biggest surprise and shock of the entire menu is Bludso's Beef Brisket.

This 15 Hour, Slow-Cooked piece of beefy goodness is outstanding! (^_^) It's *so* juicy and luscious and sexy (thanks to the supple layer of Beef Fat) and it just skyrocketed "Beef Brisket" to the top of my list of favorite Barbecued Meats (at least at Bludso's (^_~)).

Besides their Collard Greens, there are 4 other choices for Side Orders, starting with their Mac & Cheese.

Their Mac & Cheese has been a bit inconsistent during each of my visits: A couple times the Mac & Cheese has been creamy and cheesy, while on my latest visit, it was overcooked, with the Macaroni being almost mush (it still had a good flavor, but it was way overcooked).

Their Baked Beans remind me of the Baked Beans they'd give at my school cafeteria growing up (not in a bad way :) - It's that familiar, classic, sweet, mellow, thick Beans in a Brown Sauce that I got as a kid at school. It's not egregious, but nothing to write home about. :)

Their Corn Bread (included with Lunch or Dinner plates) is crumbly, moist and only lightly sweet; an enjoyable respite from the meat. :)

And their Potato Salad is very creamy, a touch sweeter than what I prefer, with soft chunks of Potato; a solid option.

Their Desserts tend to fall on the sweeter side. The Banana Pudding is a simple Banana-flavored Pudding mixed with Vanilla Wafer Cookies. It's really straightforward and fills a certain craving if you're in the mood for it.

Their Red Velvet Cake is made daily by Kevin Bludso's Mother.

It's not going to win any awards for excellence, but the slightly-dry-but-still-moist Red Velvet Cake tastes like you're eating a homemade dessert at your friend's house (baked by your friend's mom or grandmother). It's rustic, a bit too sweet, but not mass-produced.

Service has always been warm and friendly: You order at the counter and pick up your order when ready. And if you're eating at their small counter, you might hear Cookie (who runs the front of the house) or Kevin Bludso asking if you need any more napkins or if everything's alright. Prices range from $2.85 - $28.50 (for the Texas Sampler (which can feed 3-4 people comfortably)).

Bludso's BBQ turns out some of the most delectable Barbecued Pork Spare Ribs, Rib Tips, Beef Brisket and Pulled Pork Shoulder around town. Whether it's truly "authentic Texas-style BBQ" is something I leave to the experts, but with their nuanced smoky bark, satisfyingly substantial Spare Ribs that are as meaty as they are tender (without it being too soft), wonderfully supple Pulled Pork Shoulder, and the amazing Beef Brisket, Bludso's is a great place to stop by for some 'Cue. :)

Rating: 8.4 (out of 10)

Bludso's BBQ
811 S. Long Beach Blvd.
Compton, CA 90221
Tel: (310) 637-1342

Hours: Tues - Thurs, 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Sun, 12:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays & Rainy Days (since the Smoker is outside).


JustinM said...

Beautiful, Exile. I've only been there twice but both times it was simply amazing. I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever had better barbecue in Southern California.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi JustinM,

Glad you liked Bludso's as well. Simply wonderful 'Cue! :)

Gastronomer said...

My stomach is grumbling. I don't know why it's taken me so long to make my way to Compton. Must change this real soon.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gastronomer,

I think you'd really like it; just some delicious, down-to-earth Barbecue. :) Let me know whatcha think. :)

weezermonkey said...

I love barbecue, and I still haven't been either!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi weezermonkey,

If you love Barbecue, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. :) I'd love to hear what you think of it. :)

Banana Wonder said...

Whoa! Just felt my cholesterol (and iron levels) spike! I'm not much of a BBQ meat eater, but I'd really like to get my paws on some of that corn bread, and yay, the homemade granny red velvet.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna,

Yah, LOL, I can't have too much BBQ either. It's definitely not heart healthy food, but it's quite tasty. :)

stuffycheaks said...

ahhh lovely photo of the cartilage. i want some too!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi stuffycheaks,

The cartilage is so good! :) Crunchy, but tender, lightly smoky. :) Let me know if you end up going.

pleasurepalate said...

Bludso's is definitely one of the best bbq joints in LA. You should also check out BigMista and Park's Finest BBQ if you get a chance.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

Thanks for the recs. :) I've been to Big Mista's once already and plan on trying them again.

Park's Finest - definitely. It's been on my radar since I read about them from you. :) Thanks.

nelehelen said...

i, too, stil haven't made my out there... it's been on my radar for so long and don't know why i haven't made a trip out there.. i must go!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi nelehelen,

Definitely give them a try. :) Some wonderful BBQ. Let me know what you think of it. :)

edjusted said...

Oh man, I'm drooling. I've been craving *good* brisket ever since I had a mind-blowing brisket sandwich in Houston last year.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi edjusted,

You definitely gotta try Bludso's. :) Their Brisket is amazing.

Steve2 in LA said...

Man, I've really enjoyed your reviews so, maybe it's just me or "the day" when I went to Bludsoe's but I was seriously underwhelmed.

We were in the area on an errand and got there just as they opened but (with really sweet apologies and promises of "we'll comp you the next time) told us they'd opened that day, short of some items.

Consequently, we had the Texas Sampler without brisket and had to forgo the pulled pork completely. The ribs were fine but nothing I'd look at twice, the chicken really was good, moist, smoky but the sides were forgettable, greens bland, mac & cheese too sweet and dry, cornbread, REALLY dry.

Clearly others have experienced this differently and it certainly does add reinforcement to the idea of repeat visits but living in the SF Valley makes frivolous trips (if you can consider travel for meals frivolous)less cost effective than most.

I continue searching for good eatz in the SF Valley to compare with what's available nearly everywhere else. WTF!?

Keep up the good work, I'm a subscriber.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Steve2 in LA,

Thanks for your detailed report back. I'm sorry to hear that they were out of their great Brisket and Pulled Pork Shoulder (2 of my favorites) when you went. Definitely worth another visit for that. :)

Re: Pork Spare Ribs - Wow, very strange. My condolences that they turned out not so great for you; that's really the tough thing about BBQ joints. I guess I've been lucky in my multiple visits to have gotten a good batch of their Ribs, but your experience is exactly why I'm always wary of what I'm going to get at every BBQ restaurant around town.

One always hopes for (good) consistency at these places, but for BBQ with the long cooking times (e.g., 14 Hours+ for their Beef Brisket and Pulled Pork, etc.), getting a "fresh batch" can be tough. Not making excuses for them, just noting.

I hope you get a chance to try them again some time, but w/ the long drive I understand you may not get the chance. Thanks again!

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