There's BBQ and then there's BBQ—you know, the kind that leaves you licking your sauce-drenched fingers as a pile of ribs picked clean is all that remains on your plate. Die-hard BBQ fans will argue for days on end about summer BBQ essentials, why Memphis has the best pulled pork over Texas, or why Kansas City makes better brisket than the Carolinas. But here in Los Angeles, we have a great mix of all four (not to mention stellar Korean BBQ). And despite the noticeable influx of BBQ spots in L.A. the past few years, there is still an ongoing debate as to whether this city has legitimately great barbecue. This, of course, is as subjective as what real barbecue should taste like and what region delivers the best of it. Maybe what is happening in LA, then, is that BBQ is becoming more inclusive—not sticking to a Carolina or Texas style, but instead encompassing all of the dominant ‘cue regions, adding craft cocktails to the menu and serving it all in a rustic-chic setting. And all without breaking the bank; some of the best cheap eats in the city are hole-in-the-wall BBQ spots, where you can wolf down a plate of ribs, baked beans, mac and cheese and a slice of key lime pie for less than $20. From Compton to South Pasadena, here are our picks for L.A.'s best BBQ.
LA's best BBQ
It's a good sign when you step outside of your car in the parking lot of Dr. Hogly Wogly's Tyler Texas BBQ and are immediately hit by an olfactory wall of braised meat. Round the corner past the AstroTurf patio and step inside this Van Nuys treasure, where wood-paneled walls and fast-talking waitresses who call you "hun" transport you to the middle of America. As its name suggests, Dr. Hogly Wogly's is all about Texas BBQ. You can order items á la carte or go big with the two- and three-meat combos, but make sure you go for the brisket. The fall-apart beef comes with a sweet or hot sauce (ask for both); the combos also allow for two side dishes. Fan favorites include the baked beans (which are out of this world) and the coleslaw. How, you ask, is it possible to eat everything on your plate? Cram it all into a buttered roll—the brisket, the beans, the coleslaw, the sauce—and take a bite. It's just what the doctor ordered.
Patience is a virtue at Bludso's BBQ, the famed barbecue hot spot that specializes in Texas-style ribs, brisket, chicken and anything else you can think to throw in a smoker. The lines are long. The wait can be tedious; the service at the counter a little brusque. But good things come to those who wait, and once you find a spot to sit down—there's only a couple stools and a picnic table by the smokers—you'll soon be glad you made the trip (and if you can't make the trip to Compton, Bludso's Bar-&-Que on La Brea is a solid second location). Founder and Texas native Kevin Bludso's brisket falls off the bone; in the Texas Sampler, a pile of ribs, sausage links and brisket lies under a slathering of sweet barbecue sauce. Choose from side dishes like potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, greens and rich mac and cheese, or save your appetite for dessert, where banana pudding is spooned out into styrofoam containers. It's a little bit of Texas... straight outta Compton.
There's a little something for everyone at JNJ Burger & Bar-b-que—some burgers, some sandwiches, pulled pork galore—but if you know what's good for you, you'll stick to the BBQ. Operating out of an old-school shack in the West Adams neighborhood, JNJ offers Louisiana-style pork and beef ribs, hot links, brisket, chicken and more, with a smattering of sides (get the collard greens!). To order, head over to the BBQ side of the shack (yup, there's a BBQ side and a burger side), then score a spot on the outdoor patio where you can take in the smell of oak, pecan and hickory wood wafting from the smoker. The beef ribs here are where it's at; with a drizzle of hot sauce and a scoop of potato salad, you may just have a religious experience. Make sure to save room for dessert, though: JNJ's homemade sweet potato pecan pie is worth the trip on its own.
At Horse Thief BBQ, Angelenos are getting schooled on the ways of low-and-slow cooking, namely central Texas-style BBQ. Native Texans Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi met at school in Austin, and have brought their self-taught 'cue chops (and a trip of hickory smokers and elevated ingredients) to DTLA's historic Grand Central Market. With no more than a queue-and-order window and alfresco communal picnic tables, Horse Thief BBQ serves the local lunch and dinner crowd until the food runs out. As any good Texan would know, brisket is the star here—dry rubbed and smoked for 15 hours over oak wood. Pork fans can get their grub on pulled pork and pork ribs, while poultry lovers can sink their teeth into brined and smoked chicken (Mary's organic, no less). A complete meal is packed on with the proper white bread, dill chips, chopped raw onions and fixings of blue cheese and bacon potato salad, cabbage and jicama slaw and heirloom baked beans. And with Grand Central Market's recent beer and wine license, you can now pair your spread with a cold brew. Cheers to that!
Meat butchered on premise, brisket smoked over peach wood logs, a pitmaster from Texas—Maple Block Meat Co. is checking off all the right BBQ boxes. Chef Adam Cole, who grew up eating 'cue in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina, is paying tribute to his roots at this Culver City spot, where lunch and dinner options range from chopped pork shoulder to ranch beans seasoned with meat drippings. Before you even get to the entrées, smoked chicken wings appear under the menu’s snack column, small in size but packing a flavorful punch. Other smoked meats include a pork chop, prime rib and incredibly tender brisket, but the pork spare ribs are the standout choice. Sporting a beautiful rub, the ribs alone are worthy of sitting through 405 traffic.
Although Baby Blues BBQ is now in West Hollywood, the barbecue joint is best known for its popular Venice location. Here, platters of Memphis- and Texas-style ribs featuring their signature dry rub—a blend of 19 herbs and spices—come with two fixins and housemade cornbread. Pulled pork sandwiches made with quality shoulder meat are topped with fresh coleslaw, and sliced brisket is hand carved to order. Portions are big, and so it's best to come with a group who can tackle a couple of combo meals. And for the meat-averse (uh, what are you doing in a BBQ shop?)—Baby Blues offers seafood as well, like grilled shrimp and catfish. Whatever you order, make sure you get the hell out when you've finished—a sign inside reads, "If you're done eating and there's a wait to get in, please consider the poor bastards outside."
Quite possibly the only BBQ joint in L.A. to raise money for a brick-and-mortar through Kickstarter, Max City BBQ is paying the public back with killer Southern-style 'cue. Owners Jason McDonald and Melanie Blair opened this Eagle Rock eatery in March of 2014 following the success of their catering operation, and they've been developing a steady stream of regulars ever since. Be warned: the shop is small and seating can be scarce. But the food is worth fighting over a table. Come with a friend and share the Spence's Platter of Pork, which includes baby back ribs, spare ribs, pulled pork, two sides (their cucumber salad is a delicious and unconventional option) and cornbread—yeah, we know it's a lot. And unlike a lot of other BBQ restaurants in the city, the drink menu is just as stellar, with local breweries on tap, wine, and the oft-raved about lemonade.
Great BBQ doesn't always have to come from a hole-in-the-wall shop in the middle of nowhere. At Gus's BBQ, a South Pasadena landmark that's been around for almost 70 years, you might find some of the best cornbread you've ever had. Arriving in a cast iron skillet, the bread is both creamy and crumbly, with a heavenly sugar glaze on top that is perfect for pairing alongside Gus's St. Louis spare ribs. Or maybe you'll go for the Texas brisket, smoked for 16 hours using pecan wood. The tender meat is served with your choice of two sides—the braised greens are killer with a little hot sauce on top, while the mac and cheese is made with truffle oil, bacon and four different types of cheese. But the real star is the boneless Southern fried chicken, a juicy slab of meat that is enveloped in a spicy crust. You'll take a bite and declare that this chicken is life-changing. Sure, you may be sitting in a comfy booth in a quaint suburb of L.A., drinking Southern sangria out of a mason jar, but good BBQ is good BBQ, no matter where you are.
There are a few Phillips Barbecue locations—one on Crenshaw Boulevard, one on Leimert and another on Centinela Avenue—and while longtime customers claim a favorite, they're all serving up the same thing: legit BBQ. It may look a little sketchy from the outside, but that narrow corridor leading up to the counter fills up quickly with a lunch crowd waiting to get their hands on Phillips' signature spare ribs. Tender and smoky, the ribs come with a sauce that ranges from mild to spicy (though your hands get dirty either way). There is corn on the cob and beans, potato salad and yams, and BBQ meat to the max. What is lacking? Enough chairs and tables, so be prepared to take your tinfoil of pulled pork and styrofoam containers of side dishes elsewhere.
With locations in both Santa Monica and Culver City, Holy Cow BBQ has brought some serious 'cue to the Westside. There’s a hefty selection to choose from here—meat and sides, greens and desserts, combos, and a section called “between bread,” which solely features sandwiches. With mason jars full of perfectly tart lemonade (is there a better way to wash down BBQ, aside from sweet tea?), diners can dig into small bowls of collards, mac and cheese and slaw before starting in on the meat. The baby backs ribs are hand rubbed and boast a beautifully caramelized crust, while the pulled pork is served up Carolina-style—more specifically, the South Carolina Midlands, where the use of Carolina gold sauce is the standard. The best way to finish your meal: a piping hot peach crumb.
The very nature of BBQ screams 'Merica, but at The Hungry Pig, a little bit of Asian flair goes a long way. Owner Eiddy Pennson comes from a background in Thai cuisine, and instead of leaving behind curry and basil for a life of Memphis-style ribs, she took a little bit with her. Yes, there are the baby back ribs and the pulled beef brisket, the BBQ chicken and the pulled pork sandwich. But there is also pork belly and chicken satay, curried potatoes and spicy eggplant salad, all of which can be enjoyed in The Hungry Pig's spacious seating area if you're not a fan of the traditional find-a-spot-in-the-parking-lot strategy that some of LA's other BBQ restaurants employ. And if you want to take some of that brisket home, you're in luck—most of the beef, chicken and pork are sold by the pound as well.
Barrel & Ahes BBQ is inclusive—it doesn't stick to just a Carolina or Texas style, but instead encompassing all of the dominant ‘cue regions, adding craft cocktails to the menu and serving it all in a rustic-chic setting. One particular “snack,” called The Best Damn Chick’n Sandwich Ya Ever Had, comes pretty close to living up to its name. These are prime picnic sandwiches—crispy fried chicken and dry coleslaw, jalapeño, and pimento cheese clasped within a poppy seed bun. A bite of fried chicken, a forkful of braised greens—sweet, and with chunks of flavorful pork rinds—and you’re set. The spare ribs are sauce-drenched, tender and fatty in all the right places.
Craving some serious eats with your booze? Check out Beachwood Brewing and BBQ for 22 rotating taps of craft beers and a menu boasting everything from ribs and pulled pork to brisket, all dry rubbed and slow smoked with plenty of sauces on the side. More importantly, perhaps, is the spot's absolute dedication to pairing the food with quality beer, both from the on-site brewhouse and outside well-known breweries. With your smoked meats, try the Hops of Brixton, a well-balanced Extra Special Bitter brew.