Where LA’s Top Pitmasters Buy Their Meat and Fixings
Up your BBQ game this Labor Day by shopping where the pros shop
Labor Day Weekend is upon us. For the rest of America that means summer is over. But for those of us who live in the Southland, it’s just beginning.
To help you kick things off right, we pinged some of L.A.’s most notable BBQ experts for grilling tips, ideas for unusual cuts and how to fail forward.
What cut do you recommend that’s unusual for BBQ, where do you find it, and how do you prepare it?
“I love to recommend the pork jowl ‘toro’ cut to our customers,” says Oliver Woolley of Peads and Barnetts. “It’s basically a trimmed-down pork jowl, so you just get the best section out of the middle of the muscle, and it’s amazing on the grill.” Peads and Barnetts is farm near San Diego, but you can find them at the Hollywood and Santa Monica Farmer’s Markets. Their pigs feed on a diet of oats and seaweed and roam free, making for some of the most flavorful pork you’ll find. Oliver recommends an overnight marinade of fish sauce, shoyu, palm sugar and rum. “I then cut it into strips, thread onto skewers and cook over hot coals until the outside looks crispy,” he says. Serve with a sweet and tangy Thai dipping sauce, like Jaew.
Burt Bakman, the pitmaster at Slab, loves the picanha, a Brazilian style tri-tip. “It’s a triangular shape, and you can ask for it at Merconda at the Farmers Market at the Grove,” he says. Bakman slices it thin, folds and skewers it, then places it on the grill. “We also grill some serrano peppers to go with it, but you don’t want to over season,” he says. “It’s a marble cut of meat and very delicious, so you don’t want to distract from that.” He also likes shopping for meat at Cosco. “They have amazing meat preparation, clean cuts and beautiful ribeye caps.”
Where do you go for the best produce, what do you recommend this season, and how do you prepare it?
It’s summer and we’ve had a wet year. But now the tomatoes are coming in strong, according to Oliver. “Santa Monica’s Wednesday market is the mecca of incredible seasonal produce. Right now there are tons of beautiful tomatoes and peppers in season, so that’s what I’m buying.”
Bakman visits Santa Monica on Wednesdays, too, but loves the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. “You get such characters there, people doing the walk of shame mixed with people shopping, and the smells are so good,” he says. “I grab vegetables for pickling.” He likes Wiser Family Farm, which sells to a lot of local restaurants and can be found in Santa Monica on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well.
Where should I stock up on BBQ essentials?
Oliver grabs his supplies online at BBQ Guys. But for a quick fix, Sur La Table is around the corner from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. “A good digital thermometer and some proper tongs go a long way,” he says. A thermometer preserves the integrity of your meat, and good tongs are an extension of your hand, allowing you to feel the tenderness of the meat. Your technique will improve with practice.
At Slab, Burt smokes his meats like they do in Central Texas. That requires oak. But when he was starting out, he used lots of different wood, and for that he’d drive to California Firewood Sales in Topanga. “You see these giant towers of wood that would crush a human or a car if they fell over,” he says. Now he uses Alpine Firewood out of Pasadena.
What are some BBQ tips that you’ve learned over the years?
“I’d say the most important tip is to slow-temper the meat you’re going to cook,” says Oliver. That goes for big steaks, pork chops or lamb neck. “This isn’t just about taking it out of the fridge to come up to room temperature; put the meat in a spot on/near the grill where it can get very low indirect heat and pick up lots of nice residual smoke and flavor. Then you can finish with a sear over high heat. And don’t forget to let it rest to keep in all the juices — you’ll be very pleased with the result.”
Bakman is all about failing forward. “Don’t be scared to try different things,” he says. “But always take notes and pictures so you can reference your work. That’s how you get better.” He goes on to say that even for him, the road ahead is longer than the road behind. “I know enough to know I don’t know much.” This mindset means he’s constantly learning. “Look at your finished product: Is it shiny? Falling apart? Did you wrap it? What did you wrap it in? What temp did you put it in at?”
These questions have more meaning if you take notes. Don’t forget to write down your impressions. “I’m always looking at old pictures of meat that I thought was great, but that I now know could be better.”