Every week is unofficially meat week for me, but it took two forward thinking co-workers, Erni Walker and Chris Cantey, to create an entire week long event devoted to specifically to meat, and more importantly, barbecue. Per their site, “Meat Week is a national holiday that started in 2005. Each January, for 8 consecutive nights, people across the country gather over piles of BBQ. In every participating city, there is a devoted Captain who creates the schedule of restaurants. Each city develops their own traditions, but Meat Week typically focuses on good ol’ American BBQ: Pork, ribs, brisket, barbecued chicken, and anything else you can smoke and smother in sauce.”
I had the pleasure of meeting the two of them last year at Smoke City Market and this year I plan to hit up at least three of their stops. Meat week begins Sunday January 27th in cities across the United States. If you’re reading this, you like BBQ, so you pretty much have to go to at least one night. You can find your local chapter HERE.
So here are Erni and Chris’ favorite BBQ joints in their words:
“When we moved to Los Angeles, people said there was no way we’d scrape up enough restaurants to have an entire week of BBQ. When we came up with more than enough, they said none of them would be any good. We beg to differ! Most of the BBQ on our list comes from L.A. and the surrounding areas, because even though we grew up in the south, we have found some of our favorites right here on the west coast. (Granted, some of them are southern transplants, but still…) Meat Week and all its cross-country chapters has proven to us that BBQ isn’t relegated to one region. Where there’s a person with a meat smoker, some patience, and a special touch, there will always be great BBQ.
Mom’s BBQ House – Van Nuys, CA
The food, atmosphere, and service at Mom’s makes this our favorite in LA, hands-down. The first time we went here, our minds were blown, and we’ve never had a less-than-incredible experience. The ribs fall off the bone, the pork is amazing, the links…my god the links! This BBQ has a real weight to it, in a good way. It’s usually smothered in sauce, but somehow the flavor of the meat shines through, and the sauce becomes an aftertaste.
But fighting for the spotlight in this show, is the mac and cheese. There’s a sweetness to it that makes it totally unique. We have friends who hoard it for weeks after our visit. They even know to make excess when we’re coming. Mom and family are from Louisiana, so they put some swamp flare into the food. Greens, fried chicken, and gumbo are also menu favorites. Our group is too big to fit in their tiny storefront, so every year they open up the storage room next door and let us set up tables and chairs! It’s amazing, eating between shelves full of Crisco and cake mix. It creates a special atmosphere that no one else gets to experience, and that’s southern hospitality at its best.
Hambone’s BBQ and Po’Boys – Bellflower, CA
Last year was our first time visiting Hambone’s, and it couldn’t be more worth the drive! There is some kind of magic going on in that kitchen that we’ve been thinking about all year. The Combination Platters are the best way to experience everything here. They’re basically catering tins full of links, pulled pork, ribs, and brisket, all swimming in delicious, slightly-sweet sauce. Bring your friends, pitch in, and go to town! The meat has some very special flavors that captured our memories, but the peach cobbler was almost the most unique. It’s like the best Georgia peaches you’ve ever tasted got together with a cinnamon roll and created a delicious, gooey baby. It’s addictive. They have a big back patio with heaters and televisions, great for watching football. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, they switched on the radio and cranked some Mariah Carey slow jams. Heaven truly is a place on earth.
Kansas City BBQ Company – North Hollywood, CA
This place (formerly located in Toluca Lake) is run by brother and sister Nabeel and Shireen Kort. They’ve been at the Magnolia location for a few years now, and are constantly improving the place. The bar they added on makes it a great hangout for locals. Most importantly though, the food and service are amazing. I’ve never seen slow-cooked food move so fast! A lot of BBQ fanatics look down upon the humble sandwich, but these guys do it right: Sliced pork layered between three (three!) pieces of good ol’ white bread, stacked high and spiced just right. All of their meat has a spiciness to it that can take a back seat to sweeter sauces, but they’ve found some magical algorithm for combining sweet and spicy perfectly. The hot links get special mention here, because they up that spicy quality without sacrificing flavor.
Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ – Southeast Region
Okay, so Sonny’s is a chain. But it’s also the birthplace of Meat Week itself. Sonny’s first opened up in Gainesville, Florida, and then spread throughout the state, and eventually up through Georgia and a little beyond. Both of us grew up eating at Sonny’s once a week or more, and it really fostered our BBQ obsessions from an early age. When we met at college in Tallahassee, we both missed that warm feeling of gathering over great BBQ and bonding with friends and family. That’s a big part of what spawned the whole Meat Week idea, so naturally we began our holiday at the birthplace of our love for BBQ: Sonny’s. Although the menu is ever-expanding to include new sauces and different rubs, the sliced pork and sliced beef at Sonny’s are the standouts. They’re so tender, full of smokey flavor, and always sliced perfectly thin. Pile ‘em on the garlic bread with Sonny’s Sweet Sauce for a flavor explosion that’ll make you slap your mama. They’re experimenting with some new rubs, but their classic pork ribs have a flavorful stickiness to the bark that lingers long after they’re gone.
And the sauces. Oh, the sauces! There’s Original Mild, Smokin’, Mustard, Sizzlin’ Sweet, and the mother of all: Sonny’s Sweet Sauce. This is the sauce that haunts our dreams. Since we can’t get to Sonny’s out here in Cali, we buy gallons of Sweet Sauce from their website. It’s measured out and treasured for as long as we can make it last. It’s a holy grail constantly sitting on the counter, reminding us of what awaits us on our next trip back south.
Low Country Dining – Marion, NC
This is Chris’s father’s restaurant, which he opened in 2010 after years of making BBQ for other people. Mike Cantey has been in the restaurant and catering business with the rest of the Cantey family for decades, and BBQ’d meats have always been at the core. Western North Carolina knows him well.
Mike is inventing new types of brisket over here, including a garlic and rosemary brisket. The meat just falls apart and melts in your mouth while delivering a complex, amazing flavor that’s just outside of the usual range of BBQ tastes. His pulled pork is classic North Carolina style, with a sweet vinegar kick and just as much tenderness as the incredible brisket. All of the sides here are to die for, including the fried green tomatoes and tomato pie, made with fresh local tomatoes. An important addition and HUGE seller recently added to the menu is the banana pudding, based on Chris Cantey’s own personal recipe! Chris has been making this banana pudding for years, and we can’t keep it on the table. No matter how much he makes, it disappears in no time. Like BBQ father, like BBQ son!”
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