I finally got the chance to meet up with Neil Strawder from Bigmista’s Barbecue Catering and try his BBQ. I have been friends with him for a while now(via twitter, facebook, and emails) but having moved up to Ventura it was difficult to coordinate.
I got to the farmer’s market early so I could have a chance to talk with Neil and meet his crew (today it was Blondie his other bbq partner in crime and ‘rib whisperer).
Prior to sitting down together he plated me up what he called ‘the big ass meat plate’ (brisket, pulled pork, ribs, red hots, and turkey). There was also some Pig Candy which I’ll get into later. From the first few minutes it was apparent that Neil took BBQ very seriously and was excited about competing this year around California and at some events outside of the state. He seemed really happy with his profession and we joked about BBQ excursions he had been on as well as BBQ people that we both knew (I did less talking as I was stuffing myself with great BBQ).
Here’s some background information: Bigmista’s Barbecue is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Neil and Phyllis Strawder. He would cook lunches that Phyllis would then deliver to places like Kaiser, Wells Fargo (Neil’s last employer) and LACOE (Phyllis’ employer). It really started out as a way for Neil to raise money for barbecue competitions he started doing back in 2006. The idea to compete in the first place came from the great guys Neil met on the BBQ Brethren Forum. After posting, reading and finding community on the site, Neil decided he wanted a smoker. At the time the Strawders lived in a two-bedroom apartment, UPSTAIRS, with a balcony. Phyllis, being the supportive and understanding wife that she is, said sure. As competitions produced awards, so came more request for Neil’s signature barbecue
In November of 2008, Neil and Phyllis decided to make Bigmista’s Barbecue official. Instead of opening a brick-and-mortar eatery, the Strawders started vending at the Watts Farmer’s Market. With plans to grow slowly, they hit the road crawling. They discovered that trying to sell barbecue during Thanksgiving and Christmas was a bad idea but haung in there, wanting to see if people would like their food enough to buy it on a regular basis. They hoped that if things went well enough, Neil would be able to leave his job in August of 2009. By February 2009, Bigmista was in five markets and Neil turned in his resignation without any regrets.
So how was the BBQ? That’s what’s really important. Like any BBQ establishment, there are going to be people saying they love it and those who hate it. I had heard that early on it was inconsistent. Really great some days and just OK others. That makes sense when you get written up in the Los Angeles Times the week before the 4th of July and really haven’t slowed down since (and he was on a little show called BBQ Pitmasters). But a few of my bbq friends had eaten there over the last six months and were becoming part of the Bigmista faithful.
I can say that from my visit, his BBQ was spot on. The pulled pork was moist and was cooked perfectly. The brisket (my favorite meat) was really juicy and smokey (but not too smokey). I think though my favorite item were the ribs. They were huge, exquisitely cooked, and had TONS of flavor. The turkey was REALLY quite fantastic and something I actually crave when writing this (funny thing is I never really order turkey at a BBQ Joint as most people overcook it). I liked the red hots, but there wouldn’t be my first choice in terms of his meats.
It was my first time trying Pig Candy and if you haven’t tried it, this is a treat you’re in for (and almost worth the visit alone). It’s basically bacon kicked up ten notches (smokey, spicy, slightly sweet). I could have eaten an entire block of this.
One of my favorite items is also a new item. It’s called a Pulled Pork Parfait. It’s essentially mashed potatoes, pulled pork, and bbq sauce, but when it’s served up in a parfait cup and eat it with a fork, you feel like you’re eating something special. Great work with this item.
The only side I got to try was the cole slaw, but again, they’ve knocked it out of the park with this one. You could definitely taste the southern bent with apple cider vinegar, but the interesting element was unexpected…pineapple. It really works well with it and can see how it would be tasty on his pulled pork sandwich.
If you want to sample some of his BBQ yourself (and you should), here the times and locations:
SUNDAY | 10AM – 2PM – Atwater Village
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TUESDAY | 8AM – 1PM – Torrance
SATURDAY | 8AM – 1PM – Torrance
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FRIDAY | 3PM – 7PM – Echo Park
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