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Check It Out: LA BBQ Fest

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Photo by Farley Elliott/LAist

While not generally synonymous, Los Angeles and barbeque food have a lot in common. Both seem to attract the eccentrics, the slightly misguided. Both have a worldwide appreciation, but not many people talk about the greasy, slimy mess that gets left behind when all else is gone. And both are responsible for a lot of bad gas issues, and a sizable hole in the ozone layer.

One of the best things about the yearly Los Angeles BBQ Festival in Santa Monica is that it really underscores a side of Southern California that is rarely seen, and never discussed outside of our own city limits; Angelenos will put down some serious grub. Sure, we’ve got taco trucks and In-N-Out and all manner of bacon wrapped products, but the trim and fit look is much more common than the traditional BBQ-er’s suspenders and gristle lips, especially in the city of Santa Monica. And ESPECIALLY at the beach.

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And yet, once a year, the best brisketeers and rib-rubbers from across the great 48 descend on the parking lot at the pier to serve up award-winning ‘que from the same smoke houses and wood pits that have been holding secret recipes for years. Carolina pulled pork shares space with Texas spareribs, both of which give way on the plate to the wonders of mac-n-cheese....oh, the mac-n-cheese....

Just walking into the crowded corner of the lot that serves as a gated Utopia to all things carnivorous, it's easy to get lost in the cacophony of smells, bellies, and belches. But don't let yourself be misguided; if you are here, it is for one reason, and that reason is your heart. You have decided you don't need it, you don't want anything to do with it, and you are going to make it's final resting place somewhere between the Baby Blues BBQ tent and the brownie bar. Welcome to the club.

It should be stressed that the only way to ride ANYWHERE is in style, and the LA BBQ Fest is no different. For a few more greenbacks, you can upgrade any normal $10 entry ticket to get the VIP Pass, which gives you all access to the meats of your choice, without waiting in lines 40 people deep. No one wants to be involved in any type of pork-related riot, so for your safety it is highly advised that you spring for the VIP Pass. Plus you get a free t-shirt, and whatever size you THINK you should get, make it an extra large. You'll need it by the time you leave, if only for a napkin.

Now, on to the food, if we may. California puts on a very respectable showing, with Bristol Farms and Baby Blues BBQ doing their things in opposite corners. They both garnered the most crowd attention, and with good reason. Bristol's chicken and vegetable skewers (a healthier yet hearty option that your waistline will thank you for) are grilled to perfection, and cooked just long enough to make the meat tender and the vegetables slightly snappy. As for Baby Blues, they do what they always do, deliver. The mac-n-cheese is so legendary even the VIP's were lined up in anticipation, with more than one saying it alone was worth the price of admission. Toss in some Memphis-style baby back ribs (being turned by a sweaty Amarillo Slim-type with an affinity for the High Life), and try to grab a table to chow down. The operative word is 'try'.

A word of warning: if you come alone and are NOT a VIP, be prepared to wait in several lines. The drinks line (a single tent) is the longest of the festival, and can really be a killer when all you want to do is down some real country cookin'. If you come with a group, it's suggested that you break into search parties, with one in charge of seating, one of drinks, and another band of brothers flanking out towards the periphery, where the meat-venders reside. However you happen to handle your own situation, don't let yourself be dissuaded by the crowds. If the food was so good they got it sponsored and created a festival to honor it, you know it's got to be worth the wait. You're sure as hell not there for the Johnny Cash cover band that apparently only knows "Boy Named Sue." So pack some sunscreen, some cash (plates are $10 each at any BBQ stand), and a wallet full of Wet-Naps, because you'll need them all desperately. For any fun-time foodie, the Los Angeles BBQ Festival is a great way to keep it simple, nosh on some coveted comestibles, and contract a wonderful case of the meat-sweats. Again, welcome to the club.

Los Angeles BBQ Festival
At the Santa Monica Pier
Corner of Ocean / Colorado
Sunday, September 14th: 12p - 6p
$10 Admission
$10 per plate