Chef and owner of Los Angeles restaurant Slab Barbecue, Burt Bakman, is trying to catch the city’s reputation for barbecue up to the likes of southern states like Texas. “The LA barbecue scene is really at its infancy,” he says. “The type of barbecue culture that they have in Texas, they don’t have here. There’s no reason why California cannot become its own barbecue region.”
Slab serves all the barbecue classics: spare ribs, smoked chicken, brisket, brisket burgers, and sides like mac and cheese. But Bakman embraces experimentation. “Around Texas, you go around different places, you see a lot of people are really doing things the same,” says Bakman. “We change it up, we find some kind of a spice, we’ll introduce it, we’ll try something here that we like. We’re not married to one thing.”
Slab also deviates from tradition by operating as a steakhouse in the evenings, where a standout dish is a steak au poivre with a pepper sauce. Bakman covers a piece of Australian wagyu with the same rub that goes on the brisket and puts it in the smoker, until it’s around 115 degrees, letting it rest before he puts it on the grill. He then puts the steak on the grill above some hot charcoal, cooking it to around 125 degrees, until it’s soft. To serve it, he puts down a layer of a pepper sauce he made and puts cut up slices of the steak on top of the sauce with french fries around it.
“This dish is where we want to see our place go moving forward, playing with more fire, playing with more meat,” says Bakman.
The next step is to create a unique seasoning for the restaurant’s steaks. “We have so many different ideas for different things that we want to do,” says Bakman. “Something different that will excite our usual guests, our neighbors, our friends, for them to come and have a different experience.”
Barbecue in LA is not without its challenges, though. For instance, the municipality does not allow Slab to have more than one small smoker, which means the restaurant’s chefs are on a tight rotation of putting ribs in the smoker, then chicken, and then the brisket, all back to back; they get started around 7 a.m. to be ready for the 11:30 a.m. service. “We have to go in shifts. We only have one small smoker, that’s all we can work with,” says Bakman. “So, it’s either this or no barbecue.”