“It’s not shrimp on the barbie, its Texas style ’cue so it takes a little while!”
Kevin Bludso, or the ‘King of Barbecue’ as he has been dubbed, is renowned across the world for his authentic Texan-style barbecue. Literally ‘straight outta Compton’, the third-generation tong master started learning his craft at the age of nine before going on to create a legacy – Bludso’s BBQ. With restaurants in Compton, Hollywood and now Melbourne (San Antone by Bludso’s BBQ at Crown Melbourne), Kevin has his hands full, but we had a chance to speak to the man behind the meat and chat about all things barbecue.
What was it like growing up between Compton, California; and Corsicana, Texas? What were some of the differences between the city and country?
It was cool. I had the best of both worlds. Compton is cool. It’s the city, so of course it’s 100 miles an hour and they got the good, they got the bad. It’s the melting pot, the concrete jungle, but then I would go to Corsicana, which is the country. My granny lived on about a half acre out there and we used to walk and go fishing. You walk in Compton and you see police and there are houses right next to each other, but then you go to Texas and you’re able to see the stars at night and people wave at you every day. It was just mellow and I enjoyed that.
How did your granny teach you to barbecue, in the beginning?
She made it just amazing – the way she would barbecue, out there with her music playing, having a drink, kicking back – and I just wanted to be with her while she was doing it. She took so much pride in it. And then she just slowly started showing me things, like how to light a fire, how to keep a fire going. She’d get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to cook for the family and I would get up with her because the room I slept in was right by the kitchen. I wouldn’t trade those days for a million dollars, maybe for two million [laughs].
You worked as a Correctional Officer in LA after you graduated college, what made you decide to start Bludso’s BBQ?
I worked as a correctional officer in a prison for 13 years and when I was working there I catered a lot and did a lot of cooking. Everyone would say how good the food was and told me I needed to start catering, and open up a restaurant.
So later on down the line, you know, things happen for a reason. When I left there I started catering a whole lot and that eventually took us into the restaurant, took us into Bludso’s and its been going ever since. You gotta give the people what they want!
Why did you choose Compton as the place to open your first restaurant?
I mean it was right there and I was known there. There was such a need for some real good barbecuing in the area. So we opened it and the timing was right. It’s the age of the foodie and foodies go everywhere these days; they don’t let crime or stigmas stop them going to eat. So we had all kinds of people come in to eat and I met people from all over the world that came to Compton and really got a different view of the city.
A lot of times people just go by what they see on TV, but the city’s nothing like people want you to believe it is. It has its problems but what urban area doesn’t? One of the things I loved was when people would come in and write a review and say, “Compton’s not as bad as I thought it was.” They received good food and a lesson!
You’ve had lots of recognition since you opened the first Bludso’s BBQ in Compton. What’s it like being a celebrity chef of sorts?
I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s what I really want to do! I love doing the TV stuff and meeting people, getting the brand out there and going different places – I do a lot with Bar Rescue and a few other things – I like it and it’s good for the brand. Especially when I’m in Australia, people say “I saw you on Bar Rescue, I saw you on this…” I try to mention Australia as much as I can cause it’s a part of the family now and you’ve gotta keep the family close.
Your restaurants in America are incredibly popular. Why did you choose Melbourne as your first venture outside of America?
Melbourne chose us – the guys from Crown came and did a barbecue tour and went to all kinds of restaurants in the United States. But they chose Bludso’s to come and represent ‘down under’ and we’re glad! We appreciate it.
How has San Antone by Bludso’s BBQ been received by Australians?
I think it’s pretty good. We had to educate a lot of people at first on how we do it – slow and low – it’s not shrimp on the barbie, its Texas style ’cue so it takes a little while! But once they got what we’re doing I think it’s pretty good. The reviews are really good, and they’re getting better every day.
So Bludso’s is all about taking the time to do things ‘slow and low’?
Taking the time, that’s what I always say. Everything is good slow and low, so take your time, get yourself a cocktail, let the wood do the work and just kick back.
What makes for a good Bludso’s brisket? How do you get it right every time?
Once you learn the slow and low, it’s gonna come out the same way every time. That’s the same part of the cow, you’re gonna cook it the same way, on the same smoker, with the same wood every time. Just keep the doors closed and let it go, let the wood do the work for 15 hours, that’s what we do.
Many of the recipes you use for Bludso’s would be family recipes, is that right?
Yeah, we have the third generation rubs and all of that but like on our brisket, we just use good old-fashioned salt and pepper. There’s nothing secret about what we do with our brisket, we let the wood do all the work.
How have you had to adapt your recipes to Australian meats and ingredients?
We did, and that’s why it took a minute before we approved everything. Like when we first cooked pig over here – everything’s in shape, even your pigs are in shape! I’d never seen a lean pig with no fat on it, so we we’re like, “What the hell, is this pig running a marathon or something?” It was crazy, so we had to adapt to that. A lot of the seasons are different and the wood is different, so that’s where my partner Noah Galuten came in and helped me out a whole lot. We think we came up with some pretty good plans that are almost equal to what we do in America. And that’s what we want.
Do you have any tips for aspiring barbecuers?
Just take your time; it’s not that serious. People get caught up with TV stuff and get paranoid when they’re cooking a piece of meat, just chill and cook like you cook in a kitchen. So take the time, learn your smoker, learn which woods work and learn what you like. I guarantee if you like it, your friends are gonna like it and that’s the first step. And just picking out the right piece of meat – if you pick a good meat and cook it right, you’re gonna have a good dinner. How you start is how you finish, always.
You can read more about Kevin Bludso and his Melbourne venue, San Antone by Bludso’s BBQ, in our upcoming publication Flavours of Melbourne. Kevin Bludso’s barbecue specialties will be on show at the Yak Barbecue Festival.