Kevin Bludso’s barbecue is Corsican’s most famous thing this side of fruitcake, even though it’s mostly served in California.
The 57-year-old pitmaster was born and raised in Compton, but at a very young age he began spending summers in his father’s hometown of Corsicana, the Texas town southeast of Dallas that is mostly known for her cheerleading squad and bakery accounting diversions. . It was there that Bludso learned to smoke meat under the tutelage of his “grandmother” (actually his great-aunt), Willie Mae Fields. Years later, after playing football at Bishop College in Dallas and spending thirteen years as a prison officer in California, he rekindled his passion for barbecue, eventually using Granny’s original pit with a Dallas Cowboys star. above. Bludso’s BBQ, which opened in Compton in 2008, was hailed by Daniel Vaughn as “the best brisket I’ve eaten in California” and was also a favorite of the late Los-based critic Jonathan Gold. Angeles. In 2013, Bludso followed it up with the more upscale Bludso’s Bar and Que in Hollywood, along with several other locations.
In 2016, Bludso closed the original Compton location, after plans for what was originally meant to be a renovation – and then a new location – didn’t quite pan out. But it also allowed him to live in Corsica for the first time as an adult, while still occasionally traveling to restaurants (in addition to Hollywood, there are satellites of Bludso in an LA food hall and a Australian casino) and for concerts on television (from Netflix The American barbecue test and Paramount Network rescue bar). He allows himself the luxury of no longer working 150 hours a week and cooking only when he wants to. These days, if he’s up at 5 a.m. and cooking, that means he’s enjoying the Texas sunrise and a view of the Richland-Chambers Reservoir for a pop-up at Harbor Restaurant, which belongs to friends. Bludso jokes that his new role model is Tootsie Tomanetz from Snow’s BBQ, except “I don’t even want to be once a week,” he says. “I’ll just be once a month!”
And now, just in time for summer, he’s released his first cookbook, Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook: A Family Affair in Smoke and Soul (Ten speed press). It includes all of Bludso’s smoked meat wisdom, including recipes for brisket, ribs, pulled pork and oxtail, plus two types of sauces and all the usual accompaniments. There’s also fried seafood, holiday favorites and barbecue riffs like smoked oxtail birria (which also requires pork feet and pork jowls), smoked pork pho (a recipe of Atlanta pitmaster Rasheed Philips, the winner of American barbecue showdown), and Bludso’s personal twist on Rockefeller oysters. “Oysters Fella” can be smoked or grilled, and there’s also a recipe for grilled spare ribs that can be done in 90 minutes. Bludso says he wanted the book to work just as well for a single mom in a small New York kitchen as it does for a barbecue-obsessed Texan with fifteen hours to spare and a big backyard. He also strongly believes that barbecue can be anything people want it to be.
“As long as you throw it over an open flame with some wood in it, I’m okay with that,” he says. “I mean, I don’t disrespect him, but I don’t take it [too] serious. Some people take the barbecue a step away, like gangbanging, you know? Like they’re gonna start shooting somebody because they use a different color sauce or something! »
Bludso BBQ Cookbook is also one of the few barbecue cookbooks written by a black pit master (as he and Vaughn discussed in 2021). “It’s a good feeling that we’re there,” Bludso said. “But it’s still troubling, because I’m sure someone before me tried to write a book and couldn’t do it. I’m lucky to be able to do it and pay tribute to those who could not.
He found writing the book easier than expected. “I had no idea someone would come and fill you up with Hennessy and tell you your life story,” he jokes. “So I could write a few books now!” It helped that the “someone” was Noah Galuten, who is not only Bludso’s restaurant partner, but also a longtime food journalist and cookbook author named after James Beard. “It was his idea to write the book,” says Bludso. “And it was just because we were talking and telling stories after a long day of cooking.” In her co-author’s note, Galuten reveals that it wasn’t just cognac and chest: there were also early morning treadmill workouts and “healthy green smoothies” for the balance. “There are few better things in the world than cooking, having a few drinks and talking about s— with Kevin Bludso,” he wrote.
Bludso was moved by the number of people who are interested in his family history. The story of Willie Mae’s life and work (both legal and otherwise, as his weekend barbecue was also more or less a speakeasy) is told in full here. Granny taught Bludso about business and food, with classic advice like “the customer is always right” and “make that plate like you make it for your mother.” By the time Kevin was eleven or twelve, he was the only one Granny trusted to breastfeed him. It was because he had learned to do it like her.
“Granny used to say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” Bludso recalls. “[She’d say,] There’s nothing wrong with that chest. Your Uncle Payne made this chest. My dad made this chest. You make this chest the same way. She’d wait for me to get to town and say, “Let Kevin smoke me a brisket.” ”
It took him much longer to figure out how to replicate his sauce, a thin Texas-style dip made with brisket jus. Eventually his uncle told him. “My uncle said, ‘Granny prepares thirty or forty breasts, you idiot! You only cook one breast. You don’t get as much juice in there. ”
While Bludso’s family tree on his father’s side draws attention, his mother was also Texan, born in New Boston, outside of Texarkana. His parents are long divorced and Bludso’s mother said she should have known her father was in trouble because when they first met as teenagers in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts , he said he was ”from Dallas, Texas,’ like that was a big deal,” Bludso says. “And he was like, ‘Where are you from?’ And she said, “I’m from out of Texarkana, Texas.” And then he says: ‘I come from Corsica!’ He was trying to get a big shot from Dallas, but he knew he was from the country.
The baked banana pudding recipe below is actually from Bludso’s mother. “I’m not really a baker,” he says. “If you look at all this [dessert] section and see my name on one of them, it’s totally fraudulent. As Bludso says in the book, his mother is a private person, so it was no small feat to acquire the recipe.
“Like getting the fucking Watergate notes!” he says. “I mean, my mother. . . they are her babies, because they come from her mother, and her mother was murdered when she was very young. So those recipes, especially her cooking, are close to her heart, you know? It was tough, but she did it for me.
This banana pudding is made from scratch, topped with meringue and baked until golden, which makes the nilla wafers more doughy and the banana creamier. It can be served hot or cold, but meringue is best right after baking. “I don’t like the way it looks after a day or two,” Bludso says.
Mom’s Baked Banana Pudding
For 8 to 10 people
2 cans of 12 oz evaporated milk
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar, divided
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cooled, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 box (14 ounces) vanilla wafers
5 or 6 large ripe bananas
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Separate the eggs, put the yolks in a medium bowl and set the whites aside. Lightly beat the yolks until combined.
- In a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the evaporated milk, 2 cups sugar, flour, and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is bubbly around the edges and thickly coats the back of the spoon, 25 to 30 minutes. Whisk about ¼ cup or more of the evaporated milk mixture into the beaten egg yolks to temper them, then slowly pour the tempered eggs into the pan while whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until fully incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract until the butter melts. Transfer the pudding to a heatproof bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly against the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.
- Place a layer of vanilla wafers along the bottom and sides of a glass bowl or 2 ½ quart baking dish. Next, peel and slice the bananas and arrange one-third of the slices in a layer above the bottom wafers. Then, spoon or pour a third of the pudding over the bananas. Arrange half of the remaining vanilla wafers over the pudding layer, then top with half of the remaining banana slices, followed by half of the remaining pudding. Repeat the layers once more. Reserve in the refrigerator.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until fluffy. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. Then slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, a little at a time, and beat until you have a very firm meringue.
- Spread the meringue over the pudding, taking care to cover it completely.
- The meringue can rest above the rim of the bowl. If you have any banana slices left, you can garnish the meringue with them.
- Bake the pudding until the meringue is just golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Serve pudding hot or cool completely, cover, refrigerate and serve chilled. Leftover pudding will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Reproduced with permission from Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook: A Family Affair in Smoke and Soul. Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Bludso. Photography Copyright © 2022 by Eric Wolfinger. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.