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Kern smokes competition in Eater LA barbecue road trip list

We know we've got great barbecue — we even had a BBQ Tour of Kern County earlier this year — but now it seems L.A. knows it, too.

While most culinary travelers heading from the Southland are in search of Basque food or tacos, now the queue may be for our ’cue. Along with a list of SoCal barbecue hot spots and a primer on Southland smokers, food news and dining guide website Eater LA just released a rundown of 21 spots it deemed worthy of a road trip outside of Los Angeles.

There's no telling how many restaurants that Eater LA's deputy editor Farley Elliott tested but in his latest list, he named five from Kern County that met his criteria.

Understandably he praises Salty's BBQ & Catering, which has certainly been a favorite among local diners. He recommends the ribs, which are smoked then given additional char on the grill.

PorkChop and Bubba's BBQ's smoked wings, pork-forward menu and "killer sides" merited a write-up but Elliott missed out on a real gem this week. The restaurant, which was unable to compete in a cook-off in Susanville last weekend due to wildfires, brought home its competition-grade Snake River Farms Gold Wagyu brisket for customers. "It's butta" was the description that the eatery shared on social media.

Elliott also slept on the insane burger creations PorkChop's seems to churn out weekly.

Speaking of getting creative, the writer enjoyed the trailer trash casserole at Angry Barnyard BBQ, along with the Big Hoss sandwich, made with brisket and pimento cheese. (All of which, coincidentally, I ordered when writing about the business opening in its 18th Street spot in 2019.)

What he failed to mention is the tomato pie, which is hands down, one of the best side dishes at any barbecue place, here or anywhere else I've tried. You can't go wrong with a Southern dish of tomatoes, mayo, Ritz crackers and cheese baked into perfection. It's possible they were sold out, or he was unaware of this not-so-hidden gastronomic gem.

Tehachapi's Red House BBQ also made the list for offering less-common meats like bison and Native American fry bread. Californian dining columnist Pete Tittl loved the smokiness of the meats when he visited in 2019 and also recommended the cheddar-rich mac and cheese, either as is or on Fridays, when it's mixed with the chili from the week.

The drive to Tehachapi from Bakersfield is about 45 minutes so that's a mini road trip in itself, but worth it. (Also stop in at Kohnen's Bakery. No barbecue there, but the German bakery always merits a mention.)

About a half-hour away from town is Buttonwillow's Willow Ranch, the last Kern spot to make the Eater LA list, this time for its mesquite barbecue.

Again, maybe sandwiches were not worthy of Elliott's ranking, but Willow Ranch has a doozy: the Plow Boy, its signature sandwich that's piled high with mesquite-smoked brisket, pastrami, bacon, pepper jack cheese, onion rings and grilled jalapeños on a French roll and smothered in chipotle sauce. Bring your appetite, bring a friend or bring your last will and testament.

In all his driving, it seems Elliott missed stopping in Taft, where Roots Eatery is turning out Santa Maria-style barbecue closer to home. It seems brisket is king there on Fridays, going into a bowl with cheesy Ortega cornbread, a grilled cheese, a Philly cheesesteak, cheddar burger and even burnt end nachos. 

If you're hitting the road before summer ends, check out Elliott's other destinations spots at la.eater.com/maps/best-california-barbecue-restaurants-outside-los-angeles.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.