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Maple Block Meat Co.

The Best Brisket in California

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It’s my job to travel this great country—and parts outside Texas—looking for notable barbecue joints. But searching for good brisket in California can feel like waiting for a cool September day in Texas: both exist, but mainly in theory. After making my way through a solid Southern California itinerary a couple months back, I enjoyed the original Compton branch of Bludso’s and Studio City’s Barrel & Ashes. They were solid finds on opposite ends of the atmosphere spectrum, but neither restaurant’s brisket made a strong impression. It’s as it’s meant to be, I thought. California has sunshine and great wine—they’re not supposed to have great brisket too.

Then last week I walked into a month-old newbie in Culver City called Maple Block Meat Co. From the get-go, I knew something was different. In Texas, cutting barbecue is performance art. The person wielding the knife holds the power as customers bark their order across the counter. It’s a way of advertising the day’s wares, as well as providing the opportunity for gustatory discourse. How else would they know that you like to gnaw on the shriveled end rib they planned to toss? In California, that sort of service isn’t normally employed. Diners are more than comfortable to select from their menu at the table, and let all of the meat cutting happen out of sight in the kitchen. What ends up on the plate can be cruel surprise.

That’s why it was so refreshing to find that Maple Block takes orders at the register, adjacent to the cutting block, where I spied a glistening mound of smoked meat. The browned skin of a turkey breast that was pretty enough for a Thanksgiving table clued me in that I’d be getting the whole menu. They just began dinner service that includes chops and steaks, but for lunch it’s a choice of that turkey, pulled pork, chicken, pork ribs, and, of course, brisket.

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Excitement built as I watched the jet black brisket jiggle on the block. During a momentary glance into the kitchen, I spied J&R wood smokers built in Texas, then my gaze returned to the knife as it glided through the fatty end of the brisket. Juicy slices piled up on the block. I love fatty brisket, but the lean side looked great as well. Can I get a couple slices of that, too? Some swift flicks of the knife followed a quick nod from the knife man. For a moment, I thought I was in Texas, then my housemade ginger soda with a basil garnish arrived.

It was obvious the Maple Block folks had done their Texas research. Then I learned that chef Adam Cole (I guess they don’t call them pitmasters in L.A.) is originally from Texas. They did in fact travel as a team around the Lone Star State, and I’d recognize the trick of dipping the sliced turkey into a vat of melted butter any day. That’s a Franklin Barbecue signature. It helps that the turkey was already juicy with a delicate smokiness from peach wood. Skip the barbecue sauce and dip this bird into the vibrant green chimichurri.

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But ok, back to the brisket: I can confidently say that Maple Block Meat Co. serves smoked brisket that would hold up in Texas. (I went back the next day just to confirm my findings.) The crust was well defined by smoke, salt, and pepper, and the texture was perfect. Slices pulled apart easily without disintegrating under their own weight. There was a balance of beefiness and smokiness, and the fatty nuggets from the end cuts had the intense flavor of Texas brisket. I had found my barbecue home away from home.

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The rest of the menu was great, too. Large but thin pork spare ribs had good smoke and came easily away from the bone without falling off. Some sweetness in the rub rounded out the pulled pork, and the chicken was moist with crisp skin. That’s all great, but it was the brisket that knocked me back.

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A few hours later, as I downed one of Maple Block’s sugar-coated hand pies at the airport, I pondered my two days of barbecue consumption in Los Angeles. I wrote last week about the incredible brisket from the pit of Adam Perry Lang. Then, with this revelation in Culver City I realized I had found the best brisket in California twice in one trip. If you want to get a taste of that smoked magic in a restaurant, you’ll have to get to Maple Block, and ask the knife man for a slice of the fatty.

Maple Block Meat Co.
3973 Sepulveda Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230

This story originally ran on the the Los Angeles Magazine food blog, The Digest.

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  • Vito T

    Thank you Daniel, I’ll try it for myself, and as always great job!

  • Ken Goldenberg

    It’s nice to see Southern California coming in strong with great BBQ. We’ve had our share of BBQ restaurants over the years, but most are along the lines of Kansas City style – Johnny Rebs, Lucille’s – small-medium chains more like Famous Dave’s (also so here) and County Line than anything else. Interesting to note, that even out here it is the central Texas style that is now favored. But that makes sense because California’s own BBQ – Santa Maria Tri Tip, is similar in that it’s very basic with little to no sauce.
    I have to get up to some of those places, but being that I live in south Orange County, it’s a bit of a trek up to LA area (and not a fun commute!). However, I recently had the best central Texas style BBQ since visiting Austin 2 years ago… Of all places in LEGOLAND in Carlsbad! Yep… Legoland, a theme park basically made for kids under 10! At the “Knight’s Smokehouse” (where they use to serve generic BBQ) they’ve got smoky brisket, pulled pork and jalapeno-cheese sausage all cooked up on a J&R Oyler smoker using oak and hickory. Seems they sent a team out to Austin area to do research to get it right… And they did in a big way! It was nearly as good as La Barbeque & Franklin…Amazing!

  • Scott S.

    Thank you for bringing this new establishment to my attention. The brisket looks fantastic.

    And to Ken G. – next time we are judging together, you will have to explain to me why on earth you would even consider trying BBQ at LEGOLAND (even if it was good, the fact you tried it means you must be punished…)

    • Ken Goldenberg

      Scott – Well to be honest, it was time to eat and we were near that restaurant where we have eaten before over the years and it used to have a variety of items. Got in line and saw that they changed their menu. Prices seemed high, but kids eat free after 5pm, so why not. I got the brisket plate and on the kids meal we got pulled pork, along with a couple of sides we would share everything. After we took bites of the brisket and pork my wife and I just looked at each other basically in disbelief! I hope they keep this up and according to their media person they intend to, so we’ll see. Take care Scott and hope to see you soon!

  • Ron

    We sorely need some decent barbecue here in the Bay Area. We’ve got nothing but gas fired, hidden by sauce BBQ up here. Thanks for the tip on Maple Block Meat Co.

  • Mel W

    We are in short supply of this delicious fare in St Petersburg Florida. Perhaps in time you can come to the Southeast? Until then I will have to visit you in Culver City! Great success Daniel.

  • Maple Block and LEGOLAND Carlsbad use pits built by J&R Manufacturing in Mesquite Texas