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Beginning a BBQ Journey

Beginning a BBQ Journey (at Rib Ranch in Woodland Hills)

There are few cuisines that have as many admirers and heated debate as barbeque. The opinion on “what makes a good Que” is endless, with a laundry list of reasons why or why not one is better then the other. Whether it be region, animal choice, method of sauce application, etc., there will always be die hard BBQ fans. I have not been one of those people, though I don’t blame myself.

I blame what I and the rest of the general population have been exposed to. My family fired up the bbq plenty of times sure, but as I’m learning this isn’t barbequing this is grilling. BBQ is low and slow. What most Americans refer to as barbequing involves a lot less care and patience. My sole exposure to the terribleness that is Tony Roma’s did not help matters either.

Luckily as a foodie I am willing to try new things and have decided to be more “barbeque friendly.” I won’t automatically shoot passed messy ribs assuming I’ll hate them. I want to become an expert in all things barbeque and actually be one of the many who have a stone to throw in the “what makes a good Que” debate based on actual knowledge and not just chain restaurants or family bbq’s.

Rib Ranch in Woodland Hills was my first stop and it’s conveniently located in Woodland Hills. Just head south on Topanga passed the row of suburban homes and stop at the little house that looks like a log cabin. If that’s not enough of a clue for you the large black smoker on their small front patch of lawn makes passing by idiot-proof.

On this breezy and cool Sunday Jenn and I took a seat at one of the few patio tables. They do have dining inside as part of a somewhat larger wood-to-wood dining area but eating BBQ outdoors felt right on this lazy day.

The menu is broken into BBQ sandwiches (I’m morbidly curious about the pastrami), salads, and “deluxe” sections that involve the reason why I came; just BBQ and none of this bread or lettuce business. I have read good things about their BBQ tri-tip sandwich, even their hotdog, but I was on a mission. For me it was either the Eastern Baby Back Pork Ribs, the Black Angus Beef Ribs, the BBQ Chicken, or the BBQ Tri-Tip.

Jenn and I split the “Rib Ranch Two-Step” ($16.95) that allows you to choose two of those plus two sides. Since I'm middle of the road when it comes to pork or beef we decided to compare and contrast the baby back and the beef ribs. For sides we randomly picked baked beans and the steak fries. I wasn't there for the sides.

Knowing that real BBQ takes time I was wondering how long a wait it would be from ordering to table. For us it took about fifteen or so minutes. Was the quickness of delivery a bad sign? Looking at the two thick beef ribs, dark red pork ribs, scoop of BBQ beans and handful of fries I sure hoped not.

Before jumping in I squirted some of their signature sauce on one of the fries to get a taste. It was sweet and slightly peppered. I enjoyed the sauce but Jenn didn’t care for the sweetness. The steak fry was cooked crisp on the outside and soft within. This is the way I ordinarily like my fries but eaten without the sauce they were just unsalted potatoes. For me the fries were only meant for sauce transportation. Still they were better then the overly sugared baked beans that left me reaching for water.

Now on to the actual solid stuff I started with the pork ribs on top of the meat pile. For most of the experience they were tender and pulled off the bone easily though I did encounter some unevenness. There was a faint taste of smokiness and a more dominant sweet flavor that was only a step above in intensity. These were fine, better then Tony Roma’s, but nothing to fall out of chair into a pool of BBQ smiles for.

Next I moved onto the beef. If Rib Ranch bills itself as more “Texas Style” where beef grazes in just about everyone’s hearts these should be good right? Sorry to burst your Texas bubble but these were not so fabulous.

Difficult to pull off the bone, tough, and way too chewy, it was obvious that our ribs were not cooked long enough. Had these been slowly cooked over a long period of time they would have been tender fall off the bone. I left my bland beef rib unfinished and polished off the better pork ribs.

I don’t think “Rib Ranch” will win any contests for BBQ ribs (maybe BBQ sauce), but as a first stop as part of my BBQ education it was great at setting the bar. I have an opinion now! The service was attentive and the pricing was about right, but if the best part of a BBQ joint is the sauce then something is amiss. The experience wasn’t a total wash though. I know I will be back to try the sandwiches, the tri-tip, and the chicken only because I’m willing to keep trying. If ribs aren’t the “Rib Ranch” strong suit then maybe their other options will fair better. In the very least I walked away knowing that if someone asked me where to go, between here or Tony Roma’s, I’d say here quicker then you can say grilling.

Photos at:
Famished L.A.
http://famishedla.blogspot.com

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Rib Ranch Barbeque
4923 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

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  1. Wow, a BBQ journey across LA. I am both impressed and interested in reading the results of your research. Never having been to Rib Ranch I can now cross them off my list without making the pilgrimage to Woodland Hills. And as an aside, naming anything to do with food a whatever have you “...Two-Step” is most unfortunate. ;-D>

    3 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      Thanks for the encouragement Servog. I figure Rib Ranch sets a pretty good distance parameter and now I'll work my way eastward. I'll do the usual hits like Dr. Hoggly Woggly's in Van Nuys, but what I'm really hoping for are the finds that no one else knows about yet.

      It's a tough sauced, smoky, or dry rubbed path but I'm up for it.

      1. re: ReelMike84

        if you value your taste buds... please..... stay away from hoggly wogglys......

        it's a travesty of a tragedy done to poor unsuspecting meat.........

        1. re: missliisa

          Having moved to Sherman Oaks in 1978 we loved Hogy Wogly's, and would order a ton of food to go and bring it home. It fed us for many days.

          Unfortunately, it is now a shadow of it's former self. I heard it was sold a few years back and that, as we all know, can be the kiss of death for quality.

          We still go occassionaly and we find it hit/miss. The Briskett which we loved has gone considerably downhill, now fatty and lacks the flavor of days of old. I still like their Beef Ribs, Spare Ribs and Chicken. But still, it's just not what it used to be, which was fantastic.

          Note, it's not nearly as crowded as it used to be, another sign of diminising quality.

          Very sad.

    2. I am a BBQ lover as well, and have done my fair share of journeying through LA trying to find the best, and my top 3 are Phillips, KC BBQ and Bludso's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mdpilam

        Then be have mpilam for I will be doing both KC BBQ and Bludso's this month. Philips I will be going to, just not sure when.

      2. A great journey to make as there are so many variations and subtleties to explore. Unless you absolutely insist on getting sauced BBQ, I recommend ordering the meat, ribs, etc, with the sauce on the side so you can see the quality of the smoke on the meat before it gets hidden by the sauce. Some places roast the meat and sauce it up which really misses the fantastic process of smoking the meat. Best of luck to you.

        FYI, you may want to add Old Fashion Flavor BBQ on Western south of Century Blvd to your list. They make some of the best spare ribs I've had in the LA area.

        18 Replies
        1. re: mrshankly

          You have chosen a daunting quest, and one which will reward you with lots of accolades and criticisms. You put 20 people in a room and give them the same BBQ and you’ll get 20 opinions, and everyone thinks they’re right!!!

          I’m going to list some places for you to try, with a brief comment by each, but of course, this is nowhere near a complete list, just a quickie off the top of my palate.

          JV’s Calabasas – Small family run place, okay, not a destination place though.

          Willie’s Smokehouse Agoura Hills – Nice setting, overpriced and the Q is just fair

          Wood Ranch Agoura Hills – Somewhat corporate but we like it, at least it’s consistent and they have a good menu selection, nice atmosphere and good drinks. Q is not the best but it always satisfies.

          BBQ King Woodland Hills – Just down the street from Rib Ranch, newly opened, look for reviews on CH.

          Grandpa Fred’s Woodland Hills – I like this place, very casual, some reviews on CH.

          Valley BBQ Van Nuys – Not my idea of BBQ, but if you’re in the area it will temporarily cure your need for Q.

          Moms Van Nuys – Everyone on CH likes this place, I tried it many years ago and wasn’t impressed. I guess I like fancier atmosphere. Maybe to go???

          Bear Pit Van Nuys – Used to eat here years ago, too smoky for me, gave it up long ago.
          Do some searching on CH for reviews of these places and the others I don’t have time to cover..

          Good Q’ing!!!

          1. re: LesThePress

            Wait! The Bear Pit?!?! is this the same Bear Pit chain that's been around for decades that sells small, fried potatoes as a side??? I remember going to The Bear Pit in Glendale almost 20 years ago until they closed down. It would be nice and nostalgic to go back to the Bear Pit after all of these years.

            1. re: mrshankly

              As far as I know the Bear Pit in Mission Hills is a stand alone and not relatated to any other place. I grew up (if you could call it that) in Glendale and I don't remember any place by this name. Where was it?

              1. re: mrshankly

                "It would be nice and nostalgic to go back to the Bear Pit after all of these years."

                Take a jug of water, if you do, mrshankly. In fact, take two. I'm about halfway through my own BBQ survey and had dinner at the Bear Pit on Monday. All the meat on the large combination plate was extremely dried out and mostly unpalatable. It may have great nostalgic value, but the 2009 Bear Pit won't make my final cut for a revisit.

                1. re: sbritchky

                  Oh no! That's terrible to hear... definitely not the Bear Pit I remember.

                  LesThePress, the Bear Pit in Glendale was right across the street from City Hall on Glendale Ave. It's a Chinese restaurant now and it shares a parking lot with a Trader Joe's.

                  I guess I can cross that trip down nostalgia lane off of my list. Thanks for the update though!

                  1. re: mrshankly

                    I'm afraid to say I was mistaken. I did a little research (which I should have done first) and found the history of the Bear Pit:

                    http://bearpitbbq.com/history

                    So it looks like they were indeed related. I went from kindergarden through Glendale College in Glendale, actually used to live near City Hall for a few years and just can't remember this place.

                    I have searched everywhere an can find no other reference to the Glendale location being in existence now.

                    Do you remember what year(s) you went?

                    1. re: LesThePress

                      I used to go in the late 70's and early 80's. Wow... I just noticed they sell tater tots by the quart. I'm tempted.

                      1. re: mrshankly

                        I went today for lunch and got the spare rib dinner. It came with three of the tater tots, I ate half of one, it came with baked beans, I took a bite and rinsed my mouth out. And the ribs, bleh. So disappointing!

                        1. re: trojans

                          (sigh) So sad to see the magic is gone from that place. Thanks for the report.

              2. re: LesThePress

                I used to LOVE Wood Ranch...such great tri -tip.

                I tried it last month at the Grove and was really disappointed... the flavor was gone from teh meat (which was tender enough) and there was ALOT of corn syrup in the sauce... I don't think it used to be that way,.....

                the peanut slaw with vinagrette is still killer though.

                1. re: missliisa

                  First off, any place in the Grove will disappoint. The one in Agoura Northridge and the original in Moorpark are the best (haven't tried the one in Camarillo) are the best.

                  Try it again, order the beef ribs well done, very very good.

                2. re: LesThePress

                  have you been to Grandpa Fred's recently, I thought it closed, maybe I'm wrong.

                  Anyhow, I heard before that the Beef Ribs are really great over here.

                  www.moviefoodie.wordpress.com

                  1. re: kevin

                    Grandpa Fred's is still open (11a - 8p). I haven't been there since moving from West Hills but it was really good when I used to go there.

                3. re: mrshankly

                  Funny you should mention mrshankly about the sauce on the side. I was just thinking the other day that when I do go to all these places I really should get the sauce on the side so I can really taste the meat. Then I could add sauce myself. But I wonder would this affect the overall outcome? If they're saucing on the que isn't that supposed to be part of the finished product?

                  Thanks for the tip on Old Fashion Flavor BBQ as well. It's on the list now!

                  1. re: ReelMike84

                    Some places sauce it up as part of the preparation. They'll let you know if they can't separate it and you take it for what it is. The smoking process is such a critical part of the taste that getting a taste and look at the smoke results (smoke ring, bark, etc) is recommended so you can appreciate the work these places put into their BBQ. Old Fashion, for example, serves the sauce on the side to begin with because their smoking process is so tasty.

                    I second what LesThePress said about differing tastes for BBQ. What may be great to your tastes may be unacceptable to others. Don't get discouraged or think you're on the wrong track... BBQ is varied and appeals to all in different ways. Let us know how it goes!!!

                    1. re: mrshankly

                      Don't forget Jay Bee's, the Phillip's chain (it's now a triplet, original locale in Leimert Park, just off of 43rd and Crenshaw), Mother's BBQ on Imperial, Bludso's in Compton, Mom's BBQ in Van Nuys, the Swinging Door BBQ in North Hollywood, Rib Nest at the corner of Western and El Segundo in Gardena, and JnJ cue on Fairfax and Adams. That should keep you plenty busy for now.

                      www.moviefoodie.wordpress.com

                      1. re: kevin

                        Wait. Didn't the Swinging Door close a few months back? http://www.foodieview.com/restaurant/.... Ate there several times though, it didn't suck.

                        1. re: Steve2 in LA

                          Yes, TheSwinging Door is indeed closed and so far there is no replacement business.

                4. Thanks for taking us on this journey, ReelMike84. Too bad the first stop was such a disappointment. The Rib Ranch used to be GREAT. It was started about 30 years ago by twin brothers who loved their Q and man, did it show. When I was a little kid, I lived down the block and my family ate there at least twice a week. It had lines down the block for their amazing ribs and chicken (and my favorite hotdog w/ slaw n' sauce). I recently went back hoping for an amazing nostalgic experience, but was sadly underwhelmed. It broke my heart, actually. I mean this place was really good. The new owners just don't have the same magic.

                  1. J R's Barbeque 3055 South La Cienega Blvd Culver City, CA 90232 is the real deal. Everything there is smoked for 12 hours. Also, Uncle Andre's, in a strip mall on Morpark west of Colfax in Studio City is mighty good. Not really smoked meet but tasty.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: EncinoSteve

                      Ribs are definitely not smoked for 12 hours and brisket would be undercooked at 12 hours.

                      1. re: trojans

                        Why don't you go there and try it. Talk to Bobby the owner. He will tell you that They smoke their meat for 12 hours.