Thursday, May 30, 2024

Long Beach BBQ Festival: Big Brian’s Meats is the melding of four generations of Mexican-American love

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As the second annual Long Beach BBQ Festival approaches its day of taking over Shoreline Aquatic Park on May 25, Longbeachize and Brian Addison have partnered with the festival to highlight some the local talent being featured at the festival. Today, we feature Big Brian’s Meats, a Lakewood-based grillin’ popup that melds Mexican-American traditions with the love of the almighty grill.

The story of Big Brian’s Meats, as with most Latino food businesses, starts in the kitchen of his mother and abuela

For chef and grillmaster Brian Rodriguez—whose barbecue popup and catering business Big Brian’s Meats kicked off in 2022—like many Mexican-Americans, his journey into food began in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother.

“I’m fourth generation Mexican-American—and that is something I am genuinely proud of,” Brian said. “I am not dismissive of the fact that I am a bit removed from direct Mexican culture but there is one thing I will never deny: Hanging out in my grandma and mom’s kitchens since I was seven taught me that what my ancestors brought is still here today.”

For nearly every person in love with food, much of their journey begins with the women who shaped their lives because it is those very women who likely fed them day in and day out. Of course, also like many, Brian had never thought or contemplated making food his professional and emotional driver—until the pandemic shifted his entire perspective of the world.

“I was in the film and TV industry for 15 years,” Brian said, “and my wife’s career in education really brought me into the fold on teaching about that. So for almost a decade, I taught film in public high school—and even through the pandemic, I taught as well—y’know, on Zoom—but it kind just left me a bit empty.”

The pain in Brian’s recollection of teaching online did what it did to many educators: Replaced the nuances and idiosyncrasies of face-to-face interaction with the monotonous black boxes that should have students’ faces in them; even if the students did have their cameras on, teachers were still met with mostly blank stares and rightfully distracted young minds. And not that he blames the students: The oddity of Zoom meetings—though humans are beginning, albeit it slowly, to apply some sense of normalcy to them—really doesn’t vibe with education, particularly in the arts.

Big Brian’s Meats was officially birthed out of a big risk—and some big love

“I was just uninspired,” Brian said, reflecting on his Zoom teaching days. “And I knew my wife sensed it so I just flat-out said, ‘I want to try doing something with food.'”

With a blessing from his wife and the cashing out his teaching pension, Brian melded the decades of lessons he learned from his mother and grandma, the sense of apathy he felt in the increasingly digitalized world of human work, his grilling skills that he had been honing since 2015, and his love of food into the thing he now calls Brian’s Big Meats.

Brian’s proposition to his wife wasn’t birthed out of a compulsive dive into the world of smoked meats and barbecue—but something Brian had realized he had already been doing on a larger scale than most.

“My uncle had this Traeger—y’know, the ones they would pawn off onto people on Infomercials?” Brian said. “He was using it for burgers and hot dogs and really not much else so he sold it to me. And I just began experimenting.”

And experiment he did: Brisket, tri-tip, turkey, beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken—there really wasn’t a meat that Big Brian was unwilling to work with on his home smoker. The result? Becoming the go-to guy for parties while hosting large gatherings and eventually getting paid for them.

“And it all just kinda clicked,” Brian said. “I had a passion for something that made me genuinely happy. Here we are two years later.”

Big Brian’s Meats brings what he calls “SoCal-Mex” to the pit

“My thing is what I like to call ‘SoCal-Mex’,” Brian said. “It’s blending the traditions of Mexican-American cooking in SoCal with barbecue—and I don’t say Texan barbecue or Carolina barbecue or Kansas City because, really, my food stems from my experiences here in California.”

A fourth generation Mexican-American who married a third-generation Mexican-American, Brian and his wife began to understand the subtleties of how their parents’ and grandparents’ food evolved and adapted in a space that was inherently different from their pasts in Mexico proper: From produce and dairy products to grains and accessibility, the diaspora of Mexican food into American has been one of resilience and, perhaps most apparent, adaptability.

“When we began cooking together, my wife and I would notice how I did something this way and she did something that way for the same dish,” Brian said.

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This results in things like Big Brian’s ode to the mighty pastrami burrito—which must be said, is birthed out of SoCal’s not-so-all-American diner. Places like Douglas Burgers in North Long Beach, Louis Burger in DTLB, and Golden Burger on 4th Street (now re-branded as an Eat Fantastic chain) all have a trio of cuisines—American, Greek, Mexican—that at first glance seem out of place.

After all, have you ever wondered why burgers, gyros, and burritos are seemingly always on the menu at these joints?

The influx of Greek-American families to the West Coast following their rise in metros like New York prompted them to want to re-create the restaurant spaces they had on the East Coast—but they also needed to adapt to Californian food trends. With the owners of casual diners wanting to explore more sophisticated ownership options as their own capital grew, they began to sell these diners—and this newly minted Greek population in California sought turn-key businesses in order to assimilate as quick as possible. Hence: diners. Thereafter, these diners proved successful enough to provide the owners with the same opportunity of their owners before: Move onto to build and own more sophisticated restaurants, providing turn-key businesses to the influx of Mexican immigrants coming into SoCal.

And with it, things like pastrami burritos were created—and Big Brian wants to pay honor to that via his 12-day brined, 16-day smoked pastrami—a pastrami, mind you, that Cassidy’s Corner sources for their newest store at Spring Street and Los Coyotes Diagonal—that is layered with arugula, garlic aioli, and Monterey jack cheese.

This offering—joined by a hefty chili with beans and an utterly delectable smoked cream cheese dip—are the offerings Big Brian will be handing out at this year’s Long Beach BBQ Festival.

“A huge shout-out goes to Qiana and Ian for organizing this,” Brian said. “I love them and the opportunity they’re providing us to show off our small business hasn’t really been a thing we’ve been able to achieve without them.”

So what is the Long Beach BBQ Festival?

In its second year and headed by husband-and-wife team Qiana and Ian Mafnas of Axiom Kitchen, the Long Beach BBQ Festival is a celebration of SoCal’s growing barbecue renaissance. And its lineup of barbecue and food vendors is wildly cool:

  • Axiom Kitchen
  • Big Brian’s Meats
  • Brother’s Keeper BBQ 
  • El Guero y La Flaca
  • Full Send BBQ
  • Good Smoke Better Eats
  • High Roller BBQ 
  • OSO Good BBQ
  • Good Smoke Better Eats
  • Fat Boys BBQ LA
  • Good Smoke Better Eats
  • Fat Boys BBQ
  • Janer Family BBQ
  • Smoked n’ Blazed BBQ
  • Smoked and Salted BBQ
  • Magilla’s BBQ
  • Just Wright BBQ
  • Robert Earl’s BBQ
  • Midway City BBQ
  • Rib Bones BBQ
  • PS Smoked Meats
  • Mussels and Pearls
  • Chaudown Kitchen
  • Chef T “The Rising Phoenix”
  • Smokestack Lightnin BBQ
  • Watson’s Pizza

And, of course, there will be live music, with the lineup including:

  • Indica Roots 
  • Makenna
  • Phoenyx & Co.
  • Gil T
  • Dead Ringer
  • Ms. B Royal

The second annual Long Beach BBQ Festival takes place at Shoreline Aquatic Park, located at 200 Aquarium Way, on Saturday, May 25, from noon to 9PM. For tickets, click here.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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