Neil and Phyllis Strawder: SoCal’s Two Brisketeers

Profiling Bigmista’s barbecue empire for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GENARO MOLINA / L.A. TIMES

The Torrance farmers market is in full bloom: pluots mottled with patches of red and green, bottles of fresh-pressed pomegranate juice, eggplants as thick as tree trunks. Weekenders huddle under canopies clutching pupusas and plates of pad Thai, the electric hum of a blues man’s guitar and the distant patter of steel drums colliding in the air above. The market’s meat seekers, however, are unfazed by the clamor, eyes affixed to the brisket being carved at Bigmista’s Barbecue.

Pounds of that blackened brisket — beef massaged with a spice rub and then smoked into submission for about 12 hours — are dispensed until there’s nothing but scraps left. Some diners opt for racks of ribs and overloaded sandwiches. Regulars are drawn to one of the day’s sybaritic specials, pulled-pork nachos.

Bigmista’s is a farmers market force, propelled to the upper stratum of Los Angeles barbecue by husband-and-wife team Neil and Phyllis Strawder. They’ve earned the adulation of every local magazine, talk show and website with an appetite. In May, Bigmista’s was a finalist at the inaugural Vendy Awards, which celebrated the city’s best street and otherwise itinerant food vendors. Recently, Neil has been bouncing between TV appearances and cooking demos for Fresh & Easy markets in California, Nevada and Arizona. And now, the Strawders are making their basic cable debut on “Over Your Head,” an HGTV home improvement show.

They’ve built this burgeoning barbecue empire in just under two years, a mobile meat paradise that currently encamps at the Torrance (Saturday and Tuesday), El Segundo (Thursday) and Atwater Village (Sunday) farmers markets. It’s a business built as much on Neil’s wide smile and masterful slow smoking as Phyllis’ irresistible laugh and financial know-how.

Read the rest here.

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