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