Guilty Pleasures at Porky’s

  • 02/22/2013
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

Porky’s BarBQ in Long Beach is closing permanently Sunday, Jan. 27.

“The demographics changed,” Earl Hellum, proprietor of the popular rib joint, explained. Yelp reviews of patrons who would say they like the food but were bothered by the fact they would be hassled by panhandlers, among other issues led him close the venue.

The upside of the closing is that all of his energy, creative and otherwise, will be focused on the San Pedro branch.

At 47 years of age, Earl is becoming ever more a stickler for authenticity, from the recipes to the décor of the restaurant, which includes Southern Americana art and sensibilities on the walls– indeed, something you’d find in a traditional rib joint in the South. The radio station stays on KJazz, and on some evenings old school blues joints adds an old-timey atmosphere to the place while you’re waiting for your food.

“We want to do one restaurant really well and let the future take care of itself. It may be a cliché, but if my great grandmother were here, I don’t want her to be like, ‘What did you do to my food?’”

Earl is hyper–conscious of Porky’s stand in the landscape of barbecue restaurants, both among its contemporaries, as well as, in time. One of the battles he’s fighting, at least with himself, is the downward pressure on prices that McDonald’s is creating as they begin to provide even more offerings at dollar or less prices.

“Porky’s fried chicken is very similar to that of Golden Bird’s chicken,” Earl noted. “At one time they had 18 restaurants. Now they only have one.” Earl compared Golden Bird to Honey’s Kettle, which had the same batter and everything, but cost 30 percent more.

“There’s one in Culver City. There’s one in Compton. It’s a fresh product and you get what you pay for. Customers want what they want and that’s the same thing with me,” Earl said, making a parallel to the quality of Porky’s product and the prices charged for it.

Because barbecue is a comfort food—a food which different people have different tastes and expectations—Earl knows he won’t be able to please everyone. But he also understands who his customers are. He cited Erving Magic Johnson’s take over of Fat Burger and the changes that made the legendary burger stand fall off its pedestal as “the best burger in Los Angeles.”

“A big mistake that Magic Johnson made—every business he’s had, has been successful—except for when he got into Fat Burgers. Instead of having an 80/20 mix of fat, it was changed to 9/10 mix [this translates to a significantly healthier burger, but a burger that no longer tasted like Fat Burger]. And instead of toasting the buns on the grill they started put them through a toaster. They changed their product, people stopped going to
Fat Burger.

They changed their burger back to 80/20 but they still put their buns through a toaster, not on the grill. At the original Fat Burger, on Jefferson and Western Avenue, It was a slight tilt on the grill and these buns are sucking in all this fat that got caramelized but they had all the flavor. And that’s how our burgers are made here. This is not a place to be healthy. This the place where you’d get diabetes, high blood pressure, you’re
going to have gas all night, Earl joked. “But it is what it is.”

He said that salads have never done well at Porky’s. In fact, Porky’s has one green vegetable:greens. Mustard and collard greens to be exact.

Earl pays great attention to detail, nimbly responding to his core customers desires. His menu is a reflection of it. His menu frequently changes in the course of a year, not that it deviates from the core product. The newest items on the menu includes the blacken catfish, pulled chicken, and the Hobo plate.
You’re not going to find fried catfish at Porky’s.

Earl said it threw off the flavor of his oil. But you will find some incredibly seasoned catfish that is quickly becoming one of the most popular items there, behind the fried chicken. The pulled chicken is simply dark portions of chicken that’s been slow cooked to the point that it falls apart and is drenched in Porky’s famously spicy Bubba sauce.

For Earl, product quality is number one on his list of priorities. Service is a close second. He spends a great deal of time training his staff to make his recipes with precision and have them learn by their mistakes. Though a lot of times those mistakes get thrown away.

But even the mistakes are oh so good. A lot of the meats that are over-smoked, a little over cooked, or maybe made just little extra crispy, a mixture of these caste off meats are put on the Hobo plate. For the real barbecue connoisseurs, this is an ideal plate where you can get various cuts and kinds of meats you would not ordinarily get.

But at the end of the day, it’s product quality that Earl is aiming for.

“We’re going to run out of food,” Earl explained. “I cannot have an endless amount of biscuits, ribs, and tri-tips, because if they don’t sell, they’ll just go to the next day. You can do that with beans and greens, but I can’t do that with fresh beef and I can’t do that with fresh chicken. So we’re going to make a limited amount, and when we’re out, you’ll just have to get something else [on the menu].”

Earl is planning to launch a barbecue competition with prize money involved later this year. He’s looking to bring out the connoisseurs with recipes of their own.

Details: (310) 521-9999,
Venue: Porky’s BBQ
Location: 362 W. 6 th St., San Pedro

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