Backyard barbecue has been an L.A. cottage industry since well before the pandemic. Now, in the COVID-19 era, you can pull up to a pair of garages on a densely populated Hollywood side street to pick up Carolina-style smoked meat.
Clay Blair quietly launched Edna Jane’s BBQ as a side project when his other main gig, operating the historic Boulevard Recording studios, ground to a halt in the spring. The musician and recording engineer grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and his relentless search to find the style of whole-hog barbecue and the flavors he grew up with left him unsatisfied.
To fill the void, he developed his own smoking skills over the better part of the past decade, using a Yoder Kingman setup and red oak logs in the yard that he, his wife, and their toddler daughter share with supportive neighbors. So, instead of just cooking for family and friends—and, much like other accomplished cooks and professionals, in need of a pivot—he built a website, and started putting the word out via Nextdoor, Facebook, and Instagram about the limited quantities of mostly Carolina-style barbecue available for sale. Four months later, Blair is shopping for a bigger smoker.
“In North Carolina, we say the pig is the state bird,” he explains. “I’m proud of the whole hog tradition in North and South Carolina. I didn’t have beef barbecue until I was in my twenties.” He keeps his emphasis on Carolina style, but he’s expanded his worldview. The menu for Edna Jane’s BBQ, which is named in honor of Blair’s beloved grandmother, includes beef ribs and brisket, along with the signature Carolina pork spare and back ribs, and pulled pork shoulder served with pepper vinegar sauce.
Blair is well accustomed to professionalizing his hobbies. A musician, producer, and recording engineer who taught himself how to play guitar starting at age six and studied music recording at Middle Tennessee State University, he tested the waters before moving to L.A. full-time in 2010. Blair soon after assumed ownership of the Hollywood Boulevard recording studio, which has been cranking out seminal records since the 1960s when it was named Continental Recorders and then Producer’s Workshop. Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion and Epitaph Records owned the facility for a spell, too. It’s a site loaded with music history lore, thanks to its association with albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Steely Dan’s Aja.
Music remains Blair’s first passion, but “I make barbecue no matter what,” he says. Blair loads up his truck with red oak from a wholesaler in the northwest San Fernando Valley—hickory, the traditional Carolinian wood choice, isn’t available in SoCal—and gets weekly meat delivery at home to meet the Edna Jane’s BBQ requests that typically sell out by the time ordering closes on Thursdays in advance of the Saturday curbside pickup. The reality of recording studio life and musicians’ often unconventional schedules have prepared him for the long cooking process, since each smoke takes 12 to 14 hours, plus prep time. “It’s a 20-hour day,” he says.
And then there’s his mission of creating and delivering the distinctive Carolinian flavor profile to Southern Californian barbecue lovers.
“If the pig if the state bird,” Blair adds, “then vinegar is the state flower.” The fundamentals of his regional roots lean hard into vinegar, pepper, sugar, and mustard, with individual tweaks and subtle variations that help fuel the notoriously intense world of barbecue fandom. “Those flavors work together with a bite and a tang,” he notes. “That’s what I’m looking for.” Blair makes his own sauces for customers, including the aforementioned vinegar and pepper sauce for the pulled pork, and a barbecue sauce for ribs. (Even if he loves to cook side dishes, focusing exclusively on the meat is more feasible.)
Blair also points out that his two areas of expertise—music and barbecue—have more in common than people might think. “The end product is never quite what you think it’s gonna be. I think creatively that’s what makes it so fun. You might have an idea of how you’re going to smoke something, or how you’re going to mix something or record it, and it’s going to turn out a little bit different,” he says.
“The little mistakes and the little imperfections of doing both things—the human factor of it all—is what keeps me going.”
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