Crafted In Fire

A Sizzling Look At Southern California Barbecue Culture

By Jonathan Williams

My Barbecue Journey

I can’t remember my first bite of barbecue. What I do remember is the savory texture of a beef rib. The saltiness of pulled pork. The sweetness of a sugary, bite-through pork rib.

The sides. Coleslaw. Mac and cheese. Baked beans.

I was introduced to barbecue at a young age. My father and I spent time by our red kettle grill in our concrete-surfaced backyard. The rust accents withstood the test of time. He worked quite a bit. As a self-employed, Black man from East Texas, he was my link to the barbecue tradition in our family.

Pork spareribs, beer and charcoal. That was the recipe. That’s where my barbecue journey began.

I chased the nostalgia of my first bite. I began making my own barbecue with friends, growing up in the 70-degree standard of Southern California. I concocted my own recipes. My friends were the variables and the food I made were the controls.

The Spark

It was March 2020. A month we all can remember. Prior to that, I was working at a real estate brokerage, with a salary. Then, I was unemployed.

During that time of my life, I had no direction. I was unhappy with my job, my lack of responsibilities. I was coasting through life, ambivalent and aloof.

My offset smoker

So I left the brokerage, actually, the pandemic shutdown operations anyway – and started a business. I wanted to create the same joy in others I experienced early on with my father.

I launched the Trent Way Barbecue Company. I invested thousands in two custom grills, an offset smoker crafted by Drew Brahs at Harper Barbecue and a Santa Maria-style rotisserie pit from Red Beard Smokers in Pasadena.

I’d consumed thousands of hours of YouTube barbecue-related content. I sent countless direct messages on Instagram to members of the barbecue community – like Alec Lopez of AGL Craft Meats. It was all going to come together.

The Harsh Reality

During the pandemic, I catered small gatherings among friends who were still willing to come together during quarantine. I sold them food. I broke even.

Barbecue is laborious. Chopping wood in the 90 degree heat. Prepping and trimming pork shoulders and hefty racks of pork ribs, I’d end up with sharp cuts on my hands from the razor-like bones.


The pandemic drove my business down. Fortunately, I was able to serve food during a worldwide pandemic and had it much easier than some of my brick-and-mortar counterparts. Not only did restaurants with a physical storefront have to dodge Los Angeles’s tough food and safety regulations, but they could also only serve food from their curbside. Then, 10-15% seating capacity was allowed, sometimes only outdoors. Fear loomed as City Hall’s back-and-forth red tape regarding the stay-at-home orders left restaurants in constant flux.

After a few months, The Trent Way Barbecue company stopped smoking pork butts, ribs and tri-tip. I gave up. Physically exhausted from the work and emotionally drained by the pandemic, I was defeated by the hurdles of crafting food for a living. I gained respect for my “pop-up” colleagues who were doing it long before I was, and who remained after I left.

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