California's Food Code

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It hasn’t always been easy to run a barbecue restaurant in Southern California, especially in Los Angeles. Prior to 2020, the L.A. County's retail food code presented several hurdles for those wanting to offer fully legal smoked meats.

The best barbecue was underground, usually in backyards and inside local breweries. The brick-and-mortar option only allowed for indoor electric smokers. Outside, you couldn’t burn open fires.

Even Moo’s Craft BBQ was shut down. The health department once had them throw away all their product for the day, costing thousands of dollars in revenue.

2020 Changes

However, in 2020, the health department introduced special language to cater to barbecue restaurants and pop-ups. The rules have never been more accessible if you’re a backyard pitmaster, trying to open your own barbecue business.

Additionally, sidewalk vending became legal on Jan. 1, 2020, requiring a business license and compliance with California tax law. Also, home kitchen commercial sales were legalized, requiring a move to commercial space if the operation made $50,000 or more annually, allowing sales directly to the public.

The caveat: the operator must agree to inspections and be subject to random visits from the health department.

A New Landscape

As part of its updates, the health department classified open-air barbecues as “a piece of equipment designed for barbecuing food,” according to the code. Food must be prepared outdoors by cooking directly over hot coals, gas flames, or other methods approved by the department. The equipment should be suitably designed and maintained, near a temporary food facility or a catering business.

Lastly, the document states the pit should be near a “mobile food facility that remains fixed during hours of operations at a community event or a permanent food facility.

Most notably, the special language nixed the requirement for open-air barbecue pits to “require the enclosure of an open-air barbecue or outdoor wood-burning oven.” Other details include its proximity to where the operation cooks its food, and in a location where customers can’t access the cooking space. Lastly, it can’t be atop a motor vehicle, like inside a food truck.

Post-2020, L.A.'s barbecue scene exploded with dozens of local pop-ups appearing all over the county. Some of the pop-ups found their brick-and-mortar homes, such as Moo’s Craft BBQ in Lincoln Heights.

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