Barbeque famously brings people together to enjoy hearty feasts made with effort and expertise. As a family-run business, The Mission Barbeque aims to add even more meaning to their skillfully grilled meats as a means to help feed the needy in the local community.
The Mission Barbeque started bringing juicy, smoky, fall-off-the-bone barbeque classics and sides as a new vendor at La Cañada Farmers Market nearly three months ago. Each week, George and Judith Buendia and their helpful children prepare two bountiful batches of slow-roasted meats and dishes: one set to sell at the Saturday farmers market, and another set to give directly to the homeless that same evening.
“We cook enough for the sales, and then we make extra for service—for skid row, or the river, or wherever the homeless camps are—and take food out to them,” said Judith. A portion of the proceeds from the market sales pays for the food that the family donates.
On the menu of meats is Texas-style brisket, St. Louis-style pork ribs, and Southern-style pulled pork, which you can order as a combo meal with two sides or buy on their own by the pound. All of the meats are selected and hand-trimmed by George before spending hours and hours in the smoker, absorbing flavors from pecan and oak woods. The final result reflects the amount of patience George devotes to the process as well as the amount of sleep he loses the night before.
“It’s a 12-hour cook a lot of times with the brisket,” he said, which may explain why it’s The Mission Barbeque’s most requested item. The Angus beef brisket is simply rubbed with black pepper and kosher salt and injected with George’s secret mix of juices to ensure the meat is flavorful to its core. As he cuts through the blackened surface, each slice reveals a mark of excellence in the pinkish red ring along its edges. “That’s the smoke ring. That’s the one you’re working for,” he explained.
George coats the ribs and pork meat with rub recipes he developed to infuse flavors of brown sugar, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and other spices overnight. He also adds special final touches in the last hours of grilling, such as a homemade barbeque sauce glaze on the ribs and a spritzing of apple juice on the pulled pork.
All of it cooks inside a smoker grill large enough to feed 200 people. The Buendias had the grill custom built in Atlanta, Georgia and towed it across the country themselves. Then for three years, George strove to excel in the art of pitmastering and find that coveted balance of timing and temperature required to make plump piles of meat.
“I still see myself as learning, but I take it very seriously,” George said. One particular lesson he had to learn was to stop opening the grill to check on the meat. “Once you can get to where you can leave it alone, just keep the temp right and keep the smoke going, then it’s going to be fine.”
To accompany your choice of meat are the traditional sides. Crisp coleslaw, creamy mac and cheese, velvety baked beans, and fluffy cornbread are all made from scratch in a commercial kitchen in Sunland. Judith puts her 23 years of experience as a baker to good use to craft each item from Southern recipes. Even the barbeque sauces are made in-house. “We’ve had people from the South come up to our booth and give us compliments,” she said.
In case you’re finicky about your barbeque, George and Judith are happy to offer sample bites for market goers to try. “A lot of times people are kind of hesitant. They hear that it’s barbeque, but they don’t think it’s real barbeque,” said George. Nevertheless, when the market nears closing time at 1pm, The Mission Barbeque is completely sold out. “There are times when we’re taking everything down and people say, ‘Wait, do you have anything left? Anything? Whatever you have in there, we’ll take it!’”
Like their meals, The Mission Barbeque’s farmers market stand is packed with the essentials and delivers more than expected. Absent is the actual smoker grill, which would be difficult to place, being the size of a small vehicle. But everything else about this tent is pure barbeque delight. The inside is surrounded with food, and the meat is kept dripping hot inside a well-insulated carrier throughout the Saturday event. Foil-covered catering trays keep the side dishes cozy, and a carving station gets its share of marks from George’s slicing skills. Within reaching distance are squeeze bottles of homemade regular or spicy barbeque sauce, along with honey for the cornbread.
“We’ve received nothing but positive feedback. The food—everybody enjoys it. Word is getting around. People are telling their friends. We’re always selling out, pretty much every week,” said George.
After the market closes on Saturdays, the Buendias return to their Eagle Rock home to drop off supplies and reload the car with more food. The family then spends the evening driving around Skid Row and along the banks of the Los Angeles River, parking near the tents and offering the crowds warm-cooked meals.
“We get this renewed energy,” said Judith. “And the appreciation from all of the people and all of the hearts you touch, it’s priceless.”
George and Judith were inspired to take this approach by other organizations that encourage helping those in need. They had been active with Angelus Temple, a local Foursquare Gospel church, which runs the Dream Center, a nonprofit community outreach center. The church also practices an active approach of giving items directly to people on the streets, such as food, money, clothes, and blankets. These efforts motivated the Buendia family to come up with their own way of contributing to help others, by serving high-quality meals to the homeless.
“To give people a real hot meal, they appreciate it,” George said. “And not only because it’s food, but because you took the time to give them something that they know you could sell at a restaurant.”
In the near future, the family expects to take on catering gigs. And you can currently request special items, such as beef burnt ends, which The Mission Barbeque will bring to the La Cañada Farmers Market. George and Judith ultimately want to take their passion as far as a brick and mortar restaurant that might allow them to feed thousands of homeless each week. But for now, as their slogan states, The Mission Barbeque is “Smoking hunger one meal at a time.”