Saturday, January 05, 2008

Burrell's BBQ - Santa Ana

I ate my lunch under the shade of an old pine tree. A garden fountain trickled beside me. Leaves rustled with the passing breeze. Next door, a neighbor's dog barked. A postman made his rounds.

Where was I? In Fred Burrell's backyard, buried in the belly of Santa Ana, in a residential part of town.

The likes of it must exist around every street corner in The South. Hole-in-the-walls serving food out of someone's garage. Makeshift dives borne out of a grandmother's home kitchen. Burrell's is this kind of joint.

But in Orange County, it's an anomaly of zoning -- a treasured oddball in an area otherwise meticulously master-planned.

A rusty screen door creaks shut as you enter. Inside, you compete for wiggle room in a space crammed with a soda coolers, a hot meat display case, and an Igloo from which you are to scoop out your own ice. Autographed headshots of Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Tom Bradley hang, each with a shout out to Fred and his food.

Too bad I didn't dig the grub as much they did (or as much as others who have lauded Burrell's for years). The baby back ribs ($8.95 with one side and cornbread) were sopping wet. Not oversauced, but wet. It had been sitting and ruminating in its own moistness -- stewing its way closer to "boiled", farther away from "barbecued". The result was more like pulled pork, but still on the bone.

Otherwise, it was full-flavored, bolder than average, and ten times meatier than Kate Moss. Yet, I longed for the caramelized burnt edges; for that sticky, gummed-up, carbonized bits of sauce that gets wedged under my finger nails.

The collard greens were a different story; perfect in its crudeness. Bitter, sweet, and warm -- packed with chlorophyll and flavored with pieces of ham hock. The only thing more faithful to The South was the corn bread -- a crumbly, moist block cut from a cake pan. But really, I've never met a corn bread I haven't liked, especially when eaten with grass under my feet.

Burrell's BBQ
(714) 547-7441
305 N Hesperian St
Santa Ana, CA 92703


At 11:53 AM, Blogger Charlie Fu said...

If you go at the right time (which who knows is what time), you can get excellent meat there. Such is the curse of good smoked meat, its rare that its constantly fresh.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I was also thinking the same thing. At one point in time, the ribs I had must have been at the peak of their game. It blows that it had degenerated by the time I got there. I wish they had a "Hot Now" sign like Krispy Kreme.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Nguyen Duong said...

nice find, elmo. i've found that these hole-in-the-wall joints as hit-and-miss in my travels thru the south. will have to check this place out. it'll be nice change from the clayton shurley's and lucille's.

At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard good things in regards to Burrell's - Shame they let food sit like that. Have you tried Bad to the Bone in SJC. Fantastic.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Geesh,more meat than k. moss - Awesome! I've been here early, very early for lunch on a weekend and the mac and cheese was a total disaster but the mustard laced potato salad was good. The smoked meat barely had smoke in it but I scarfed down everything despite. I guess it's true when you hit up a whole in the wall shop it could be a hit or miss.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

This is one of the most over rated places in Orange County. And its expensive.

I am also really fortunate to travel to Oklahoma City and Texas where you can get insane BBQ for cheap. Like a 3 meak combo with 2 sides for $9.95.

Havent found good BBQ in S. Cal and I must admit I must be a BBQ snob that I eat it so frequently in Texas when I am there

At 1:29 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Even though the outdoor setting sounds lovely, I don't like eating outside. I am a wuss that hates the bugs.
I agree with you about cornbread. That's hard to screw up.
You know who has really good BBQ? Famous Dave's. I usually hate chains, bu they are actually very good.

At 2:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You beat me to the punch on this one! I've been meaning to check out Burrell's for a while now. Sorry to hear this one didn't quite make the grade :(

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what it's like being this guy's neighbor and having to smell barbecue all the time. It must be awesome!

At 5:00 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


This one's been rattling around my backlog for a few months. But Burrell's been buzzed about even longer than that. I'm still ambivalent about the food (maybe another visit is needed), but you can't beat the quaint location.


BTTB is definitely on my list, but the drive! My god, the drive! Hehe! Maybe soon.


Yeah, I was so bummed. I expected it to be great, but it wasn't. You're right about the lack of smoke...I really couldn't taste it in the meat.


Well, at least we have banh mis for less than $2! I bet Texans have to pay twice that.


I just looked up Famous Dave's, thanks to your tip, and found one in Long Beach! Thanks! I hadn't heard about it till now.


I hope I caught them on a bad day...but still, they shoulda known that the ribs they were serving me were subpar. I mean, I knew as soon as I saw it.


It would be funny if they line dry their laundry. They walk around town and everyone starts drooling.

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

That last line, "I've never met a corn bread I haven't liked, especially when eaten with grass under my feet," was just perfect - it painted the most wonderful image in my head! ...and now I have a terrrrrrible craving for corn bread, gah. :)

At 4:13 AM, Blogger One Food Guy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4:14 AM, Blogger One Food Guy said...

At least it wasn't a total bust thanks to the collards and corn bread. And seriously, who puts pickle chips on tip of a rack of ribs?

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Ben Dayhoe said...

Wow Elmo, good find. It's tough to get your hands on good BBQ in So. Cal; well, with the exception of Phil's BBQ in San Diego.

It's unfortunate that an area with unique establishments like Burrell's was plagued with heavy gunfire last year.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Havent found good BBQ in S. Cal and I must admit I must be a BBQ snob that I eat it so frequently in Texas when I am there

yeah, I'm with DD on that one. I just posted barbecue and home cooking from the holidays on my page and drooled all over again. it's just not the same here.

however, you said it right E - if you want asian food, of all kinds, and cheap, socal is the place to be. god I missed it so much when I was in dallas for two weeks. I eat asian (usually japanese, sometimes thai or vietnamese) every other day practically and I had none while I was there. :(

At 4:08 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


HA! You know, I'm also kind of fond of that line myself. Good job me!

One Food Guy,

When you're right, you're right! I saw those pickles and thought: Well that's an innovative garnish, and promptly set them aside.


Well, darn. And there I was feeling actually pretty safe eating lunch under that tree. But then, it was noon. People with guns are usually still asleep then.


Hallelujah on that! I'm still amazed that $2 buys a banh mi. It must be some sort of front company for something else more sinister, like those Vietnamese "coffee houses"...just kidding.

At 8:39 PM, Blogger jasmine said...

I've always been curious about this place...thanks for the cool post!

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a coincidence! My cousin was asking about any good BBQ a couple of days ago and I mentioned Burrell's. Didn't know the original site was still in business.

Too bad the food has gone downhill. 20 years ago he had a second place on McFadden east of Grand that I always went to.

I remember he went in with some investors and tried to expand, opening up a 3rd place where the Denny's at Sand Canyon and the 5 freeway is now.

I agree with some of the other posters, OC doesn't appear to have many good BBQ places.

At 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you tried the Beach Pit in Eastside Costa Mesa? I will admit I have never eaten much of the BBQ but they have amazing and I mean amazing nachos with great spicy BBQ sauce.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger dumplings said...

I tried this place after my Bowers visit a long time ago. It was a miss for me because the ribs had sat around for too long.

I used to go here. They had a location in Garden Grove on Trask and Magnolia, but closed down 3 years ago. They had some mean ribs and cowboy steaks with cheap price tags. Now I have to drive all the way to San Dimas / West Covina for it.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


You're welcome!


That's some really interesting background info. Had no idea he once considered moving to Irvine. Lucky he didn't, that location is restaurant death.


Actually I haven't! But heard good things. Like the fact that they opened another one in Old Town Tustin recently. I might have to check that one out soon.


So it happened to you too! I'll try 'em again and see if that first time was a fluke. I doubt it now. Pinnacle Peak sounds awesome.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Sarah - The Home Cook said...

I love good BBQ - shame this wasn't it.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Home Cook,

Yeah. I was disappointed. Sorely. I'll be trying them again soon though. Maybe it'll be better.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Charlie Fu said...

pickles are a pretty common staples in southern BBQ, almost every BBQ joint i went to in Southern Texas gave you pickles

At 12:44 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks Clayfu! Always appreciate when experts like you chime in.

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love places like this. We'll definitely have to check it out. Maybe if we go at around 11-12 it'll be fresh? Maybe I'll call first. :)

At 5:33 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Champagne and Meatloaf,

It gotta be fresh sometime! HAHA! Hope your visit is better than mine. They really have potential.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Wonginator said...

Best baby backs in OC are still at Chicago's Best. Had it at least 5 times, and is consistently good.

For beef ribs, go to Tulsa Rib, or Ribs on the Run. Joey's Smokin' BBQ in Tustin has been pretty good, too.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Ben Penman said...

I disliked this place. The BBQ was bland and tough. Not to mention, I had to see Burrell's buttcrack while he was sweeping around the back, not very appetizing.

I am surprised nobody has mentioned Johnny Reb's off Chapman Ave as a decent place to get BBQ. That was the first place I had ever tasted "real" smoked BBQ.

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred Burrell used to make outstanding BBQ. He over-expanded to three places and took a big financial hit. Eventually he returned to his roots in Santa Ana and reopened his first store. I agree with a lot of the comments here - the BBQ can be very good and other times not. I have found the best time to go is Friday because Fred is usually ramping up for a weekend catering gig. The worst is early in the week when I think you are getting the weekend's leftovers. The outside sitting area is awesome. It's a one of a kind experience in plastic OC. Take a gamble and hope for a good day.


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