Fat Stack Smokers is giving Los Angeles its own meat tradition
Fat Stack Smokers sits deep at the end of a long, narrow industrial strip, tucked away in quiet Sun Valley, a neighborhood on the northeastern stretch of San Fernando Valley. The building is little more than a collection of pull-up stalls, with just enough room to roll in a couple of vehicles to wrench on while squeaky old stereos whine on in the background. There is no sign for Fat Stack Smokers (let alone a website), and there isn’t even anywhere to park. But unbeknownst to probably any other tenant in the eleven surrounding stalls, this diminutive machine shop is at the heart of Los Angeles’s current smoked meat movement.
The shop itself doesn’t look like much, just two guys (or, usually, one) hacking away at metal tanks and fusing the pieces back together with some keen welding chops. At well under 800 square feet in total floor, space is at a premium, so one might find co-owner and primary welder Eric Wech — a thickly-built man from Hollywood with a background in everything from office work to stand up comedy — straddling an empty former propane tank to get the right angle, or hopping up on a box to finish a tight corner.
Pulling and cutting and poring over details himself is co-owner Steve Vartazarian. He moonlights at the shop often, while also spending time overseeing some real estate holdings and at his primary office: a law firm in Sherman Oaks. Vartazarian is about as dogged in the courtroom as he is when wrenching on a fixture for his next barbecue build, often winning millions for clients in injury cases. That doesn’t stop him from getting his hands dirty at Fat Stack, though. There’s nothing glamorous about the work — it’s all about just letting sparks fly.
Fat Stack trades in a particular kind of offset smoker, a more robust pro-am kind of setup that goes far beyond traditional box and pellet smokers favored by home enthusiasts. At their smallest, an offset smoker from Fat Stack might hold two briskets and a couple racks of ribs for a dinner party. At their largest, offset smokers run entire barbecue empires like Franklin’s in Austin. There’s a reason owner Aaron Franklin also runs his own welding shop in Texas, and has hundreds of private orders for offset smokers to be built and sold off to loyal fans already.
Vartazarian and Wech aren’t far behind Franklin, at least in terms of build orders. The two are months out already on their waitlist, and spend off hours scouring to find even more old and unused tanks with which to manufacture barbecue perfection. They prefer propane and gas tanks for their depth and thickness, but it’s no easy task stumbling on one just sitting around in an unknowing local’s back yard.
For now, the pair is focused on delivering a giant 750-gallon smoker to Burt Bakman, the owner and operator of Trudy’s Underground Barbecue. Long a Texas brisket and ribs enthusiast, Bakman has more recently become notorious for his weekend cooks (where hungry hopefuls can slide into his Instagram DMs for a shot at some food), and is helping the h.wood Group to open Slab BBQ, a new casual meat restaurant located along a prime section of West Third Street in Los Angeles. Bakman’s smoker takes up the majority of the Fat Stack workspace. It’s so big the barbecue man himself can kneel inside it for photographs.
Trudy’s is far from Fat Stack’s only local client, though. The company’s Instagram account is littered with handles and first names of people who are, one by one, changing the Southern California barbecue game. The gorgeous green smoker in use at husband and wife team Moo’s Craft Barbecue in East LA? That’s a Fat Stack build. The long white 1,000 gallon tank with the Texas detailing currently being hauled around town by the Pearl’s BBQ crew? Fat Stack all the way. Mad Miller BBQ uses a Fat Stack rig, as does upstart Valley option Gogi Craft when popping up on weekends at House Roots Lab in Granada Hills.
In some ways, it should come as no surprise that almost all of the currently-hyped crop of barbecue names are relying on a single source for their pretty new pits. Los Angeles has historically not been much of a barbecue town, at least not in the Texas tradition. South LA’s concentration of pan-Southern barbecue joints is waning, and Central Coast-style BBQ, with its smoked chickens and tri-tip, remains mostly a niche player in the national barbecue conversation.
It’s hard to imagine the current explosion of barbecue popularity in Los Angeles without Fat Stack Smokers, a company run by two men in the back of a crowded strip of machine stalls deep in Sun Valley. It’s also important to notice the synergy between welders and barbecue craftsmen in Los Angeles.
To put it bluntly: Fat Stack is far from the only company in America making offset smokers and selling it in the prosumer market. The people behind Trudy’s or Moo’s or Gogi could have gone anywhere, and spent any kind of money, to bring their barbecue dreams to life. But they’re keeping it all local, riffing on pastrami beef ribs and esquites corn sides while cooking off a rig made just miles down the road in the San Fernando Valley. That’s the true beauty of the recent movement: The emergence of a truly unique Los Angeles barbecue community, from end to end.
Meet the Fat Stack Smokers team on October 7 at MacLeod Ale for a barbecue pop-up that also includes Trudy’s Underground Barbecue, Moo’s Craft Barbecue, and Ragtop Fern’s.
“LA’s Barbecue Scene Needs Quality Smokers, So They Get Them Custom Built in Sun Valley.” Eater LA – All. https://la.eater.com/2017/9/25/16362356/fat-stack-smokers-sun-valley-feature-barbecue.