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Meet The Taquero Who Built a Morelos Style Barbacoa Oven in His Compton Backyard

8:01 AM PDT on May 24, 2021

Daniel Torres takes the lid off his giant Morelos style oven.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he sounds of birds chirping in the early morning are interrupted by the deep metal rumble of Daniel Torres dragging a one hundred-pound metal lid off of a monolithic oven. He carefully lets the lid fall on its side as plumes of white smoke race out of the oven's pit. It fills the air with the sweet scent of roasted agave, chile steamed goat and lamb meat. This is how the morning barbacoa ritual starts every weekend at the Compton home of Barbacoa Los Cuates where a 9-year-old girl is helping her dad get seen on Tik Tok.

The concrete oven stands about three feet tall and six feet wide, with the outer wall built about eighteen inches thick and in the shape of a perfect hexagon. Torres begins by reaching over the smooth glossy finish of the concrete oven to remove the blanket of long agave leaves used to preserve moisture and enhance flavor. He then proceeds to pull out five to six hundred pounds of smoked lamb and goat at a steady rate of one filled frying pan at a time before reaching the stainless steel grate at the bottom. He removes the grate and reveals a well filled with a steaming cazo of chile-colored goat juice enriched with garbanzos, carrots, and rice. 

Torres swings his back foot into the air for balance as he reaches down to scoop up jugs of the morning elixir. Finally, Torres and his brother reach down, pull the cazo out, and carry it over to the garage. They count to three, heave it up, and the remaining rice, garbanzos, and vegetables slide off the end of the cazo and take a deep dive into the pool of consome waiting for it below. 

The meat and consomé are carried to the garage where three flags line the wall over two taco carts; Mexico, USA, and Israel. We ask Torres about the Israeli flag. He tells us he is Jewish via his grandmother who emigrated from Europe. “I was the weird kid growing up in my town,” Torres tells L.A. Taco, “we were the ones with the weird religion.” Instead of making friends as a kid, he spent it making barbacoa with his aunt. “Eventually,” he tells us, “I made friends when I was older.” 

A Mexican, American and Israeli flag hang behind Torres as he puts on gloves.

Daniel's aunt skims the oil off the top of the consomé, the birria de chivo is brought out from the kitchen, salsas are prepackaged and ready, and Torres puts on corridos on the TV before he starts tending to his line of customers waiting patiently to pick up a few pounds. The first of his customers, an elder couple from Puebla dressed in their church clothes, tells L.A. Taco, "it's as close to what I get back home as I can find." 

Daniel Torres is from Axochiapan, Morelos, Mexico, where from the age of twelve to twenty, his aunt, Maria Flores, taught him how to prepare barbacoa every weekend. It's something he didn't think he would do again when he came to California. "I came to work in construction," he explains in Spanish, "but when that failed, I decided to do this again." Torres is a carpenter by trade and used to own a shop until it burned down three years ago. That's when he and his brother, Andres, built the oven, a replica of the ones in Morelos.

“La barbacoa es estilo Morelos, Puebla, y Hidalgo. Es el mismo, (it's the same)," Torres explains. He uses both lamb and goat because, as he's experienced, depending on the state of Mexico the customer might be from or because of personal preference, they may like one meat over the other. He reads the mixed pile of goat meat like a book and pulls up a goat leg to show us. He then reaches down and pulls up a lamb's leg and points out the difference in Spanish, "see how the lamb leg is fattier? The goat is leaner, and sometimes people prefer the lamb." After tasting both, we conclude that the lamb did have almost prime rib-like fatty ends, but while the goat was leaner, it was just as juicy as the lamb. 

Torres holds up a cut of meat by the bone with thongs.

After chopping the meat, Torres gives it a small dash of a red adobo mole sauce to give it an added complimentary flavor similar to a barbecue sauce on ribs. It's also a recipe he learned from his tía Maria Flores in Mexico. The meat and consomé flavors carry a smokey blend of chiles, garbanzo, carrot, and maguey absorbed through the 6-8 hour smoking process. 

None of us would probably know about this giant concrete pit smoking over a thousand pounds of goat and lamb meat every weekend if not for the Tik Tok talents of Torres' 9-year-old daughter, Haley. Haley helps her dad by uploading the videos of Torres speaking but then drowns out his voice with a corrido pesado. Those videos have garnered tens of thousands of views and eighty-six hundred followers in just eight months. The site of a large concrete smoker filled with goat and lamb is quite the sight to see on Tik Tok, and it's helping Barbacoa Los Cuates get noticed. 

two barbacoa tacos on handmade tortillas with a splash of mole and light dusting of cilantro and onions.

The tortillas are hand-made fresh, and they also offer a birria de chivo estilo Jalisco, the sleeper item here. Torres is in the final stages of getting a permit approved for his trailer that's parked across from his garage. He's planning on hitting the streets as soon as the paperwork is finalized. For now, you might still have a chance to get a glimpse of this oven. 

Barbacoa Los Cuates ~ Sundays 8am - 2pm ~ 1308 N. Mona Blvd, Compton CA, 90222 ~ 323-412-2368

Janette Villafana contributed to this story.

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