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In Huntington Park, a Salvi-Owned BBQ Restaurant Takes a Risk and Switches to a Completely Halal Beef Menu

[dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]estled within a low-key Huntington Park strip mall, lives some of the best Halal Texas-Style barbecue outside the Lone Star State. The founder and Pit-Master of Rays Texas BBQ, Rene Martinez, aka Ray, first sold his smoked barbecue wonders via Facebook, right out of his backyard in Southeast L.A. 

His pulled pork and pork ribs gathered hundreds to his home for their meat candy fix. As Ray's journey progressed, he found his niche in Texas-style smokehouse barbecue and has made it his mission to provide customers the best possible quality. The brisket alone is a 16 to 18-hour labor of love, starting in the middle of the day and ending in the early hours of the following day. While Ray leads the point on all things barbecue, he wouldn’t be able to do it all without his family. Since middle school, his two sons, Sebastian and Raul (19 and 23), have assisted the front-of-house and kitchen staff, and his wife Anabel is the mastermind behind all of the deliciously addicting side dishes. 

Rays BBQ’s commitment to quality and innovation has proven successful, regularly selling out and receiving local and national critical acclaim. Regulars and followers know that the menu is ever-changing, reflecting Ray's unfettered commitment to quality and innovation, having amassed a dedicated clientele and Facebook fan base over the years. 

Halal beef brisket sandwiches on brioche buns. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.
Halal beef brisket sandwiches on brioche buns. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.
Halal beef brisket sandwiches on brioche buns. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.
Halal beef brisket sandwiches on brioche buns. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.

However, the latest change no one saw coming: the switch to a completely certified Halal menu. This idea began as early as his first couple of years in business. “The first time I ever heard about Halal was 2016, I started experimenting with brisket around 2015, but then I was like okay, I gotta go to Texas, so I went and found out what kind of meat they were using which was from Creekstone Farms, and what happened was as I started using it, I started advertising it. I started getting phone calls from the Islamic community.” 

At the time, there was a myth going around that Creekstone Farms was doing Halal. “I was like, what the heck is Halal?” Says Ray. “Because you know? Being Salvadoran and not having any Muslim friends, I didn’t know what it was. Ray tells L.A. TACO that he got about 20 phone calls from people asking the same question. So he called Creekstone’s rep to get to the bottom of it. 

“I call up my rep, and he’s like, ‘yeah, there’s a rumor going around that they were Halal certified but in reality were not,’ so I left it at that because I wasn’t that interested, I was still a rookie.”

Halal beef brisket.
Halal beef brisket at Ray's BBQ. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.

Halal food adheres to Islamic law. It directly translates to “permissible” in Arabic.  The second-largest Muslim population in the country calls Los Angeles home, with an estimated 500,000 Angelenos identifying as Muslim. It isn’t uncommon to see Halal-friendly restaurants around town, though it is not the most prevalent thing to see. For Texas-style barbecue, an American culinary institution, it is nearly impossible to find. 

While rooted in the ethical nature of the Halal certification, Ray’s decision is a jab at the conventional idea of what it means to be American. 

When asked about his reason to transition into Halal beef, Ray explains that it all started on a tour of the facility where he sources his beef. “So I'm going through the whole facility, and then we get to the part where they’re slaughtering, and once you see the cow being slaughtered humanely, and you see them not even aware of what is happening.” Ray continues, “If I were a cow, I wouldn’t want to know what is happening.”

After researching a little more, Ray requested some of the humanely slaughtered beef, which tasted the same. “You’re not losing anything, but what you’re gaining is you’re eating ethically.”

Halal beef brisket at Ray's BBQ. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.

Ray initially launched the idea with “Halal Saturdays,'' where he only served Halal beef, leaving his famous pulled pork available for the weekdays. Still, after seeing a high demand for his smoked Halal beef, he's now transitioned into a completely certified Halal menu, eliminating all of his pork items, including his famous sausages, one of the most sought-after menu items. 

“Pork is gone, and I’ve made a lot of enemies for that,” Ray says. His menu changes usually are met with some sort of pushback, but nothing like what he has experienced since his commitment to a Halal menu. 

“Oh boy, I’ve received some messages, I think I got about 15 messages, and I had to delete and block them. I’m not going to lie to you; it did bring some tears to my eyes because I thought this was 2021, but prejudice is alive and kicking, and it's a lot more alive and kicking.”  

Ray’s decision to commit to a Halal-only menu goes far beyond food. It highlights Los Angeles’ unique destination as a cultural mosaic. This is a Salvadoran American-owned, nationally acclaimed, Texas-style barbecue offering a completely Halal menu? Not to mention its distinct geographical location in a neighborhood known more for its Mexican food. 

While rooted in the ethical nature of the Halal certification, Ray’s decision is a jab at the conventional idea of what it means to be American. 

Being raised ethically, humanely slaughtered, the animal lives for 28 months instead of six months. It is free-range instead of on those feeders filled with pee and poop, and that’s all they see all their life. And I think after seeing all that, I probably won’t go back.” 

Aside from receiving hate and losing 300 followers within two days after announcing his decision to serve Halal barbecue exclusively, the overall reception has been “fucking awesome.” in Ray’s words. He goes onto explain the risk he took in removing pork from his menu, “You gotta remember this is a serious move. It may sound easy, but when you go to a barbecue shop in Southern California, right off the bat, you expect ribs and pork.” 

The risk isn’t only limited to critical reception. Still, his split decision to transition and commit to Halal has left Ray with just under $20,000 in unusable Kurobuta pork inventory sitting in his freezers. What are his plans with all of that premium pork? Well, he plans to have the pork cooked and fed to the homeless in L.A.

A BBQ plate full of Halal beef at Ray's.
A BBQ plate full of Halal beef and all the sides at Ray's. Photo by Elmer Argueta for L.A. TACO.

Ray is still keeping his core loyal clientele in mind, so to appease his sausage and pulled pork devotees, Ray plans to offer halal beef-based links using lamb casing, as opposed to pork and “pulled beef.” He is also introducing smoked lamb chops using his classic Texas-style dry rub method. 

When asked if Ray would ever consider reverting from Halal and going back to offering pork, he says. “As of right now...no. In the future, let's say we get a food truck. Let’s say one of my kids decides to open up a second location, maybe. But, I’ll be honest with you, and this is coming from the heart. After doing all the research, I don’t think I want to go back. I feel very in love with how everything works. Being raised ethically, humanely slaughtered, the animal lives for 28 months instead of six months. It is free-range instead of on those feeders filled with pee and poop, and that’s all they see all their life. And I think after seeing all that, I probably won’t go back.” 

Ray's BBQ celebrates its 7th year in business today, on August 31st. You can try all their classics and their newest menu item: Halal smoked sausages, Tuesday to Saturday from 9 AM to 3 PM. If you visit, don’t miss out on the cucumber lemonade or their massive BBQ Brisket burrito, filled to the brim with smoked brisket, barbecue baked beans, and Mac and cheese. 

6038 Santa Fe Ave, Huntington Park, CA 90255

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