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Rene “Ray” Ramirez, Pit-Master Behind Southeast LA’s Ray’s BBQ, Dies At 47

Rene “Ray” Ramirez, via Instagram

The community of Huntington Park and the greater Los Angeles area lost a true barbecue legend this past Monday.

Rene “Ray” Ramirez, owner and operator of Ray’s BBQ, passed away, leaving behind a wife and three children. His untimely death was announced on Instagram Tuesday afternoon, sending a shockwave through the heart of the Los Angeles food community.

“His passion for the craft of BBQ was able to change the lives of our family while providing a profound connection to people around the world,” Ramirez’s son, Sebastian Ramirez, wrote on a GoFundMe page set up in his father’s name following his death. “It was something that he could’ve only dreamed of 8 years ago.”

At the bottom of the GoFundMe page, Sebastian posted a series of photos of his late father as well as an image of the suicide awareness ribbon. According to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, Ramirez died by suicide on February 7 at the age of 47. Results of an autopsy are still pending, according to a spokesperson for the medical examiner.

Ray’s barbecue journey started from humble beginnings; a single pellet smoker in his mom’s backyard to be exact. Initially a side-hustle and hobby, his smoked goods quickly exploded in popularity and attracted hundreds of meat-thirsty patrons every weekend. As the legend goes, a line would form around Hood Avenue all the way down to Gage Avenue.

After a couple of visits from health inspectors and a dozen pellet smokers later, the city of Huntington Park awarded him with a grant, in 2014, to assist in opening a brick and mortar restaurant for what would become an L.A. barbecue temple. Touting state-of-the art smokers using whole hickory wood, and a fully decked out dining room and outdoor patio, Ray’s BBQ grew into a must visit destination for Texas-style barbecue enthusiasts. 

Over eight years, Ray’s ability to masterfully smoke meats to tender perfection amassed a following of tens of thousands online, reaching critical appeal as far as Texas and his home country of El Salvador. He would go on to feature in multiple publications for his unparalleled ability to smoke brisket perfectly.

Ray's BBQ Burrito. Photo by Cesar Hernandez.
Ray's BBQ Burrito. Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

Unwavering in his commitment to quality and innovation, the menu at Ray’s would evolve over time to include wagyu brisket and Kurobuta pork in traditional and not-so-traditional ways. From serving classic Texas-style brisket platters alongside pulled-pork nachos to massive barbecue burritos stuffed to the brim with his famous smoked meats and delectable house made sides. A true family-owned business, Rays BBQ was operated by Ray himself along with his wife and two sons. 

Most recently, Ray made headlines again for his decision to become a halal-certified establishment. He shared with L.A. TACO that his choice was rooted in the ethical nature of Halal slaughtering methods and the fair treatment of halal raised cattle.  

The announcement of Ray’s sudden passing on the restaurant’s Instagram account currently has over 750 comments from those who mourn the loss, including the likes of Warren G and prominent L.A. restaurateurs. If you had the fortune of meeting Ray, you know that his welcoming smile and hospitality were as heart-warming as biting into one of his brisket burritos or pulled pork sandwich. Rene “Ray” Ramirez is remembered by thousands as a kind, hard-working family-man who dedicated himself to the craft of Texas-style barbecue and beat the odds as a successful Salvadoran-American Pit Master from Huntington Park.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a lifethreatening mental health crisis, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255

Ray’s family, who help operate Ray's BBQ, is currently fundraising for expenses due to his unexpected passing. Consider donating here.

They're also open today until they sellout or 2 PM (6038 Santa Fe Ave, Huntington Park, CA 90255).

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