Feeding The Fire: East LA Barbacoa

1. Tia Adelita's barbacoa pit is located behind her home in the San Gabriel Valley; it is a four-foot-by-three-foot-by-three-foot rectangle built on a poured concrete floor and lined with cinder blocks. A welder friend fashioned the two metal grills and heavy scrap-metal doors that cover the pit. Tia Adelita uses a quantity of encino (white oak) wood roughly equal to four times the weight of the lamb. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
2. Tia Adelita starts her fire around midnight on Saturday. While the coals are burning, she makes the half-hour drive to the farm where she buys her lamb. She points at the one she intends to buy, and the rancher lassoes, slaughters, and butchers the 70-pound animal into eight large pieces, including the head. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
3. Back at home, Tia Adelita breaks up the logs and spreads the coals in the bottom of her pit with a long-handled iron shovel. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
4. She sets a 30-quart pot full of aromatics, chickpeas, tomatoes, and rice on the coals and adds five gallons of cold water. (See the Sopa de Garbanzo recipe ») Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
5. She sets the grill on top of the pot and frames the pot with leaves she has harvested from the maguey plants that grow in her two-acre backyard and elsewhere locally. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
6. She arranges the unseasoned pieces of lamb on the grill, over the broth, which keeps the meat moist and flavorful as it cooks. Afterward, it will be served as a soup rich with the meat's drippings. (See the Barbacoa recipe ») Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
7. Tia Adelita uses more leaves to cover the lamb completely before closing the doors on the pit. The leaves help trap moisture to keep the meat from drying out as it slowly cooks. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
8. She covers the doors of the barbacoa pit and lets the meat cook for five hours. Then, with the help of her children, she sets the tables and prepares the remainder of the meal. Inside the smoky pit, the lamb transforms into sweet, fall-off-the-bone meat. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
9. When the lamb is done, Tia Adelita uses tongs to lift the cooked meat from the pit and place it in a rolling, insulated food chest. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
10.Tia Adelita ladles the soup from its cooking pot to serving bowls. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
11. As church lets out, and families arrive to take their seats for a traditional Sunday lunch, Tia Adelita cleaves, pulls, and portions the lamb on a cutting board in the kitchen she's constructed in her former carport. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos
12. Each person is served a steaming bowl of soup, with platters of pulled lamb, chunky guacamole, tomatillo salsa, and fresh corn tortillas. Back to Sunday After Church: East L.A. Barbacoa »Penny de los Santos