The Smoke and the Struggle: The Story of Kevin Bludso

By AtticusPublished on: July 9, 2024 Updated on: July 9, 2024
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In the heart of Compton, California, where the vibrant rhythm of life intertwines with the challenges of urban struggle, a young boy named Kevin Bludso was born in 1965. Kevin’s upbringing was marked by the stark contrast of his parents’ lives—his father, David Lee Bludso Sr., a Los Angeles police officer, and his mother, Jean Bludso, a Black Panther sympathizer.

However, Kevin’s family life took a challenging turn when his parents separated. This separation exposed him to the complex dualities of his heritage and environment. “Imagine that,” he would later reflect, “They were divorced, but it kept me out of trouble.

Tragedy struck the Bludso family twice, with the loss of Kevin’s older brother, David Lee Bludso Jr., a Navy serviceman, on July 10, 2019, and later, the passing of his father, David Lee Bludso Sr., on April 10, 2024, at the age of 82.

During the summers, Kevin found refuge and inspiration in Corsicana, Texas, with his grandmother, Willie Mae Fields. Here, amidst the open country and swarms of mosquitos, Kevin discovered his love for barbecue.

Kevin's childhood photo with his father, David Bludso Sr.
Kevin’s childhood photo with his father, David Bludso Sr.

I loved it when granny was cooking brisket all night. I loved it,” he reminisces. It was in these moments, helping his grandmother with the cooking, that Kevin’s passion for barbecue was ignited, even though he swore he would never go into food service.

A Reluctant Path to Barbecue

Ironically, despite his deep-rooted connection to barbecue, Kevin was initially reluctant to enter the food business. He pursued a degree in business at Bishop College in Dallas, where he also played football.

I enjoyed playing football, but I mainly wanted to graduate,” he recalls. Kevin had a brief flirtation with a professional football career, receiving a call from the Houston Oilers after the draft. “I went down to Houston with the rookie free agents. The first thing they said was ‘Bludso. Linebackers.’ Of course I was only there for one day.

Kevin’s football journey was a lesson in adaptability. “Don’t get comfortable in what you do,” he advises his children. This mindset would later influence his entrepreneurial endeavors. After college, he started working for the Department of Corrections, but a wrongful termination left him at a crossroads.

With no job and mounting pressures, Kevin fell back on what he knew best: catering and DJing. “Everybody kept saying ‘you need a restaurant, you need a restaurant,’ and finally, I said, ‘ok.’

The Struggle for Recognition and Respect

Kevin’s journey wasn’t as straightforward as the smoke rising from his barbecue pits. His path was marked by the complex realities of being a black man in America. The struggle for financial support was a battle on its own. Loans for African Americans came with stipulations that seemed designed to keep dreams just out of reach.

Kevin knew this firsthand, wrestling with the requirement for collateral when starting from nothing. “How can you have collateral?” he would ask. “And of course, when you start, you’re using your own stuff, letting bills go astray, your credit is suffering.

Kevin faced challenges to establish his business due to his race
Kevin faced challenges to establish his business due to his race

Despite these challenges, Kevin’s spirit remained unbroken. The city of Compton, with its own battles and triumphs, stood by him as much as it could. “Anything I needed, they tried to do,” he recalled. “It broke their hearts” when they couldn’t do more, but their efforts were not in vain. They laid the groundwork for Kevin to navigate the turbulent waters of entrepreneurship.

From Pitmaster to Personality

Kevin didn’t just become a chef; he became a torchbearer of cultural heritage and resilience. His business acumen, honed at Bishop College in Dallas, combined with the rich culinary traditions imparted by his grandmother, paved the way for the creation of Bludso’s BBQ. His barbecue became a bridge, connecting the soulful flavors of Texas with the diverse, hungry hearts of Los Angeles.

Since 2020, Bludso has served as a judge on the Netflix series The American Barbecue Showdown, a reality television series that showcases the competitive spirit and artistry of barbecue.

Originally filmed in Covington, Georgia, the show premiered on September 18, 2020. By the third season, the filming location had moved to Gay, Georgia.

Through this platform, Kevin shares his love for barbecue and his story of perseverance with audiences across America, further solidifying his influence in the culinary world.

Balancing Business and Family

The relentless demands of the barbecue business often weighed heavily on Kevin Bludso. Reflecting on his journey, he recalled moments of guilt for missing football games due to his work commitments. “I felt bad because I missed a lot of football games with the kids,” he admitted.

However, a friend offered him a comforting perspective: “Hey look Kev, do you remember doing that stretch early on, when you were working multiple jobs, the DJing, the catering? You were home with the kids all through their most influential years.

Indeed, Kevin’s early years of juggling multiple jobs meant he was present during crucial moments of his children’s upbringing. “Warm breakfast was every single day, and by the time they’d come home, dinner was cooked, and we got on the homework,” he reflected.

Kevin Bludso's children; Iman and Dallas
Kevin Bludso’s children; Iman and Dallas

This dedication paid off, as evidenced by his children’s achievements: his daughter, Iman, graduated from medical school, and his son, Dallas, graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 2023, where he studied psychology. Despite the challenges, Kevin’s efforts ensured his children received the support and guidance they needed to succeed.

While Kevin often speaks about his children and their accomplishments, he has never publicly talked about his wife or marriage, keeping that aspect of his personal life private.

About Author: Atticus

Atticus boasts more than seven years of expertise as a writer specializing in the entertainment sector. He possesses a profound knowledge of film, music, and television, crafting compelling stories that engage a wide-ranging audience. His writing is both accessible and enlightening, simplifying intricate subjects for readers from various walks of life.