Here are 10 things that give our (emerging) tradition its character:

1. Beyond baby back. Mighty Quinn's does a beef rib as big as an Irish shillelagh in Gangs of New York. Fatty and blackened, it sails in still on the bone. In Texas, only Louie Mueller's and the County Line chain do a rib that approaches it in size, while most barbecue joints use pork ribs. Blue Smoke, Fette SauWildwood Barbeque, and Daisy May's BBQ do giant beef ribs, too. Everything's bigger in New York.

2. Leaning in to Lamb. With the exception of places in Llano, Texas, and Owensboro, Kentucky, where joints smoke lamb and mutton, respectively, most barbecues stick to pork and beef, with an occasional nod to chicken. Inspired by the Middle Eastern presence in its Long Island City neighborhood, John Brown Smokehouse tosses slender lamb sausages into the pit, tapping the real Queens terroir. 

At Mighty Quinn’s in the East Village, your brisket sandwich sails in on a brioche.
James Worrell
At Mighty Quinn’s in the East Village, your brisket sandwich sails in on a brioche.
Thank you for smoking: BrisketTown’s Daniel Delaney hauled his 18-foot smoker back from Texas.
Mark Hewko
Thank you for smoking: BrisketTown’s Daniel Delaney hauled his 18-foot smoker back from Texas.

3. Brisket-obsessed. Daniel Delaney isn't the only one in New York to elevate brisket to his No. 1 meat, as he does at BrisketTown. Robert Pearson did it long ago at Stick to Your Ribs, and the tradition continues at Ranger Texas Barbecue. Born into a Texas family, Hugh Mangum has made it the centerpiece of his menu at Mighty Quinn's, and brisket is front and center on about half the menus in town.

4. Link bait. New York barbecues have long realized the importance of sausages. Hill Country actually imports its beef sausages from its Lockhart mentor, Kreuz Market. For a time, Mable's Smokehouse imported their bright red hot links from Oklahoma, and it's been known to do the occasional alligator-venison number. But most NYC barbecues have stayed local: Pearson used kielbasa at Stick to Your Ribs and hot Italian is the link of choice at Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue. "We tried Texas hot links," says pitmaster Matt Fisher, "and thought about kielbasa, but spicy Italian sausage just fit much better with our Brooklyn-barbecue theme."

5. Fearless about Chicken. Hill Country is the first barbecue to offer beer-can chicken, not normally a barbecue option in Lockhart or anywhere else, while Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue and the  Smoke Joint do wings with a nice smoky flavor—all attempts to solve the rubber-skin chicken problem that makes many venerable pits avoid poultry. Channeling the great Jamaican jerk parlors of Flatbush, Wildwood Barbeque does crisp-skinned jerk chicken wings with a lingering burn.

6. Embracing our french side. Slices of white bread, spongy and anemic, are still served in Texas barbecues. Pearson kicked it up a notch with torpedo-shaped Portuguese rolls at Stick to Your Ribs. But Mighty Quinn's went to the gloriously effete extreme of laying out their sandwiches on brioche rolls. "The combination of the buttery bread and the fatty brisket really worked for me," Mangum told me recently. Other parlors in town freestyle tiny potato rolls (Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue), thick Texas toasts (John Brown Smokehouse), or no bread at all.

7. Less god, more beer. You're lucky if you can get a beer in some Texas barbecues, which are often located in dry counties. Many North Carolina barbecues don't sell beer for religious reasons. New Yorkers, unsurprisingly, don't let God interfere with their drinking, and places like Fette Sau and John Brown Smokehouse deliver lots of craft beers on tap.

8. And whiskey. If mere beer won't get you where you need to go, Astoria newcomer Strand Smokehouse offers whiskey drawn from giant kegs. Fette Sau champions American whiskeys, too, while Neely's Barbecue Parlor and Fort Reno Provisions offer fancy mixed drinks. Hill Country hosts karaoke with a live band in the basement.

9. Nose-to-tail smokin'. New York pitmasters are experimentalists in a way that Kansas City's, say, are not. Fette Sau toys with pig cheeks, chops, and belly; at one time it even played around with pig tails. John Brown Smokehouse does pork belly, too, jamming it into a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayo and calling it the PBLT. Fletcher's smokes Chinese char siu pork, and produces an amazing facsimile of a North Carolina pulled pork sandwich, complete with vinegar slaw. Brother Jimmy's does great Brunswick stew, the thick leftover barbecue soup from North Carolina and Virginia. Fort Reno Povisions layers BBQ and sides into a parfait called a "hot mess."

10. 'Cue meets jew.  The proximity of great delis like Katz's and Second Avenue Deli has been an irresistible force for NYC barbecuers. Fette Sau was the first place to attempt pastrami, but John Brown Smokehouse and Strand Smokehouse have followed suit. 

Yes, Gotham has the most varied collection of barbecues in the country—something we can be very proud of. And now if we could get more Carolina 'cue (lots of places here attempt it, but with little success), and maybe some from northern Kentucky, we'd be completely happy. And if it came with a nice Barolo, we'd be in heaven.

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