Laugh if You Like, Texas, but New York is Now a BBQ Capital

When I wrote in January that New York 'cue is now among the best in the country, I meant it. But the backlash was swift. And harsh. @Underexposure tweeted: ". . . pit masters and BBQ devotees across Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City & Memphis all roll their eyes in unison." Barbecue blogger Daniel Vaughn groused to the Houston Press, "They get a few joints with a decent brisket, and now NYC is a BBQ capital?" Even New Yorkers didn't believe me. Meat man Josh Ozersky snorted on Twitter, "What that dope doesn't know about barbecue could fill volumes."

Ever since my college days in Texas, I've obsessed over tracking down the country's greatest barbecues, logging thousands of miles to check out obscure pits in places like Paducah, Kentucky, and Hemingway, South Carolina. I've published maybe 75,000 words on the subject, including an eight-part series titled "Great Barbecues of Texas" for the Voice's food blog, Fork in the Road. I may have been born in Michigan, but when it comes to barbecue, I know what the hell I'm talking about.

And while it's taken a quarter century to get our act together, New York isn't playing either: We have developed a fantastic collection of pits. These tend to be inspired by Texas barbecue, which arose from the black-dirt farm country east of Austin—German immigrant towns where barbecue first bloomed around 1900; we even have one place (Hill Country Barbecue Market) trying to replicate the output of a single pit, the one at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. What we lack in regional DNA, we make up for in our range—and the fact that we are finally starting to get it right. New York can offer up the full gamut of 'cue, from the St. Louis style at Blue Smoke (and the now-defunct R.U.B.) to Oklahoma (Mable's Smokehouse), Kansas City (John Brown Smokehouse), Memphis (Neely's Barbecue Parlor, Virgil's Real Barbecue), North Carolina (Brother Jimmy's BBQ), and even Syracuse, New York, an unlikely barbecue destination if ever there was one (Dinosaur Bar-B-Que).

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.

True, barbecue doesn't come naturally to New Yorkers, and our relationship with it has always been a bit rocky. It began, improbably, with a hairdresser from London. Robert Pearson went to the Texas capital to teach mod hairstyles to beauticians in the 1980s, and came back inspired enough to found Stick to Your Ribs in Connecticut, moving to Long Island City in 1992. With its emphasis on smoking slowly over real hardwoods with low, indirect heat, Stick to Your Ribs became the city's first serious BBQ. In his former warehouse near the mouth of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Pearson de-emphasized sauce—though he offered four, with heat levels ranging from mild to "mean"—to highlight the smoky taste of the meat. As he told The New York Times in 1988, "People miss the point. They ask for extra sauce. Sauce is the accompaniment, not the thing of interest."

Much more recently, Daniel Delaney was similarly transported at a 2010 food festival in New Orleans by the brisket of Wayne Mueller (pitmaster of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas). "It redefined barbecue for me," he wrote later. "I had no clue anything smoked for so long could taste so good." Delaney made his own pilgrimage to central Texas, and returned dragging an 18-foot smoker behind a U-Haul. He first used it to barbecue beef for Brisket Lab, a series of 31 pop-up feasts in the summer of 2012, which materialized, among other places, in a church in Greenpoint, on the roof of the Gizmodo headquarters on the Lower East Side, and in a Dutch cemetery in Flatbush. Now, he peddles his way-smoky brisket at BrisketTown, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Danny Meyer had a hand in our BBQ surge, too, when he opened Blue Smoke 11 years ago—splicing a barbecue joint to a jazz club for what might be the first time outside Memphis. Now he's selling authentic Kansas City ribs at the Citi Field home of the Mets and in Battery Park City, too, which is something of a culinary miracle. And his pitmaster and founding partner Kenny Callaghan has shown unswerving fidelity to using real hardwood in his smokers.

Meyer and Callaghan also started the popular Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, an annual summer event that brings prominent maestros from all over the country to Madison Square, where they play to legions of meat lovers. And just last year, Hill Country hosted modern Austin barbecue auteur Aaron Franklin. He imported the technique of smoking brisket longer than even old-time Texas places do it—a whopping 15 hours or more. Gotham 'cue-masters have imitated the practice, and now our briskets couldn't get any smokier. I asked Franklin if he'd ever thought of opening a place in New York City. "No, it's way too much trouble up here," he replied with a laugh. "You've got to import the wood, and do things on such a big scale."

Barbecue never sleeps. It is continually evolving. And the country's greatest pits have always been defined by their quirks. In our innocence of 'cue—in the absence of our own traditions—New York was able to absorb the outside influences, helped along by a small cadre of tong-wielding fanatics. We bow to no one. Even if our black dirt is just rat shit.

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. 

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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markie19
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cajunscouse9
cajunscouse9

NYC a BBQ capital? How cute. Austin must have a dozen Italian restaurants, so we'll just call it an Italian food capital.

pitbastard
pitbastard

Definitely agree NYC needs to stop imitating other styles & create something original. I believe that is now sort of kinda beginning to happen. Most of NYC's BBQ history up until the last couple years was tied up in fancy pants restauranteurs or celebrities with too damn much money hiring "consultants" to "teach" BBQ. Sorry to say - you can't teach BBQ in the time it takes to turn around & open a restaurant in NYC. The end result - most of the food from these corporate/vanity/fratBcues was ok at best but more often than not simply terrible. Timberlake's place failed not because his name was on the door but because people hated the food & service. Neely's is showing similar issues. Hill Country, Blue Smoke & Dinosaur are pretty much running on the past glory of the pitmasters they once had - pitmasters who have since gone independent & started their own joints. And THAT'S where the game is starting to change.

The last couple of years have seen small independent joints opening in the outer boroughs. A single focused pitmaster with years of experience working to make great food that reflects BOTH Southern traditions AND - hopefully - reflects an NYC point of view.  Yes - some are guilty of trying to be Texas or Carolina in NYC - but many are simply using that as a jumping off point. Give NYC a few more years & I believe you'll be surprised at the quality of BBQ coming out of this city. There is more BBQ joints open in NYC than ever & more opening every year. And just like Texas or Kansas or the Carolinas - there are some that are amazing & some that suck. 

I do believe NYC has earned the right to be on any "BBQ Experts/Fanatic/Aficionado"'s list of cities to travel to for BBQ. If you're going to dismiss NYC BBQ without ever trying it - well that just does not seem like the proper Southern thing to do.

hotdawg74
hotdawg74

Sooooo... NY BBQ style is serving Texas Brisket on a brioche?

The reason Texas Q is served on plain white bread is because the meat is so good it doesn't NEED any enhancements!! Nice try though, thanks for playing!

I'll take NY pastrami any day, but my brisket will come from Texas and my pulled pork from eastern NC

raginginsincerity
raginginsincerity

Oh, and stop calling it "cue" and "cueville".  No one says that.  It's like "fetch."  It's never going to happen, and you just embarrass yourselves using the words.

raginginsincerity
raginginsincerity

Howdy ya'll!  Austin, Texas here, the live music capital of the world, and the gateway to the Hill Country.  I just wanted to check in with you fellas and lil' ladies and help ya out a bit.

First, I'm sure you boys'n'girls have plenty of great food up there!  NYC is a diverse and thriving metropolis with an equally diverse population, and that mix must make for some seriously great eating!  I'm glad that you're discovering great barbecue, too; it's almost a religious experience for us Southerners and Texans.

Unfortunately, I need to point out a few things to you.  We have some really great Chinese food down here, and some great ramen joints, and some killer Tex-Mex.  Heck, we even have world-class sushi from chef Tyson Cole at Uchi and Uchi-ko.  The thing is, we don't go around calling ourselves a Sushi Capital, or a Tex-Mex Capital (though we could arguably take that one), or a ramen capital.  You really can't grant yourself that title; it's earned through the recognition of others.

I think it's neat that you guys have Aaron and the Muellers and everyone else up there for a festival. But I don't think that entitles you to any kind of acclaim.

When I hear people in Texas (or Kentucky, or Tennessee, or Mississippi) talking about how great New York barbecue is - how it's a unique style built with multi-cultural influences that's as different as Kansas and Texas barbecue are - then we can talk.  Right now, though, you fellas don't even have your own style yet.

Gotta crawl before ya walk, kids, and walk before ya run.  I know NYC outdoes Texas in lots of areas about lots of things, and I'm okay with that.  


But barbecue ain't one of 'em.

habibi
habibi

If NY BBQ is better than Texas then the BBQ there must be fucking aweful. The meat mush ribs and no-smoke brisket I had at Might Quinn's was terrible. Reminscent of the kind of BBQ one finds in say suburban Chicago. Nothing on this list compares to real Texas, or even the excellent urban BBQ you can find in, well, inner-city Chicago.

Q-easy
Q-easy

Wrong nope uh-uh.

Just got back from Salisbury, NC (pop. 33,663) which boasts more authentic world-class BBQ within a five mile radius than New York City can ever hope for in the immediate future.

BBQ is more than just setting up shop, buying a smoker and ironing out a clever logo / name.

Try again next year. (And yes, I live HERE.)


craigmcdugal
craigmcdugal

New York,   you are just so darned precious.

-Texas

drbbq
drbbq

I've been predicting this day for a long time. The day a New Yorker declared that NY was a legit BBQ Capitol. I actually agree with much of what you say. NY has found it's way with the beef rib and brisket and in many cases a bit of an upscale NY vibe and I like all of that. But no matter how many NY guys go eat at Franklin's and Louie Mueller, the BBQ scene in NY will never be anything but an interpretation of a BBQ Capitol. You just can't rewrite history and the groundwork of real American BBQ was written long ago in Carolina, Texas, Memphis, KC and many other places throughout the South. That's why those places are revered. Not because they all went to Texas and NC to learn. They created it. Why can't NY just be happy doing a good job of honoring that tradition without claiming to have fixed it for us. Maybe I have a sore ass because I taught a few good people in NY how to cook BBQ but nobody ever bothered to notice because Justin Timberlake's name was on the door. I guess you were all too busy being amazed at the Disney-like shiny object that is Hill Country or the hipster mess that was Fatty Cue or lining up to hear Jeffrey Steingarten pontificate about real BBQ at the block party. Neely's? really? To me it looks like the publicists have won again. 

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

While one cannot ignore the German style BBQ in Texas, there are other styles of cooking that are available.  German is only one representation.  NYC cannot be the BBQ capital because of one simple thing, atmosphere.  You cannot replicate rural America surrounded by skyscrapers & globs of human beings walking about.  If you want BBQ, there are many other places to obtain authentic meals.  KC is very hard to beat, even for Texas. 

robjohnsonnyc69
robjohnsonnyc69

I think it's great that we have many different types here in NYC. Choices is what makes NYC such a great place to live. I've tried to live in Texas and New Orleans but I had to come back. I just got bored living in those other places.

ckapp
ckapp

Some guy in NY thinks just because he knows of a few BBQ joints in town that NY is a "BBQ capital." This is why I can never take a New Yorker's word for anything. Places like TX and KC are known for their barbecue around the country by people who have visited, and thus, they earned their designations as BBQ capitals- not because some chump who lives there writes an article to try to convince everyone they are. The only thing NY is the capital of is media, which is why everything there is overhyped and overrated.

jeffoverley2000
jeffoverley2000

This article is accurate, but doomed to predictable criticism, because Southerners will of course be pissed to hear that one of their region's few redeeming features is available in abundance in a place (NYC) that already has everything else going for it.

DiabloRojo
DiabloRojo

Whatever!.. Keep thinking that and I'll just keep enjoying my Texas barbeque just fine.

JR_Ewing
JR_Ewing

It's not that NYC isn't doing good barbecue—I'm sure there are some places up there that are devoted to the craft, but y'all are transporting styles from other parts of the country. What makes Carolina, KC, Memphis and Texas capitals of barbecue are the unique variations that each region brings to the table. When people start talking about what makes NYC barbecue different from the others (besides being from NYC) then y'all will be closer. But bringing "Texas-style brisket" to NYC doesn't make y'all a capital. 

thompste
thompste

NYC bar-b-que capital of which planet? Ever been to Lockhart, Tx. Can you get more than 16 oz worth of beer with your order? ROFLMAO.

vcb_tn7
vcb_tn7

is barbq like this, that good!?, legal in nyc?

allen.harwell
allen.harwell

LMAO! If you were in Llano you weren't eating lamb. That was goat (cabrito). Not to be picky but that's what it was. You really need to take a special trip to Cotton's in Robstown,Texas. Served on butcher paper it's the best commercial BB-Q on the planet.

mheit61
mheit61

I have had Persons when he was in Ct of I95 as well as when he was in LIC. I have had Good Company in Houston. 

Fette Sau, et al are great bbq joints. However, NYC may be A capitol NOT,  THE Capitol.

But to quote a southern pit master I know, "The Brisket may be good now in NYC but it is too damm expensive!!!!

And please dont tell this lifetime new yorker about the cost of living in nyc dictates the price.Its gouging pure and simple

michaelsailors
michaelsailors

This article is FULL of BULLLLLLLLSHEIT. I've never not been able to get a beer with my brisket in Texas. And NC??? There's not a place in the Tri-State area that could even come close to a Stamey's pulled pork sammich. Calm down NYC.....stick to street meat. 

summer96
summer96

Brother Jimmys, and Neelys should never be mentioned in an article about good BBQ... but nice article , all the same

craigmcdugal
craigmcdugal

@jeffoverley2000    LOL Southerners wouldn't get pissed about something like that.  We feel  imilar to what a New Yorker would feel if they ever read the Houston headline -  Houston new King of Thin Crust:     just amused

jocosity
jocosity

@JR_Ewing First of all - love the username! Sorry that we couldn't see the new Dallas series play out all the way because JR was up to his old tricks and it was fun!

Besides that, I'm from Mobile, Alabama, and anybody who thinks they can compete with bbq in the South has another thing coming, because it's not just the food - it's every damn thing that goes along with it.

Michael

Maids a la Mode


sietsema
sietsema

@allen.harwell I've been there -- they serve salsa instead of barbecue sauce -- but didn't that place burn down?

 
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