I’ve ratted out many New York barbecues over the last few years, based on the complaint that the meat didn’t taste smoky enough, or even worse, that the flavor came from barbecue sauce containing the vile chemical cocktail liquid smoke. When it comes to the various styles of barbecue available in Gotham—whether originating in the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City, or Texas—I’ve been an equal-opportunity abuser. Now, finally, a barbecue has appeared that I dig right out of the starting gate.
Smoke Joint occupies the space formerly known as South East Asian Cuisine, just down the street from Brooklyn Tech High School . The sweet smell of hardwood smoke wafts down the street, pulling you into this orange-colored shanty, which boasts a pair of small dining rooms. As I stood waiting for my crew on a cold clear Saturday evening, I couldn’t help noticing that the place was almost a little too cheery and comfortable, so that the patrons didn’t want to leave, and sat nursing their beers, which, at $2.50 for a Pigslap or a Sugar Hill, must be accounted a bargain. Only as I was leaving did I notice that the smoke I’d smelled issued from a small censer with smoldering embers placed outside the front door. High concept, low tech.
The actual smoker is a compact affair that crouches behind the counter; one of the owners reached over to open it when I inquired. I could barely make out the densely stacked ribs, poultry, and sausages as smoked billowed out the door. The menu has varied over the last few weeks, as the proprietors have experimented with different meats, sauces, and techniques to arrive at a mix they could dub Brooklyn barbecue. A few days earlier, I’d asked about beef brisket, and they’d promised to make one that Saturday. Brisket has been an obsession of mine since attending the University of Texas at Austin, where the barbecue at such nearby places as Kreuz Market, Mueller’s, and The Salt Lick is some of the best in the world. Smoke Joint has that sort of dedication to smoke, and a serious stack of maple stands by the front door. Maple is Brooklyn’s mesquite.
That evening we downed some amazing brisket—fatty, smoky, and just plain delicious. “Why don’t you do it more often?” I asked Ben Grossman, one of the two classically-trained chefs who own Smoke Joint (the other is Craig Samuels). “It takes too long,” was the candid reply. “That brisket spent 14 hours in the smoker.” The same smokiness pertains to the hacked beef sandwich ($7). The meat comes from the cudgel-size beef short ribs, which are available on their own, two to an order, for $14.
Other highlights include bright red-hot links, New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp, and chicken which is way smoky, with an authentically rubbery skin. The pork short ribs (half rack, $10) coated with a Memphis-style spice rub are sometimes a little dry, while the “tips and bits” (rib ends, $7) tend to be moist and flavorful. As at all great barbecues, the sides are forgettable. Exceptions are the grilled corn and “Brooklyn wings.” Constituting Brooklyn’s revenge on Buffalo, these wings have been smoked before the vinegary sauce is applied. Why didn’t anybody think of that before?