Poking the Fat Pig


“Hick’ry, cedar, and oak,” was the enthusiastic reply of the clerk in the ear-flapped cap when asked what kinds of wood were being used in the smoker. He was presiding over a blackened meat selection that glistened in metal receptacles under hot lights. The flank steak—an oddball thing to barbecue—looked a little dry, but the shredded pork appeared moist and crusty with its spice rub. Ultimately, I gravitated toward the beef brisket. It was gloriously fatty, and smelled powerfully of hardwood smoke when I sat down to eat it at one of the long picnic tables.

Heralded by a frilly pink neon sign on Metropolitan Avenue, Fette Sau (“Fat Pig”) is the Teutonic name of Williamsburg’s hit new barbecue joint, in a tip of the hat to the old German-market barbecues of Texas. The place is engagingly bare bones, having been transformed from a former auto-repair garage. There are a few whimsical touches, too, including a video fire merrily burning on one wall, and beer pulls that incorporate random pieces of hardware, including chewed-up kitchen knives. For a barbecue, the beer selection is surprisingly sophisticated. No PBRs here.

As at the legendary barbecue pits of Texas, most ‘cue is sold by the pound (mainly $15), and heaped on butcher paper. The meat—beef, pork, and lamb; no chicken or fish—has been rubbed with a rudimentary spice mixture, and, thankfully, hasn’t been pre-swabbed with sauce. There’s not a drop of liquid smoke on the premises. The sauces on the side are limited to ketchup, vinegar (for the pulled Carolina-style pork), and a dark, gritty barbecue sauce, probably best diluted with one of the other two. The sides are comically limited to mediocre German potato salad (which perversely lacks bacon), half-sour pickles, and meat-laced beans that my friend John said were some of the best he’d ever tasted. As at many of America’s great barbecues, the sides are entirely forgettable. There’s no bread, apart from tiny dinner rolls, which seem intended to discourage you from making sandwiches.

What about the ‘cue? The brisket can be spectacular, sliced thick and rimmed with crisp fat. The pork short ribs ($11 half rack, $22 full rack) are tasty, but a bit dry and hammy due to oversmoking. One evening, shredded lamb was a big hit with my crew; it was fragrant with the odor of pasturage. Sometimes—according to the chalkboard menu, which promises more than it can deliver—there are baseball-bat beef ribs, which I didn’t get to try. The pork sausages are smoky and greasy, but too chunky inside for my taste.

Charmingly, Fette Sau adds some unusual items to the barbecue canon, including the aforementioned flank steak. At $20 per pound, it’s the most expensive meat in the place. Contrary to my earlier visual impression, it was damn good. In a nod to modern restaurateuring, pork belly’s sometimes available, so amazingly fatty that it may make some diners blanch. Hey, if you can take it at Fatty Crab, why not at Fat Pig? But the happiest barbecue invention is the pig’s tail ($2.25). I popped in after drinking beer one evening at the related bar across the street, Spuyten Duyvil, and scored one. It proved the perfect late-night snack.

To eat my ‘cue Texas-style, I’ve taken to carrying in a loaf of Wonder from the bodega next door. Nobody beefs.