It’s no secret that this city is in the throes of another barbecue renaissance, and like the cooking conditions for a well-done brisket, the process of getting to this point has been low and slow. The previous decade saw several spikes in ‘cue prevalence, adding regional styles to the restaurant landscape along the way. Post-millennial NYC barbecue owes thanks in part to operations like the now-defunct Pearson’s Texas BBQ (c. 1992) and Virgil’s Real Barbecue (c. 1994), which, while indeed real, now seems staid compared to the current smoky frontrunners (though, there are plenty worse options than Virgil’s Memphis pork ribs if you’re in Times Square). From early torchbearers like Danny Meyer and Adam Perry Lang to Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty ‘Cue and Hugh Mangum’s Mighty Quinn’s, the city’s smoked-meat options have never looked more well-marbled, and we can proudly declare that our barbecue bark is now as good as our bite. Here are our 10 best barbecue restaurants in NYC.
10. Butcher Bar, 37-08 30th Avenue, Queens
Ethically raised meat gets the star treatment at Matthew Katakis’s butcher shop turned barbecue restaurant. Pork ribs and burnt ends command respect, but the go-to order channels Philadelphia for inspiration. Chunks of smoky brisket topped with melted cheese and griddled onions drag an East Coast classic down South with compelling results. In-house sausages also give the shop ample opportunity to showcase the quality of its for-sale products; the plump links derive their homespun look from their coarse grind and natural casings, the filling bursting through the crackled exterior.
9. Hill Country Barbecue Market, 30 West 26th Street
However Texas-meets-Disneyland the place might be, this bi-level ode to the Lone Star State (and specifically, the Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas) displays its serious barbecue chops when it’s doling out thick wedges of fatty brisket and plump sausages imported from the very market that inspired the space. Load up on meat and sides like corn pudding and black-eyed peas and head to the downstairs bar where you’re likely to find a live performance. Past acts have included Tom Colicchio and Joe Bastianich, who tugged at both heartstrings and guitar strings to celebrate the launch of an “industry night” special a few years ago.
8. The Strand Smokehouse, 25-27 Broadway, Queens
When Queens native and former John Brown Smokehouse chef de cuisine John Zervoulakos decamped to The Strand, he promised to put his own local spin on the techniques he learned while under Josh Bowen’s tutelage. And so this beer garden-barbecue hall combo in Astoria serves Greek-inflected slow-cooked lamb leg, smoky and fragrant with rosemary, in addition to oddball specials like duck pastrami and beef short ribs hefty enough to rival Kenny Callaghan’s exalted specimens at Blue Smoke. Not into land animals? Zervoulakos channels old New York with barbecue kippered salmon, hot-smoked and served chilled.
7. Fatty ‘Cue, 50 Carmine Street; 91 South 6th Street, Brooklyn
Currently enjoying the quiet life with his family upstate, Zak Pelaccio started something special with ‘cue guru Robbie Richter in 2010 with the original Fatty ‘Cue in Williamsburg. Watching the brand expand to the West Village then shutter for over a year in Brooklyn only to rise from the ashes like a smoke-charred phoenix (mmm … magical bird meat) has been juicy drama for New York restaurant obsessives. Luckily, the meats coming out of chef de cuisine Anthony Masters’s kitchen are just as succulent as the gossip, as familiar cuts are put through the Fatty Southeast Asian wringer. Spots of brilliance come in unlikely places, as in a West Village starter of tender poached chicken tossed with intense smoked eggplant, celery, sesame, and pickled jalapeño. Bonus points for ending the meal with pies from Butter & Scotch.
6. Blue Smoke, 116 East 27th Street
Danny Meyer’s foray into barbecue country helped lay some of the foundation for the city’s current ‘cue climate, and over 10 years later, the food coming out of chef Kenny Callaghan’s kitchen has helped keep this spot relevant. Pulled pork achieves a balance of smoke and saucy tang, piled high over white bread during dinner or bursting out of brioche at lunch. Chicken wings exhibit a similar piquancy, cooled down when dipped into blue cheese. Also of note: Blue Smoke’s mac and cheese is some of the best in town, arriving at the table with a soufflé-delicate browned crust.
5. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 700 West 125th Street; 604 Union Street, Brooklyn
Twenty-five years ago, when everyone was scanning the South for smoked meat inspiration, John Stage up and opened a damn fine barbecue joint in Syracuse, New York. Now with locations in Harlem and Park Slope, the chain boasts two hallmark items–mammoth chicken wings and tender pork ribs–both of which hinge on Dinosaur’s addictive smoky-sweet barbecue sauce. But meats alone do not a barbecue restaurant make, and dishes like fried green tomatoes with smoked shrimp remoulade, as well as simple sides like Syracuse-style boiled salt potatoes, reveal the attention to detail put into the menu.
4. BrisketTown and Smokeline, 359 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, and the High Line near West 16th Street and 10th Avenue
Crowned the 2013 Brisket King (no really, there’s an actual crown), Daniel Delaney took his Texas-inspired barbecue game to the elevated streets when he opened Smokeline on The High Line. The Brooklyn flagship cooks up arguably the city’s best brisket, and even offers breakfast tacos starting at 8 a.m. Across town, you’d do well to stick to what’s between the buns. That means either “The Deckle” or “The Mess”: the former showcases slices of fatty brisket flickering with spice from a peppery bark and hit with the zip of pickles and onions, the latter is a mash of the same brisket, pulled rib meat, and griddle-crisped cheese assaulted with chili sauce and onion relish. Both are only available at Delaney’s Manhattan kiosk, which serves an abbreviated menu of brisket, sandwiches, and ribs.
3. Fette Sau, 354 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
Williamsburg’s first post-millennial barbecue joint is also its most adventurous. Pork belly, a rare find in the city’s barbecue community, is a menu mainstay here, but if you happen to see any lamb or goat, jump on it. Feeling cheeky? Pinch at the glistening face meat of both pork and wagyu beef. In another New York barbecue first, Fette Sau was also the first outfit to experiment with slow and low pastrami.
2. Alchemy, Texas; 71-04 35th Avenue; Queens
Occupying the space that previously held Robert Pearson’s eponymous meat paradise (which then turned into Ranger Texas Barbecue), Alchemy is a playground of sorts for Josh Bowen of John Brown Smokehouse. Even if the end results aren’t always spectacular (though most of them are), it’s loads of fun witnessing the swirling aurora borealis of barbecue tradition and NYC ingenuity at work. To wit: goat ribs and a rosy, fat-capped hunk of prime rib redolent with smoky char. Even frogs legs appear, taking a wallop of Indian spices, a mop of foie gras, beer, and vinegar.
1. Mighty Quinn’s, 103 2nd Avenue
Hugh Mangum’s beefy brick-and-mortar aspirations have become the stuff of barbecue dreams. Don’t believe us? Proof comes sliced and piled into brioche buns in the form of brisket with a squirt of sweet-sour “Texalina” sauce. A hulking beef rib vies for the top spot with exemplary pulled pork. Both meats sport aggressive bark, with an interior that’s tender as can be. Throw in a solid list of craft beers available by the cup or growler, plus thoughtful sides like edamame with goat cheese, and you’ve got yourself a contender for the title. With a majority of highs and only one or two lows (pork ribs, lackluster sausages), Mighty Quinn’s might just be the most well-rounded barbecue experience in the city.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 8, 2013