Lately, it feels like you can’t strut anywhere in this city without colliding nostrils-first into an aromatic haze of woodsmoke, but New York’s barbecue culture has evolved as lowly and slowly as the heavily barked meats the beloved cuisine produces. From its ’90s origins with Pearson’s Texas Barbecue in Long Island City to the current state of affairs dominated by the brisket-fueled Lone Star State, Gotham’s ‘cue culture keeps maturing. The landscape’s grown to include a number of barbecue styles from Tennessee, Kansas City, and the Carolinas, although dishes representative of those styles are usually run as specials or as part of broader menus, and plenty of creative pit masters have started tossing all manner of meats in their smokers. Now, barbecue apostle Tyson Ho enters the arena with Arrogant Swine (173 Morgan Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-328-5595), an industrial smoke shack cooking up Carolina ‘cue in Bushwick.
Ho, a disciple of legendary North Carolina pit master Ed Mitchell, chronicled the realization of his dreams for Serious Eats, but you don’t need to read the man’s soul-bearing prose to understand his devotion to the craft. It’s screamed at you from the giant pig mural that adorns the former warehouse’s exterior, which serves as the backdrop for a small picnic area enclosed by a chain link fence. Inside, the walls are whitewashed, but Ho’s dolled up the space with a long bar, where 20 craft beers are on tap and solid whiskey selection is on display.
Like other barbecue halls, patrons place their orders at the counter. The menu here is a crimson chalkboard scribbled with white lettering, continuing the urban tone set by the graffiti outside. You can also sit at the bar, and provided they’re not slammed, the staff will happily put your order in for you.
The Carolinas are one of the most diverse barbecue regions, divided into geographic and ethnographic subsections favoring specific cuts of meat, cooking methods, and sauces that vary in spicing and foundation. Along the northeast coast and spreading inland, the whole hog “pig pickin” style is preferred, wherein the entire animal gets shredded and mixed together, the moist interior meat and smokier exterior intermingling and bound by a vinegar sauce laced with red pepper flakes. Ho tosses pork cracklings into his version for good measure. Between the spices and the crunchy pig skin, some of the smoke perfume does get lost, but it’s porcine flavor runs deep.
Annie, the aforementioned bartender who took our order, recommended stuffing some of the piggy mixture between two pieces of waffle for an unholy sandwich. That’s right, a waffle. There’s no white bread, or even plain sandwich buns. Instead, your starch options are limited to macaroni and cheese, corn pone (a savory corn bread, also cooked in a waffle iron), or a somewhat flabby, walnut-studded sweet potato waffle served with bourbon maple syrup that’s sufficiently boozy. It would make for a killer brunch share item, and Arrogant Swine is gearing up to offer the faux-controversial meal soon. If you’re sore about the lack of sandwich buns, try tossing some pork between two corn pones.
The region’s other favorite barbecue preparation, Lexington style, marries pork shoulder with a thin but pungent ketchup-based vinegar sauce. On a recent visit, Ho’s thickly chopped pig was aggressively smoky but just slightly undersalted — it still sings when dipped into that sauce. And speaking of sauces that sing, South Carolina gets a shoutout via a tangy rendition of the mustard-based sauce that’s favored throughout the state.
Pork belly, mustard-brushed spare ribs, sausage rings, and massive, theme park-style turkey legs round out the menu. There’s also a choice of mayo or vinegar coleslaws. The apple-mustard mayonnaise-based variety was a touch on the astringent side this time around. Loosely packed turkey sausage comes bound with rope. Its smoke is pronounced, the juices weeping with each knife stroke. Order this or the pork version with a waffle and have yourself some mighty fine breakfast-for-dinner, at least until they launch brunch.
Arrogant Swine opened last week, with Ho and crew still making tweaks in the kitchen and on the floor (a construction crew was doing electrical work when we stopped in). Its location is secluded, on the edge of Bushwick and East Williamsburg in a part of the neighborhood that still has a twinge of dystopian future to it. Crossing the tracks leading to a gated train yard on the walk over from the Morgan Avenue L stop lent the trip a heightened sense of anticipation. As a rough-around-the-edges Carolinian case study, it’s a compelling addition to our ever-expanding barbecue scene.