Notes on the Local Barbecue Revolution

The burning log has been passed from Texas to NYC, or at least a guy from Rego Park.Photo: Josh Ozersky


Is the great Calvin Trillin rubbing his eyes in wonderment? Has New York become, after years of bitterness and complaint, a kind of glittering Kansas City by the sea? Or is New York actually a better barbecue town, these days, than K.C. or Memphis or any of the other fabled smoke pits around the country? With the success of Kansas City facsimiles like RUB, Danny Meyer’s annual BBQ festival, and the recent arrival of Hill Country, some respected barbecue hounds actually think so. And what does the Gobbler think? The Gobbler thinks barbecue is a lot better and more ubiquitous in the big city than it used to be. Here’s his guide to the new barbecue revolution.

New York, international BBQ mecca. Since the advent of Danny Meyer’s wildly popular Big Apple Barbecue Block Party put the city on the BBQ map, noted pitmasters have colonized the city like superchefs in Las Vegas. Kansas City's Paul Kirk helped found RUB; Rick Schmidt brought a charred piece of oak up from Lockhart, Texas, to christen the smoker at Hill Country.

Know your local pitmasters. The best new BBQ joints in town share one thing in common: Their pitmasters (Daisy May's Adam Perry Lang, RUB's Scott Smith, Hill Country's Robbie Richter, and Dinosaur's John Stage) are homegrown and learned their craft in New York State.

Hold the sauce! New York pitmasters may know how to cook meat, but their feeble attempts at barbecue sauce (see the dreckish sauce sold at Fette Sau and Hill Country) are grim approximations of the real thing.

Faux is good. There will never be such a thing as terroir in New York BBQ, so embrace the honky-tonk-themed Vegas fakery. As the competition increases, the quality of the city’s facsimile rib joints, like Hill Country, has increased too.

Diversity is all. Can you get real “soft” Texas brisket in Kansas City? Or anything approaching the smoky, gently charred platter of pork short ribs the Gobbler enjoyed the other evening at Momofuku Ssäm Bar? The Gobbler doesn’t think so! What the big city lacks in singular barbecue “terroir,” it makes up for, these days, in range of choice.

Order that pork butt! Or that whole side of ribs. Or the slab of brisket cooked overnight at exactly 220 degrees. Thanks to newfangled chimney technology, the mastery of bulk cooking is the key to the NYC barbecue revolution.

Embrace your yuppiness. So what if there are a bunch of insufferable bank interns chewing baby backs at the next table? Insufferable bank interns are as integral to the New York BBQ scene as grizzled hog farmers are to the scene in North Carolina.

Don’t eat those side dishes (or desserts), because they’ll kill you. It’s the rule in most respectable BBQ joints around the country. With the possible exception of Daisy May’s, it’s the rule here too: These are profoundly unhealthy dishes. —Adam Platt

Related: Barbecue, the New Deli? Who Knew? [NYM]