Rosh Hashanah Barbeque
Here's a great article written by the legendary Erica Marcus for Newsday.
Erica lists many of the barbeque joints on Long Island, but she doesn't review them. If you're looking for the best place on Long Island, go check out Willie B's on Fifth Avenue in Bayshore. Unfortunately, Will Breakstone's restaurant hadn't opened when this article was written, but you can get some of the best brisket on Long Island at his new place. It's take-out and delivery only, but it easy outshines its competition.
It looks to me that it's time to open up a Kosher BBQ place in Brooklyn!
BBQ BRISKET FOR A SMOKIN' ROSH HASHANAH
By Erica Marcus
Newsday Staff Writer
In the culinary world, brisket plays a dual role. This big, ungainly cut of beef is both the quintessential Jewish holiday meal and the highest achievement of the Texas barbecue tradition.
But brisket isn't the only place where the yarmulke meets the 10-gallon hat. At least around here, it turns out that a disproportionate number of professional pit masters are Jewish.
The approach of the High Holy Days (i.e. brisket season) seems as good a time as any to ponder this phenomenon.
At first glance, Smokin' Al's, the Bay Shore barbecue joint, doesn't evince a whole lot of yiddishkeit. There's a straight-ahead barbecue lineup of ribs (baby backs and St. Louis), pulled pork, smoked sausage, chicken, brisket, collard greens and baked beans. The restaurant's mascot is an exuberant pig in a bandana, and paintings in the dining room portray pigs playing jazz, drinking beer, enjoying a candlelit dinner.
And yet, Smokin' Al himself turns out to be Al Horowitz of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, a former ladies' clothing importer who got bitten by the barbecue bug during frequent sales trips down South. "I'd work all day selling," he recalled, "but I couldn't wait for nighttime, when I'd go out for barbecue and talk to the pit masters."
In 2003, Horowitz left the garment trade to seek his fortune in barbecue and, in November of that year, he opened Smokin' Al's. When Passover 2004 rolled around, he got a few requests for take-out brisket platters from Jewish customers. Every succeeding Jewish holiday brought more orders, many of them for whole briskets that the customers planned to slice at home. "It's not a direction I thought about going in when I opened the place," he said. "But now I'm up to about 40, 50 brisket orders every holiday."
Horowitz grew up in a kosher home, eating his mother's brisket, but confesses that he found it dry and unexciting. "I only started loving brisket when I experienced one that was properly barbecued."
Turning tough into tender
Not to bash mom's brisket; certainly, there are as many badly barbecued briskets out there as there are badly pot-roasted ones. The cut itself presents a challenge to the cook. Weighing in at 10 to 15 pounds, it is composed of two different muscles, each of which goes by many names. The flat (first cut, plate) is long and, beneath a layer of fat, very lean. It is attached to the deckle (point, front cut), which is lumpy and fatty with a crazy-quilt of grains running through it.
The goal of both pot roasting (i.e. braising) and barbecuing (i.e. smoking) is to dissolve the brisket's connective fiber that makes it tough and to melt the fat into the meat to make it tender. Both methods achieve this goal through long cooking and low heat braising with steam and barely simmering liquid, barbecuing with smoke.
Andrew Fischel, co-owner of R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbeque) in Manhattan, could never resist the siren song of the smoke. His mother kept a scrupulously kosher home in Roslyn, but culinary rebellion was in young Andrew's genes. His late father, unable to purge himself of non-kosher demons, opened an Italian restaurant, Teddy Spaghetti, on Glen Cove Road in the early '70s.
Fischel says he was drawn to barbecue partly because its pork-centric orientation made it the ultimate "forbidden fruit." But brisket was the get-out-of-jail-free card. "What was cool about brisket," he said, "was that it was a real barbecue item and it was something I could cook at home."
By age 16, he was barbecuing briskets in his backyard. After college, he took a detour into the dot-com world, but six years ago he gave that up and partnered with his barbecue mentor, the revered Kansas City pit master Paul Kirk (aka Baron of Barbecue) to open up R.U.B. BBQ in Chelsea last spring.
Fischel and Horowitz both followed roundabout paths to barbecue bliss. Stanley Singer, whose Turtle Crossing in East Hampton (opened in 1995) was one of the pioneers of the Long Island barbecue renaissance, took a more direct route: He was born into it. Growing up in Oklahoma City, he was raised on barbecue and especially barbecued brisket - not because it was kosher, but because this was Oklahoma. (The only time in his life he regularly ate pot-roasted brisket was the six-month stretch he spent with his grandparents in Tulsa, studying for his bar mitzvah.)
"If you're a barbecuer from the South or Southeast, you make your reputation on pork. If you're from Texas or Oklahoma - cattle country - you are probably a brisket person."
At Turtle Crossing, Singer has a singular method for barbecuing brisket: He separates the raw brisket into flat and deckle, gives both pieces an overnight dry rub, then places them in pans and barely covers them with a mixture of water and seasonings. The pans go into the smoker and stay for about eight hours.
Doesn't that make the briskets smoked pot roasts?
"I guess so," Singer said.
Perhaps its his cattle-country upbringing that allows Singer to buck barbecue tradition. New York area barbecuers tend to be more conservative. Fischel and Horowitz both smoke their briskets dry and whole, as do Erica Rifkin of Bobbique in Patchogue and Michael Zuckerman, chef and co-owner of Hog House in Huntington, two other Jewish pit masters. Standard operating procedure calls for the brisket to be smoked deckle-side up, so its fat bastes the lean flat beneath.
A cut above the rest
Once a whole brisket comes out of the smoker, myriad serving options present themselves. At Hog House, Zuckerman simply slices it so the customer gets both deckle and flat.
"We slice it deli-thin," he says, "so that you don't wind up with a big lump of fat in your mouth."
Both Horowitz and Rifkin separate the smoked flat from the deckle, slicing the flat and chopping the deckle. Horowitz goes a step further, finishing the sliced brisket on the grill with a little sauce. The trims of both pieces are chunked, topped with sauce, and grilled to crispness for Smokin' Al's version of "burnt ends," which are served on a bed of onion rings.
At R.U.B., Fischel hand-cuts the flat for sliced. The deckle gets returned to the smoker for three to four more hours, then it is cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces for more traditional burnt ends.
Burnt ends, it must be said, occupy a special place in the heart of the Jewish barbecuer. "With all that fat and smoke," said Fischel, "you can approach the depth of pork."
SO CALL ALREADY
No matter who tends the pit, most barbecue restaurants will sell a smoked brisket to serve at home - as do all the ones listed below. Call well in advance to place your order for the Sept. 22-23 Rosh Hashanah meals. Prices range from $11 to $18 a pound.
1 Park Lane
70 W. Main St.
4805 Depot Lane
200 W. Jericho Tpke.
Huntington Station, 631-271-4200
19 W. Main St.
Bay Shore, 631-206-3000
TENNESSEE JACK'S BBQ
148 Carleton Ave.
East Islip, 631-581-9657
THE SMOKEHOUSE GRILL
296 W. Main St.
221 Pantigo Rd.
East Hampton, 631-324-7166