Barbecue New York - A Look Back
Internet feeds are a great thing. So are mailing lists and news feeds. But you need to be skeptical of what comes into your in-box.
The article below came into my in-box last night and says it was published last night by AM New York. I think I've read this article before, because it's certainly out of date. Since the article was published, Josh is editing New York Magazine's Grub Street, the Long Island Grill Kings contest has been canceled, BBQ-NYC wasn't held this year, Brooklyn has hosted two Grillin' On The Bay BBQ contests, and Hill Country, regarded by many as NYC's best BBQ restaurant, has opened.
Shame on AM New York for pushing such old material as today's "news."
But it's still an interesting read and look into yesteryear. Here ya go....
By Josh OzerskyBarbecue is booming in New York these days. The perfume of the pits wafts from Woodbury woodpiles and West Village meeting places, from mobile pits in Rego Park and Staten Island to multimillion-dollar restaurants all over Manhattan.
Purists have debated whether any of it is truly authentic. But when Kansas City's legendary "Baron of Barbecue," Paul Kirk, opened a Manhattan restaurant earlier this year, no one could doubt that barbecue had truly arrived.
It was a long time coming.
Those who love barbecue as babies love milk can remember all too well what it was like just a few short years ago. "English Bob" Pearson, as he was sometimes called by his fans, was the only game in town, with restaurants in Long Island City and Jackson Heights, both now closed.
He set the standard for the genuine article - no dry rub, no glaze, sauce on the side - and continues the tradition at his new place, Pearson's Texas Barbecue, 170 E. 81st St. in Manhattan.
It wasn't, and isn't, the sticky-sweet, mushy dish soaked in a cloying sauce that is served in so many franchise restaurants. This was true barbecue, cooked for many hours in a transforming bath of hardwood smoke.
Classic pit smoking changes meat, rendering some of its fat and flavoring what remains, tenderizing the meat as it shrinks and giving the final result a pink ring meaningful to pitheads.
Today, a new barbecue restaurant seems to open every month, with the wildly successful Daisy May's BBQ U.S.A., Blue Smoke, Dinosaur BBQ and now Paul Kirk's R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue), all in Manhattan, being the most notable.
Smoking, or nonsmoking?
But few have adopted Pearson's no-frills aesthetic: most of the new barbecues are as ambitious about their sauces, marinades and spice rubs as they are about the smoking process itself.
"The way I look at it, barbecue doesn't just cook itself. It's a real craft," says Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May's BBQ U.S.A., a classically trained chef who was once a protégé of Daniel Boulud. Perry doesn't like an overly smoky barbecue and so uses wood fuel that has already burned down in his secret, self-designed smoker.
For others, like Pearson and John Stage of Dinosaur, the smoky taste is the essence of barbecue. Indeed, as soon as you walk into Dinosaur, the unmistakable smell of hickory smoke hits you like the remembered face of an old flame.
The smell is the first giveaway that barbecue, in the traditional Southern sense, is something different from what New Yorkers are used to. Says one of the area's best barbecuers, Rick Anselmi of Poppa Rick's Fine Foods in Woodbury, "If you're born here, you have no conception of what barbecue is.''
It's not backyard grilling
For Anselmi, the barbecue epiphany happened 10 years ago on a trip to Houston. "Being from Long Island, I thought barbecue meant grilling in the backyard," he says. "But when you get down there and consider what they consider barbecue, it's a revelation.
"This old man stood by a hinged oil drum for hours and hours and let me taste the brisket he was cooking. It was as tender as a pot roast, but it didn't have a boiled taste. This is a piece of brisket? It was a fascination to me, it really was."
Barbecue hits New York
For many New Yorkers, barbecue is something they've heard about but possibly never had. That is, many never had it until three events in the summer of 2003 helped the current barbecue explosion reach critical mass.
On June 2, Danny Meyer's Big Apple Block Party, sponsored by Blue Smoke, was the Woodstock of New York barbecue. It brought some of the country's most famous pitmasters from their homes in Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and other trans-Hudson barbecue capitals. A couple of weeks later, on June 21, the first annual Grill Kings Long Island BBQ Cook-off was held in Eisenhower Park and Will Breakstone of Islip emerged the winner.
And on Aug. 16, on Ward's Island, Travis Mills and Robert Richter, two young local barbecue enthusiasts, threw BBQ-NYC, a cult event as memorable in its own way as Meyer's extravaganza.
All three events were repeated last year and are planned for this summer as well. It's June 11 and 12 for the Big Apple Block Party, July 23 and 24 for Grill Kings Long Island BBQ Cook-Off. No date is set yet for the BBQ-NYC event. (Last year's Big Apple Block Party was a riot scene, with endless snaking lines and barbecues pressed to capacity, featuring smoked brisket, hot links, pulled pork, and, of course, spareribs.)
Barbecue in New York is still experiencing growing pains. Many of the restaurants that are opening struggle, both with the cooking process and with the expenses involved in slow-smoking and the air-cleaning technology it requires. And not a few home barbecuers have spent 12 to 15 hours on a brisket, gathered a crowd of friends and neighbors around, only to find a bitter, sooty piece of meat to show for it.
But at the end of the day, most everyone bitten by the barbecue bug seems to think that the trouble is worth it.
Al Horowitz, of Smokin' Al's Famous BBQ Joint in Bay Shore, sums it up like this: "It does take special time and attention. Anybody can flip some meat on a grill, but the TLC, the patience and time barbecue takes is what makes it worthwhile. You're really doing something special."
WHO MAKES THE BEST?
Like anyone else, I have my biases when it comes to barbecue, and this list reflects them. I prefer more smoke to less, and I tend to give short shrift to even the most artful sauces and seasonings. I also like fat - the more the better. This list of my favorites includes only established barbecue restaurants: Just-opened places like Paul Kirk's R.U.B., Spanky's BBQ in Times Square and Brooklyn's Jake's are at a disadvantage. It also takes no notice of side dishes, desserts, decor or service. Barbecue alone determines order.
1. Dinosaur BBQ, 646 131st St., Manhattan, 212-694-1777. If the taste of smoke is your thing, this is the place; a simple glaze at the end complements without getting in the way.
2. Blue Smoke, 116 E. 27th St., Manhattan, 212-447-7733. Four different kinds of ribs, all executed on a very high level by Kenny Callahan, earn Blue Smoke special credit.
3. Poppa Rick's Fine Foods, 1130 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury (no phone). Crude, simple and magnificent, these smoky monsters fairly burst with pork-fat flavor. Also makes the best cornbread on Earth. OK, so maybe I do notice side dishes.
4. Daisy May's BBQ U.S.A., 623 11th Ave. at 46th Street, Manhattan, 212-977- 1500. The pork ribs are undersmoked and over-rubbed, as is the pulled pork, but the big beef ribs are magnificent - as is glorious prime rib that comes out as an occasional special.
5. Waterfront Ale House 155 Atlantic Ave. (between Henry and Clinton), Brooklyn, 718-522- 3794; 540 Second Ave. (corner of 30th Street), Manhattan, 212-696- 4104. The pork ribs aren't world-beaters, but extraordinary pulled pork and game come out of Sam Barbieri's Southern Pride smoker.
6. Pearson's Texas BBQ 170 E. 81st St. Manhattan, 212-288-2700. Uneven at times, but the minimalist approach pays off when it's at its best.
BARBECUE IN YOUR BACKYARD
Most everyone has some kind of experience with cookouts. And some ambitious backyard barbecuers even have cooked with indirect heat, the secret of real barbecue.
But what about those special times, when you want real barbecue, slow-smoked by a master, at your party? No problem.
Big Island Barbecue, a competitive duo headed by Rob Richter of Rego Park, is the only team from the area to have ever competed in the Jack Daniels World Championship, the so-called Super Bowl of BBQ in Lynchburg, Tenn. For about $40 a head, Big Island will bring its 19-foot-long Lang cooker and slow smoke brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs and chicken over cherry wood, or even prepare custom-grilled items like salmon or vegetables. Check for local outdoor cooking regulations.
Smokin Joe's BBQ, of Staten Island, doesn't cook on-site, but has a more elaborate menu that it will prepare, then bring to your home. Along with brisket, ribs and pulled pork, it offers a wide range of sides, tapas, crab boils and numerous grilling options, from $22 a head.
Both companies have the added bonus of being run by native New Yorkers with an abiding love of barbecue cooking.
Big Island Barbecue: 718-997-8572; Smokin Joe's BBQ: 718-948-3340, or online at www.smokin joesbbq.com.