While I don’t think New Yorkers consider the Big Apple to be a center for barbecue, our own smoked meat of choice — pastrami — can hold its own and does, in fact, qualify as a barbecue tradition…I’m just saying.
We can all agree that American barbecue is not a cuisine, but rather a strict religious order of the “barbecue belt” that claims fame for four distinct traditions: mesquite-grilled beef brisket from Texas, pulled pork shoulder in sweet tomato-based sauces from Memphis, whole hog doused in marinades from the Carolinas, and Kansas-style ribs cooked in dry rubs.
Christopher Columbus was reportedly introduced to indigenous tribes who used “barbacoa” – a method of slow cooking meat over an indirect flame on a wooden platform. By the 19th century, this cooking technique was well-established in the South, where regional differences in meat, cooking styles, rubs, and sauces started a massive debate that continues today, as expert pitmasters fervently compete for the ultimate barbecue.
Luckily, we don’t have to fly South for some hearty ribs or juicy wings. NYC has more than 30 restaurants with pits, grills, and ovens serving American barbecue, like the Butcher House in Queens, Blue Smoke and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Manhattan, and Fette Sau and BrisketTown in Brooklyn. Additionally, given our cosmopolitan populace and international flair, you’ll find Argentinean asado, Korean barbecue, Mongolian grills, and tandoori chicken. New Yorkers are over the moon about meat off the bone.
At Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurant in Brooklyn, pitmaster Ash Fulk smokes up Texas-style barbecue. Slowed cooked over Texan oak, the tender slices of brisket are served both moist (fattier) and lean. I go for the moist; it’s perfectly savory and pairs well with the sweet, pickled cucumbers and a chilled Shiner beer.
All the barbecue — brisket, sausages, prime ribs, chicken wings, and beef shoulder clod — are served by the pound on butcher paper. The peppery sausage has the robust flavor of garlic, jalapeno, and sage — juicy and spicy — a reminder of the German immigration to Texas. Try it with a side or two — the creamy mac ‘n cheese or the collard greens with smoked bacon, perhaps. The boneless prime rib, the bone-in short rib, and the spareribs each have plenty of meat on them. Their juices and the added spices, combined with the smoky oak of the wood, bring out a distinct flavor. A side order of baked beans with burnt ends and hot German potato salad completes that order; just wash it down with a root beer, or maybe a bourbon.
A whole chicken or a few pounds of chicken wings are a must. So is coleslaw, of course, and without hesitation, a portion of the skillet cornbread, which holds a place of honor and is a staple at any respectable barbecue.
Barbecues feed a large number of people and are perfect for a party. Traditionally, in the South, that is why church gatherings and family picnics often revolve around a grill.
“The question is not whether we will barbecue, but how we will barbecue.” — Joan Borysenko