BBQ Snob Takes Manhattan: The Verdict

Daniel Vaughn's top picks for where to get good BBQ in NYC. (And a few places one should avoid.)
Fri August 3, 2012 11:45 pm
Daniel Vaughn

‘Smoked meat’ was the catch-all category I was seeking in New York that allowed me to branch out into the world of pastrami and smoked salmon , but the real goal was to get a first-hand understanding on the quality of the barbecue joints across the city. Nearly everyone who heard about my plan to eat barbecue all over New York was skeptical and thought I was wasting my time. Barbecue couldn’t possibly be good in New York City, right? Wrong. We sometimes forget in Texas that we too have plenty of bad barbecue. But seek and you shall find. If you’re looking to seek out some smoked brisket or ribs during your travels, or if you’re just a homesick Texan in Manhattan, here are a few items to seek out and a few to avoid.

EAT THIS
Pork belly and brisket at Fette Sau  
A little more smoke would help the brisket at this popular Williamsburg joint, but the beef was beautifully cooked with a nice layer of silky fat cap. The pork belly was the perfect blend of soft fat and tender meat. A heavy rub and great smokiness made this a favorite of the entire trip.

Kreuz sausage at Hill Country BBQ 
Central Texas beef sausage is treated with care and adequate smoke. Snapping into the juicy links provided a moist chin and a satiated belly.

Pork ribs at Wildwood BBQ, Mable’s and Butcher Bar  
Ribs of every variety can be found around the city. The sweet and salty rub of the Memphis style ribs at Wildwood paired well with the thick bark and tender meat. A glaze sweetened things up on the perfectly tender baby backs at Mable’s in Brooklyn. Out in Queens, the spare ribs at Butcher Bar had a subtle sweet rub with black pepper and clean pork flavor.

Beef ribs at Blue Smoke
Beef back ribs are presented with the ‘Hollywood cut’ where every other bone is discarded so more meat is left on the remaining bones. Tender meat was boldly flavored with a rub that featured freshly cracked black pepper rather than the usual pre-ground mix.

SKIP THAT
Nearly every meat at RUB 
Brisket, pork ribs and even their well regarded burnt ends were all chewy and grossly undercooked. Slices of brisket required a knife to tackle because they could barely be torn by hand.

John Brown Smokehouse after 1:00 p.m.
As we went through each item on the extensive meat menu, the repetitious reply was “we’re sold out.” After a half dozen requests went unfulfilled, we left laughing and wondering why exactly they were still open.

Brisket at Butcher Bar
A comment from the table noted that it might be good with some brown gravy and mashed potatoes. This lifeless beef lacked seasoning, smoke, and tenderness–in other words, just about everything needed for a good brisket.

Pork ribs at Daisy May’s  
Never have I seen a rub piled on so thick. The dessicated flavors of pumpkin pie and paprika beat my tongue into submission. It had no energy left to taste the pork or the smoke. I might as well have sprinkled the rub directly on my tongue and skipped the stomach-filling bites of rib.

My love for Brisketlab has been well documented here, but there wasn’t much else that compared. In my quest to see just how well these Yankees could pull off a decent brisket, I found a few bright spots. The best in New York doesn’t approach the best in Texas, but their best was a lot better than what some joints in Dallas pass off as barbecue. A serious barbecue scene in New York has had less than a decade to mature, but as more joints open with improved product, the city will begin to demand better, but I’m guessing it’ll be a long while before anybody considers a barbecue trip to Brooklyn over Lockhart.

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