Tonight is a big moment in late-night network television. After nine years as anchor of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert will assume hosting duties for The Late Show on CBS, a gig held by David Letterman since its inception in 1993. You might be thinking, yes, that’s cool, but what does this have to do with barbecue? As has been chronicled a few times, Colbert has strong opinions on the cuisine, and now he has a bigger microphone with which to express them.
Colbert, who was raised in South Carolina, is plenty familiar with barbecue, and has been an especially vocal defender of pork with the mustard sauce of his home state. North Carolina’s signature vinegar-based barbecue sauce, which Colbert called a “deadly toxin,” has been the butt of many jokes on the show. Normally, a little good-natured ribbing about barbecue wouldn’t bother me too bad (please see our “One True Map of American Barbecue”), but Texas’s beef barbecue has also been a target on the show. To Colbert, there are no sacred cows, it would seem.
The comedian’s barbecue reporting began back in 2002 when he was still with The Daily Show. It came in the form of a farcical interview with the now deceased South Carolina barbecue king Maurice Bessinger. Bessinger was an avid supporter of the Confederate flag, one of which flew above Maurice’s Piggy Park restaurant in West Columbia, South Carolina. The interview begins with a prescient talk with Glenn McConnell—then a member of the South Carolina senate—that concerned the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse. (McConnell later changed his opinion and became a surprising supporter of the flag’s removal earlier this year.)
After the interview, Colbert relished a plate of Bessinger’s barbecue while commenting on the “zip” of the mustard sauce. “What did surprise me was just how sweet this sauce is, without surrendering any of its spiciness,” he said as he jokingly pondered another bite.
He wasn’t so kind to its North Carolina counterpart last year. Colbert opened a segment of The Colbert Report by equating the contents of his spittoon with North Carolina barbecue sauce. Later in the same episode he asks North Carolina representative G. K. Butterfield to choose between plates of barbecue from both South Carolina and North Carolina. One plate contained pulled pork, and the other had processed wood pulp. Colbert said, apologetically, “It’s as close as we can get to North Carolina barbecue, it’s just shredded cardboard soaked in vinegar.”
Colbert wasn’t finished taking North Carolina to task for its barbecue. After a special election in South Carolina, he renounced his state for placing the beleaguered Mark Sanford into Congress rather than his sister, as well as his allegiances to S.C. barbecue. As he powered through a plate of North Carolina-style smoked meat, he declared, “Instead I now officially love North Carolina’s sauceless, vinegar-based meat product that they call barbecue.” (2:55 mark below)
Like I said, he’s turned his ire to Texas-style barbecue too. In an interview with Del Rio native Roger Hodge, Colbert called beef ribs “an abomination.” He was tamer when talking with recording artist St. Vincent, who hails from Dallas. Colbert introduced her as “My guest is from Texas but lives in Brooklyn, which means she enjoys barbecue ironically.”
Perhaps he’s just not familiar enough with our stuff (I’ve yet to find video or photographic proof that he has actually eaten Texas-style barbecue). Yes, his new home at The Late Show is the Ed Sullivan theater in the middle of Manhattan, a long way from Charleston—and longer still from Texas. But in that time, New York opened some places that serve legitimately great barbecue options. And none, it should be said, is South Carolina-style. So Colbert’s admitted “chemical dependency” on South Carolina barbecue sauce will be hard to feed in New York.
(Maybe his latest television appearance on the Kansas City news was an attempt to fill that emotional void with a tomato-based version. Colbert chugged from three bottles of Kansas City sauce, then broke one open on the floor. It was time to cut him off.)
Always in the mood to help out someone in need of smoked meats, I thought Colbert might appreciate some of New York barbecue suggestions, even if most of them are Texas-style.
Arrogant Swine – This is the closest to the Carolinas that you can get in New York. Owner and pitmaster Tyson Ho is cooking North Carolina-style whole hog over coals, and doing a modified version of the Piedmont style of North Carolina as well. Don’t miss the Greensboro Pitmaster chicken wings either.
173 Morgan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11206
Blue Smoke – Jean-Paul Bourgeois has reinvigorated the pan-regional barbecue menu at one of New York’s veteran barbecue restaurants. The peppery and sweet pork spare ribs and chicken wings with white sauce are incredible, and take it slow with the cornbread madeleines or you might make a meal out of them.
116 E 27th St.
New York, NY 10016
BrisketTown – After a successful run at pop-up BrisketLab events, Daniel Delaney opened this Texas-style restaurant in Williamsburg. He cooks the most classic Texas barbecue menu in New York with smoky brisket, big and meaty spare ribs, and a homemade sausage. Just don’t ask for sauce; he doesn’t serve one.
359 Bedford Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Duck’s Eatery – This small East Village joint is run by Will Horowitz and crew. Ribs and wings are easy choices on the every day menu, but the whole smoked goat neck is the real star. On Tuesday night, stop in for tender smoked brisket worth seeking out.
351 E 12th St.
New York, NY 10003
Fette Sau – A huge menu of thoughtfully sourced meats fills the smokers in this joint that helped define the Brooklyn style of barbecue. There are plenty of beers on tap and lots of whiskey options to go with the smoked pork belly, beef ribs, and brisket.
354 Metropolitan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Fletcher’s Barbecue – You need no other reason to come here than the char siu pork steak. It’s got spice, smoke, and a little sweetness making it one of New York’s most unique takes on barbecue.
433 3rd Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Hill Country Barbecue Market – It’s like a taste of Lockhart in Manhattan (or Brooklyn) with a set-up that resembles the famous Kreuz Market. They also smoke the signature beef sausages from Kreuz Market, so be sure to grab a link or two along with your smoked beef shoulder clod.
30 West 28th St.
New York, NY 10010
Hometown Barbecue – Tucked in on the waterfront in Red Hook, this joint might be tough to get to, but it has the best and most exciting barbecue menu in New York. The smoked brisket, beef ribs, and pork spare ribs are fantastic versions of classic Texas barbecue, but other options are more adventurous. A lamb belly banh mi, jerk baby back ribs, and pastrami bacon make it hard to leave room for any other stops.
454 Van Brunt St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque – They made monster beef ribs famous in New York, and for good reason. Called “Brontosaurus Ribs” on the menu, they are tender, peppery, and lusciously fatty. The juicy brisket also does Texas proud, while the spicy chicken wings are better than most versions of smoked chicken out there.
75 Greenwich Ave.
New York, NY 10014