In 2013, I did my first barbecue crawl through New York City, and smoked meats were all the rage. Hill Country Barbecue Market had recently received a glowing two-star review from the New York Times. (Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque would also get one after my visit.) Newly opened spots such as Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, John Brown BBQ, Fette Sau, and Mable’s Smokehouse impressed, and BrisketTown’s brick-and-mortar was open on the heels of the viral success of its pop-up predecessor, BrisketLab. Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue and Hometown Bar-B-Que would follow later that year in Brooklyn. But eleven years ago may have marked the high point in New York’s whirlwind affair with barbecue, because the obsession has seemingly worn off.

In 2017, I went to New York to attend two events that helped define the barbecue culture there. I was a judge at the Brisket King of NYC event, at which Izzy Eidelman of Izzy’s Smokehouse took home the top prize. (That was the last time a New York barbecue joint still in business won—the previous three winners were from New Jersey and Connecticut.) It was also the penultimate year of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. The event brought together the best barbecue joints from around the country for a live-fire takeover of Madison Square Park, in Manhattan. It was a spectacle that made New Yorkers notice barbecue.

When Big Apple ended, in 2018, I thought it was good timing. The event hadn’t so much run its course as accomplished the mission of founder Danny Meyer (also of Shake Shack fame) to introduce the city to barbecue traditions from across the country. Meyer had done the same with his restaurant Blue Smoke, the original location of which closed in 2020 after eighteen years in business. But the loss of Big Apple seems more consequential in hindsight. It eliminated an annual injection of barbecue life and possibilities into New York. The opportunity was lost for chefs and cooks to be inspired by the smoke wafting over Madison Avenue.

During a trip to New York this month, I was happy to find Bark Barbecue, which opened in Brooklyn’s Time Out Market two years ago. It was the lone new bright spot in the barbecue scene. The rest of my options weren’t much different from those on my first trip, minus the ones that have closed, like BrisketTown and Fletcher’s. There was one surprise dish I should mention from Eugenio Plaja, chef at Morandi. It’s a fancy Italian restaurant, and I was there for pasta and steak, but Plaja brought out a plate of the rosemary-crusted pork ribs (costine di maiale) he had recently added to the menu. They weren’t barbecue, but it’s a wonder what some char can do to a well-cooked and nicely seasoned St. Louis–cut rib.

“I’m shocked that there hasn’t been someone who has come out of the woodwork,” Billy Durney, owner of Hometown Bar-B-Que, told me. He’s been hoping for someone to make a barbecue splash in town. In my opinion, his was the best barbecue joint in town when it opened, and it still is.

Hometown is rooted in Texas barbecue tradition. Durney considers Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue a mentor, but Durney and his team have pushed boundaries from the beginning. I enjoyed the dichotomy across separate trays. One held morsels of Texas-style brisket burnt ends, with heavy bark, and a slice of fatty brisket so juicy I needed a napkin for my elbows. Spares are the preferred pork ribs there (though Hometown went too heavy on the sauce), and the snappy link of house-made jalapeño-cheese sausage would have been at home on any tray in Texas. But that’s just the beginning of Hometown’s menu.

A second tray held a towering pastrami sandwich on rye bread with only a swipe of mustard. It can’t get any more New York than that, and Durney uses the beef-navel cut preferred by the city’s delicatessens, rather than brisket, for his perfectly sliced pastrami. Then there are the dishes inspired by the Red Hook neighborhood, where Durney has spent his life. Korean sticky ribs—sweet, savory, and spicy—garnished with fried shallots and scallions and the smoked and fried Vietnamese chicken wings seem like answers to the multicultural barbecue developments in Texas, but Hometown has been serving them for years. Durney was sampling versions of a new smoked-duck bao bun when I visited. It will soon be on the menu. Durney continues to push his kitchen’s creativity as well as his own, but he pines for a new crop of pitmasters to keep the pressure on. “I keep waiting for someone to chase me down,” he said. “I want that.”

Ruben Santana is making his mark with Bark Barbecue. He began the business as a pop-up in his driveway in 2020, then became a vendor at the seasonal Smorgasburg food market. In 2022, Santana was invited to open a stall in the Time Out Market food hall, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Bark still serves at the Smorgasburg locations at the World Trade Center, on Friday, and Williamsburg, on Saturday.) It’s on the fifth floor, and the outdoor seating has a great view of the East River and Manhattan beyond. The lines are usually long, according to Julio Logrono, who was working the counter, but I hit my timing just right on a Thursday at 12:30 p.m. with no wait.

The sign at Bark reads “Dominican-Texas Style.” Santana’s family is from the Dominican Republic, but he was born and raised in New York. The menu combines the foods he cooks with his family back in the D.R. with smoking techniques from Texas. You won’t find his smokers anywhere near the market, since they wouldn’t be welcomed by the neighbors. Instead, Santana and his crew smoke everything off-site at a facility in Long Island City. He has a fleet of offset smokers from Primitive Pits and Cen-Tex Smokers, and he uses all oakwood to smoke. Hauling the meat across town every day is the price he’s willing to pay to cook solely on offsets.

The meats are held in warmers in the Time Out kitchen. I didn’t notice many ill effects of the transport, though the pork ribs were overly tender and the rib tips too tough and chewy. Thick slices of brisket tasted fresh, with a peppery finish. Santana uses Prime-grade Angus briskets from Aurora Angus Beef. His rub is rooted in Texas, but it wouldn’t be Dominican without oregano and dried ancho powder, both of which show up in most of the meats and sides. The oregano works well to bring a twist to the creamy mac and cheese. “The flavors are going to be different, but that’s who I am,” Santana said.

At Bark, Santana wanted to offer pork belly, which is a common dish served in the Dominican Republic. He first looked to the pork belly burnt ends of Texas for inspiration. “They were good, but I felt like there was something else I could do,” he said. To make the dish more Dominican, Santana starts with whole, skin-on pork bellies doused with sour orange and lime juice. He salts the skin side heavily, and then the whole bellies are smoked until cooked through. For service, the cooks cut a big slice of the belly and deep-fry it, which really crisps the skin, hence the “Chicharron” name on the menu. The strip of belly is cut into chunks, each having a cracker-crisp piece of skin and juicy layers of meat and fat beneath. “Dominican food is more on the salty, savory side, so we want you to balance it out,” Santana said of the pickle chips, pickled red onions, and lime wedges that come on every platter. A squeeze of lime does make the chicharron pop.

On the weekends, Bark Barbecue serves a smoked sausage made with brisket trim. I didn’t get to try it, but the joint also has another dish that takes brisket trim in a different direction. When I saw carnitas on the menu, I assumed pork, but Santana said Bark smokes the larger chunks of trim, then confits them in brisket tallow. The shredded beef is served atop tostones (crispy fried plantain chips) with a cilantro sauce and pickled onions. I enjoyed the flavor of the highly seasoned beef, but I wish the tostones hadn’t been buried beneath such a generous mound of meat.

There are plenty of Dominican touches in the sides, like a slab of cornbread called a torta that’s seasoned like a spice cake and served with honey butter. Rice and black beans are mixed together and stewed in beef broth for arroz congri. “Rice is life,” Santana said of Dominican cuisine. Fried sweet plantains called maduros are another side, and an unexpected one for me were the deep-fried batons of white cheese served as a side or on the Tres Golpes sandwich. The sandwich also gets well-seasoned pulled pork and a few of those maduros. It was an excellent combination of surprisingly complementary flavors and textures. Santana said he grew up eating the cheese, called queso de freír, which translates to “cheese for frying.”

Bark Barbecue wasn’t exactly a surprise: I’d received plenty of recommendations to try it, and I was glad it lived up to expectations. But I asked Santana if he knew of any hidden gems I was missing. During his own local research trips, he said, “[Hometown Bar-B-Que] was the only spot that gave me the, ‘Oh wow, this is good barbecue.’ ” Brick-and-mortar barbecue joints are too challenging to open in the current New York real estate and regulatory environments. “There’s just so many places to eat, and to produce most of those foods is way less work than barbecue,” Santana said. I wondered if he felt like a loner as a new barbecue entrepreneur in New York. “It’s underground and pop-ups,” he said of the new talent. “Texas barbecue is very present here. It’s just that implementation at a bigger scale is very, very difficult,” he explained.

Santana is also trying to move into his own brick-and-mortar, which could happen as early as next year. “We’re really trying to give an all-in-one experience, with the smokers on-site and enough seating for everyone to come through,” he said. Then he can stop trucking all that smoked meat around town.