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Tea-Smoked Duck at Grain House, Queens
Tea-Smoked Duck at Grain House, Queens
Robert Sietsema

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Besides Barbecue: NYC’s Other Smoking Traditions

Critic Robert Sietsema takes a look at the city's non-barbecue smoked dishes

In the days before barbecue became ubiquitous in New York City, ‘cue lovers had to content themselves with other international traditions of smoking meat, poultry, and fish. Aficionados quickly discovered that many of these culinary practices — coming from such widespread places as Jamaica, Brazil, India, Central Asia, and China — were every bit as satisfying as American barbecue. Here are some examples, with favorite places to get them:

Sichuan Tea-Smoked Duck — Tea-smoked duck is a complicated Sichuan recipe that progressively sees the waterfowl marinated in a solution that usually contains wine, camphor, garlic, ginger, and other flavors, patted dry, smoked over tea leaves and stems in a covered wok, then further steamed and fried. Though the smoking only takes 15 or so minutes, the bird tastes miraculously smoky. Grain House, 249-11 Northern Blvd, Queens, (718) 229-8788

Robert Sietsema
Robert Sietsema

Jerk chicken platter at Peppa's Jerk Chicken and sliced Polish ham at Sikorski Meat Market.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken — Jerking was invented by Taino Indians, indigenous to the island of Jamaica. It involved tossing the meat of wild boars in a pit and smoking it with pimento wood, which comes from the allspice tree. Nowadays, charcoal is more common and a lot of the flavor of the smoked meat comes from a rub that contains allspice and other herbs and spices. Chicken has replaced wild boar or domesticated pig as the meat of choice in New York versions. Peppa’s Jerk Chicken, 738 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, (646) 683-6012

Jewish Smoked Fish — A Jewish appetizing store can likely furnish several forms of smoked fish. Nova lox — brined and then smoked, originally from Nova Scotia — is the most famous, but you can also get smoked sturgeon, chubbs, and brook trout, in addition to other forms of smoked salmon from Scotland, Norway, and the Pacific Northwest. Looking for something exotic? Try pastrami-smoked salmon, which adds a mild fishy taste to the expected pastrami flavors. Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Ave, Brooklyn, (212) 724-4707.

Polish Ham — Many of the city’s dwindling collection of Polish butchers — located principally in places like Greenpoint, Sunset Park, and Ridgewood — are still permitted to smoke their own meats on the premises, which is often done in separate smoking rooms with hickory chips. The result are bright pink hams with a fatty edge and intensely smoky flavor. If you can find a place that does it with the bone still in, it’s an added plus. Sikorski Meat Market, 603 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 389-6181

Robert Sietsema

Brazilian barbecue at Aroma.

Italian Smoked Mozzarella — For the vegetarian barbecue enthusiast nothing fills the bill better than smoked mozzarella, a provision that has become sadly less common in the last few years. The smoking process is rudimentary — in fact, by one unconfirmed report, the smoking is often done in a salad oil can with smoldering newspaper. But the results are spectacular, with a deeply browned exterior and a miraculous flavor that suffuses the cheese. Faicco’s, 260 Bleecker St, (212) 243-1974

Indian Tandoori Chicken: The distinctive clay oven with a hole on the topside originated in Central Asia, but was popularized in Punjab. By the late 1940s it became big in New Delhi and from there spread throughout India. In New York, tandoori chicken — with its smoky flavor and bright red skinlessness — became a staple of East 6th Street’s Little India in the 1980s, and from there traveled throughout the five boroughs. Minar, 160 E 44th St, (212) 949-0245

Uzbek Kebabs — The city has been blessed with many establishments from the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan that fanatically cook their kebabs — picturesquely skewered on swords — over lump charcoal that burns hot and hazy. Served simply with raw onions, these kebabs are intensely smoky, with lamb rib and ground-meat lula being the smokiest kebabs. Uzbechka, 42 Avenue O, Brooklyn, (718) 872-5500

Robert Sietsema
Robert Sietsema
Robert Sietsema

Above: Tandoori chicken at Minar. Below: Kebab plate at Uzbechka and Korean barbecue spread and hot plate at New Wonjo.

Korean BBQ — Korean barbecue is done over charcoal, gas, or an electric burner, with the charcoal version preferred. Though the cooking process is perfunctory, the fatty meat manages to absorb a smoky smell and remains supremely tender. The sweet and salty marinade helps the short rib, which is the best meat to order. And the side dishes called banchan make any Korean barbecue into a feast. New Wonjo, 23 W 32nd St, (212) 695-5815

Brazilian Churrascaria — A rodizio is a Brazilian restaurant in which a rotation of meats are carried past your table, and you typically get to eat all that you can stuff down your pie hole (to put it somewhat inelegantly). Around town there are a few scaled-back churrascarias where you can order the meats individually, and thus avoid those (some people shy away from dishes such as chicken hearts) that you might not crave. The meats are usually cooked over lump charcoal, and thus absorb plenty of smoke. Aroma Brazil, 75-13 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 672-7662

Watch: How to Smoke Fish at Home

Jerk chicken platter at Peppa's Jerk Chicken and sliced Polish ham at Sikorski Meat Market.

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