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Sliced beef on a bun with pickles and jalapenos. Robert Sietsema/Eater

A Bike Tour of NYC’s Meatiest, Crustiest Smoked Brisket

Critic Robert Sietsema surveys the city’s ruby-pink smoke rings and ribbons of fat

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When I went to school in Texas, smoked beef brisket was my chief delight. And the coarse-textured, long-smoked meat, when properly crusted with salt and pepper and rimmed with fat, can still make me swoon. In the 1980s, a reasonable facsimile of Texas barbecue arrived in NYC, first via a pair of University of Texas grads who started Smokey’s on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, and a decade later at London hairdresser Robert Pearson’s Stick to Your Ribs in Hunter’s Point. By this century, the city had developed an impressive collection of relatively authentic Lone Star-style pits, long-smoking their meat and de-emphasizing the importance of barbecue sauce.

One of the many things that’s worried me as the pandemic has progressed is the status of our barbecues. Have they been able to remain open and keep their quality high? Specifically, can barbecue fans still find great beef brisket? With notable exceptions like John Brown Smokehouse, Holy Ground, and Randall’s, most have remained open and even thrived. Smoked brisket is a dish that travels well, and tastes nearly as good at room temperature as it does right “off the pit.”

I revisited several of the city’s best barbecues by bicycle during a two-week period to put their brisket to the test. Starting from my tenement apartment in the West Village, I sallied forth one day over the Williamsburg Bridge to check out a new birria truck, and was able to also stop at a barbecue I was fond of. The most remote destination was Red Hook on another day, which made a nice long ride that caused me to take the ferry back to Manhattan to shorten my trip. Here are the results mapped in order of increasing excellence.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Mable's Smokehouse

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44 Berry St
Brooklyn, NY 11249
(718) 218-6655
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When this rollicking Williamsburg spot opened in 2011, I loved it principally for its hot links, a bright red sausage that showed the place’s Oklahoma roots, but also reminded me of a barbecue in a convenience store I’d liked in Dallas. The brisket is good, too, especially made into a sandwich on the sliced white bread provided, with pickled onion and jalapenos — though it was upstaged on my recent visit by a spectacular Polish sausage and those borracho beans, one of two sides from a choice of nine included in the price. Sliced brisket and sausage platter $26.95.

A plastic cafeteria tray with sliced brisket and Polish sausage, plus a slice of white bread, beans, and mac and cheese. Robert Sietsema/Eater

2. Mighty Quinn's Barbeque

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103 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 677-3733
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The Mighty Quinn’s chain was started in the East Village in 2012 by Houstonian Hugh Mangum, and now does a great job of smoking brisket from a central kitchen and distributing it among its currently open locations. The $11.75 “portion” is one of the best barbecue deals in town, including a good quantity of sliced meat, brioche roll, and your choice of small quantities of various pickles and slaws. Though there’s a branch nearer to my apartment on Greenwich Avenue, I have a sentimental attachment to the original place.

Sliced brisket on a roll with little black plastic cups of pickled vegetables in the background. Robert Sietsema/Eater

3. Fette Sau

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354 Metropolitan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 963-3404
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With its German name (meaning “fat pig”), Fette Sau emerged in Williamsburg in 2007. Texas barbecue standards (brisket, ribs, and sausage) providing a foundation, it ventured forth into stunt barbecue territory by further offering pig tails and beef tongue. I dropped in after eating a falafel at Oasis, and before hitting the Williamsburg Bridge for my ride home. The brisket was and is totally solid, ordered by the pound ($30) at a counter and then shoved by the customer into comically small rolls. The rolls are free.

A brown cardboard box with sliced brisket and rolls seen from above, with pink cole slaw in the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

4. Hill Country Barbecue Market

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30 W 26th St
New York, NY 10010
(212) 255-4544
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Hill Country was a game changer when it was opened in 2007 in the Flatiron District by Marc Glosserman, who has personal roots in Lockhart (his grandfather was mayor), the barbecue capital of Central Texas. The place was filled with memorabilia from famous barbecue Kreuz Market and the meat sold by the pound from a counter in the rear. The brisket ($32 per pound), available fatty or lean, was great, and it still is. The full brisket is blackened and crusted on the surface, and a pink smoke ring shines like a ruby. I’d ordered a half pound, which was more than enough for one sandwich, so I biked home with the extra.

A hand cradles a slice of white bread bent around several slices of blackened beef brisket. Robert Sietsema/Eater

5. Hometown Bar-B-Que

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454 Van Brunt St
Brooklyn, NY 11231
(347) 294-4644
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This venerable Red Hook barbecue opened by Brooklyn native and bodyguard Billy Durney in 2014 was inspired by Texas models, most notably Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, which Hometown also resembles in its layout and method of doing business. Though Durney has experimented with other meats, his fatty beef brisket, sliced thick, piled on a roll, and served with dill pickles and onions, is still one of the glories of New York City ’cue. You don’t even need the sauce, so moist and delicious is this sandwich ($15).

Black and pink rimmed beef brisket piled high on a sesame seed dotted roll, with green pickles tumbled on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

6. Blue Smoke

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255 Vesey St
New York, NY 10282
(212) 889-2005
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Blue Smoke was one of the first barbecues out of the gate in 2000, when the fad was still young here. The menu encompasses styles that range from St. Louis to Texas to Memphis and beyond. The brisket sandwich ($16) I tried on my recent bike tour was considerably better than ones I’ve had there over the years; chef Bret Lunsford has upped the game lately. In fact, with its thick spice crust and wide ribbon of fat, this is one of the most exceptionally smoky briskets I’ve had this year, and I visited Texas for a barbecue tour right before the pandemic.

A bun with top askew to show meat inside, with barbecue sauce, pickle chips, and jalapenos on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

1. Mable's Smokehouse

44 Berry St, Brooklyn, NY 11249
A plastic cafeteria tray with sliced brisket and Polish sausage, plus a slice of white bread, beans, and mac and cheese. Robert Sietsema/Eater

When this rollicking Williamsburg spot opened in 2011, I loved it principally for its hot links, a bright red sausage that showed the place’s Oklahoma roots, but also reminded me of a barbecue in a convenience store I’d liked in Dallas. The brisket is good, too, especially made into a sandwich on the sliced white bread provided, with pickled onion and jalapenos — though it was upstaged on my recent visit by a spectacular Polish sausage and those borracho beans, one of two sides from a choice of nine included in the price. Sliced brisket and sausage platter $26.95.

44 Berry St
Brooklyn, NY 11249

2. Mighty Quinn's Barbeque

103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
Sliced brisket on a roll with little black plastic cups of pickled vegetables in the background. Robert Sietsema/Eater

The Mighty Quinn’s chain was started in the East Village in 2012 by Houstonian Hugh Mangum, and now does a great job of smoking brisket from a central kitchen and distributing it among its currently open locations. The $11.75 “portion” is one of the best barbecue deals in town, including a good quantity of sliced meat, brioche roll, and your choice of small quantities of various pickles and slaws. Though there’s a branch nearer to my apartment on Greenwich Avenue, I have a sentimental attachment to the original place.

103 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

3. Fette Sau

354 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
A brown cardboard box with sliced brisket and rolls seen from above, with pink cole slaw in the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

With its German name (meaning “fat pig”), Fette Sau emerged in Williamsburg in 2007. Texas barbecue standards (brisket, ribs, and sausage) providing a foundation, it ventured forth into stunt barbecue territory by further offering pig tails and beef tongue. I dropped in after eating a falafel at Oasis, and before hitting the Williamsburg Bridge for my ride home. The brisket was and is totally solid, ordered by the pound ($30) at a counter and then shoved by the customer into comically small rolls. The rolls are free.

354 Metropolitan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211

4. Hill Country Barbecue Market

30 W 26th St, New York, NY 10010
A hand cradles a slice of white bread bent around several slices of blackened beef brisket. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Hill Country was a game changer when it was opened in 2007 in the Flatiron District by Marc Glosserman, who has personal roots in Lockhart (his grandfather was mayor), the barbecue capital of Central Texas. The place was filled with memorabilia from famous barbecue Kreuz Market and the meat sold by the pound from a counter in the rear. The brisket ($32 per pound), available fatty or lean, was great, and it still is. The full brisket is blackened and crusted on the surface, and a pink smoke ring shines like a ruby. I’d ordered a half pound, which was more than enough for one sandwich, so I biked home with the extra.

30 W 26th St
New York, NY 10010

5. Hometown Bar-B-Que

454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Black and pink rimmed beef brisket piled high on a sesame seed dotted roll, with green pickles tumbled on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

This venerable Red Hook barbecue opened by Brooklyn native and bodyguard Billy Durney in 2014 was inspired by Texas models, most notably Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, which Hometown also resembles in its layout and method of doing business. Though Durney has experimented with other meats, his fatty beef brisket, sliced thick, piled on a roll, and served with dill pickles and onions, is still one of the glories of New York City ’cue. You don’t even need the sauce, so moist and delicious is this sandwich ($15).

454 Van Brunt St
Brooklyn, NY 11231

6. Blue Smoke

255 Vesey St, New York, NY 10282
A bun with top askew to show meat inside, with barbecue sauce, pickle chips, and jalapenos on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Blue Smoke was one of the first barbecues out of the gate in 2000, when the fad was still young here. The menu encompasses styles that range from St. Louis to Texas to Memphis and beyond. The brisket sandwich ($16) I tried on my recent bike tour was considerably better than ones I’ve had there over the years; chef Bret Lunsford has upped the game lately. In fact, with its thick spice crust and wide ribbon of fat, this is one of the most exceptionally smoky briskets I’ve had this year, and I visited Texas for a barbecue tour right before the pandemic.

255 Vesey St
New York, NY 10282

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