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.Read More