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Nick Solares

New York City's Top 20 Barbecue Restaurants

Here are the restaurants that define NYC barbecue.

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While the rest of the world has historically looked at NYC barbecue with the same sense of skepticism and derision that New Yorkers hold for pizza from outside of the Big Apple, things have changed dramatically in the last decade. An obsession with real wood-smoked barbecue has taken hold of the city's carnivores, and we are in the throes of a bona fide barbecue renaissance. More importantly, we are seeing a distinct NYC style emerge, with its own set of influences and conventions.

The longest running real wood smoked barbecue is Virgil's, the Times Square behemoth, that has been open since 1994. There were of course antecedents stretching back to the 1980s, most notably the long defunct Pearson's Stick To Your Ribs, run somewhat improbably by a British hair dresser. Brother's Barbecue and Tennessee Mountain where two other restaurants from that era that actually smoked meat over wood. But traditionally, what has been called barbecue in NYC has actually been roasted or steamed meats slathered in sauce and finished off on the grill. These are the type of ribs sold at the numerous Dallas BBQ restaurants about town and places like Georgia's East Side BBQ.

But everything began to change in the early 2000s. Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke, John Stage's upstate franchise Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and world class pitmaster Adam Perry Lang's Daisy May's USA all opened in NYC offering real wood smoked meats. Like Virgil's before them, these restaurants offered a pan-regional menu, bringing different styles of barbecue under one roof.

Also significant is the contribution of The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, started in 2002 by Meyer and Blue Smoke pitmaster Kenny Callaghan, which was the first exposure many New Yorkers had to real wood-smoked barbecue. It wasn't until around 2006 that we began to see the emergence of region-specific barbecue restaurants like R.U.B. (Kansas City style) and Hill Country (Central Texas style). This trend continues to this day at places like John Brown Smokehouse (KC), BrisketTown (TX), and Arrogant Swine (NC), all serving doctrinaire versions of barbecue from across the nation.

At the same time we see a distinct NYC style beginning to emerge. Strongly centered in Brooklyn, this new form is characterized by the use of natural meats and the incorporation of local influences. For example, the Jamaican-style jerk ribs that pitmaster Bill Durney serves at Hometown or the char siu pork pitmaster Matt Fisher turns out at Fletcher's. Brooklyn barbecue is tied to a larger Bohemian aesthetic, incorporating art, music, and drinking culture. While the biggest and doubtlessly mostly profitable barbecue restaurants are in Manhattan, ground zero for barbecue is now firmly in Brooklyn. So much so that even the big box Manhattan franchises like Hill Country and Dinosaur have set up shop there. Even Mighty Quinn's, arguably the best barbecue restaurant in Manhattan, got its start at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn.

There has never been more or better barbecue served in New York City. Here are the 20 essential barbecue restaurants of NYC, in alphabetical order:

Photos by Nick Solares unless noted.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Arrogant Swine

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Representing North Carolina whole hog cooking, Arrogant Swine is pitmaster Tyson Ho's love letter to the Tar Heel State. But there are some derivations from tradition, such as cooking just about everything other than hog in a waffle iron.

Beast of Bourbon

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Beast of Bourbon combines bourbon, rock 'n' roll, and barbecue, hitting a trifecta of new Brooklyn cultural tropes. (Photo via Official site)

Blue Smoke

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Danny Meyer's seminal Blue Smoke was one of the most important restaurants to lay the foundation for the current barbecue renaissance. The menu has evolved significantly from the pan-regional style that it held onto for over a decade under the guidance of Kenny Callaghan. Current chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois has added a more broadly Southern influence to the menu. (photo by Quentin Bacon via official site).

Butcher Bar

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This Queens butcher shop and restaurant offers organic, all-natural meats that are smoked in house.

Daisy May's BBQ

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Founded by world class pitmaster Adam Perry Lang (he sold the business a few years back) Daisy May's raised the bar in its heyday offering a pan-regional menu.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

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John Stage's Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is one of the more established barbecue restaurants in NYC and offers a pan-regional menu rather than concentrating on a single style.

Ducks Eatery

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Pitmaster and chef Will Horowitz weaves barbecue into a diverse menu that also features seafood and cocktails in a quirky barnyard setting.

Fette Sau

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Fette Sau is a pioneer of Brooklyn barbecue, helping define the genre most notably by using naturally-raised meats.

Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue

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Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue is very much one of the restaurants expanding the definition of barbecue. Pitmaster Matt Fisher draws inspiration everywhere from Kansas City to Chinatown.

Hill Country Barbecue Market

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Hill Country turns out an almost completely faithful version of Central Texas barbecue, largely inspired by Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX. The brisket is smoked over post oak, sold by the pound, and served up on butcher paper -- just like in Texas.

Hometown Bar-B-Que

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Hometown is pitmaster Bill Durney's vision of NYC barbecue. While it draws on various regional influences, it is at its heart and soul an NYC restaurant. Eater critic Ryan Sutton recently declared it New York's best barbecue.

John Brown Smokehouse

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John Brown Smokehouse serves up the most faithful incarnation of Kansas City style barbecue in the city.

Mabel's Smokehouse & Banquet Hall

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Mabel's promises authentic Texas style in a roadhouse honky tonk atmosphere, and it mostly succeeds. While there are better incarnations of Lone Star barbecue, Mabel's nails the hospitality.

Mighty Quinn's BBQ

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Mighty Quinn's serves up what pitmaster Hugh Mangum describes as "Texalina style," a fusion of the barbecue traditions of Texas and the Carolinas. But what really emerges is a uniquely NYC — and a decidedly new school incarnation — of barbecue.

Mogridder's BBQ

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Operated out of an auto repair shop by pitmaster, Fred Donnelly Mo Gridder's proves that you can find good barbecue almost anywhere. (Photo via Google+)

Morgans Barbecue

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Morgan's joins an increasingly crowded field serving Texas style barbecue.

Virgil's Real BBQ

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Virgil's Real BBQ is a Times Square juggernaut that probably serves more barbecue in a day than most places serve in a month. While it is obviously a tourist trap, it is also the longest running real wood smoked barbecue in the Big Apple. (Photo via official site)

Waterfront Ale House

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Waterfront Ale House is your standard local bar with a menu that also happens to include wood smoked barbecue.

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Arrogant Swine

Representing North Carolina whole hog cooking, Arrogant Swine is pitmaster Tyson Ho's love letter to the Tar Heel State. But there are some derivations from tradition, such as cooking just about everything other than hog in a waffle iron.

Beast of Bourbon

Beast of Bourbon combines bourbon, rock 'n' roll, and barbecue, hitting a trifecta of new Brooklyn cultural tropes. (Photo via Official site)

Blue Smoke

Danny Meyer's seminal Blue Smoke was one of the most important restaurants to lay the foundation for the current barbecue renaissance. The menu has evolved significantly from the pan-regional style that it held onto for over a decade under the guidance of Kenny Callaghan. Current chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois has added a more broadly Southern influence to the menu. (photo by Quentin Bacon via official site).

Butcher Bar

This Queens butcher shop and restaurant offers organic, all-natural meats that are smoked in house.

Daisy May's BBQ

Founded by world class pitmaster Adam Perry Lang (he sold the business a few years back) Daisy May's raised the bar in its heyday offering a pan-regional menu.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

John Stage's Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is one of the more established barbecue restaurants in NYC and offers a pan-regional menu rather than concentrating on a single style.

Ducks Eatery

Pitmaster and chef Will Horowitz weaves barbecue into a diverse menu that also features seafood and cocktails in a quirky barnyard setting.

Fette Sau

Fette Sau is a pioneer of Brooklyn barbecue, helping define the genre most notably by using naturally-raised meats.

Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue

Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue is very much one of the restaurants expanding the definition of barbecue. Pitmaster Matt Fisher draws inspiration everywhere from Kansas City to Chinatown.

Hill Country Barbecue Market

Hill Country turns out an almost completely faithful version of Central Texas barbecue, largely inspired by Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX. The brisket is smoked over post oak, sold by the pound, and served up on butcher paper -- just like in Texas.

Hometown Bar-B-Que

Hometown is pitmaster Bill Durney's vision of NYC barbecue. While it draws on various regional influences, it is at its heart and soul an NYC restaurant. Eater critic Ryan Sutton recently declared it New York's best barbecue.