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.Read More