During his Year Of Barbecue, Chris Chamberlain is traveling the country to document America’s regional barbecue players. Up this month: New York City.
When 18 legendary pitmasters from around the country descended upon Madison Square Park in June for the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, there was a sense that they were delivering smoky goodness to the residents of Gotham like some sort of Peace Corps of Pork aid program. But in truth, when they departed at the end of the weekend, they left behind some mighty fine barbecue for New York City residents to enjoy year-round.
Danny Meyer and Kenny Callahan spearhead the annual Block Party, but they also run one of the best barbecue joints in town at Blue Smoke. Together, with the hip Jazz Standard downstairs, Blue Smoke is your one-stop shop for both smokin’ meat and music.
With two locations, Flatiron and Battery Park City, Blue Smoke offers excellent representations of regional barbecue styles along with some upscale goofs on traditional dishes like deviled eggs and salt and vinegar pork rinds. Thanks to their association with Mike “The Legend” Mills of 17th Street Bar and Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois, Blue Smoke’s baby back ribs benefit from a liberal application of Mills’s Magic Dust seasoning. Even more spectacular are the Texas beef ribs that are seasoned as simply as imaginable with just salt and black pepper. You can save your secret rub recipes for barbecue competitions. Simpler is better when it comes to allowing the flavor of the meat come through, and Callahan clearly understands the concept of less is more with these delicious ribs.
Other New Yorkers swear by the ‘cue at Daisy May’s, another operation that pays homage to different barbecue styles from around the country at their cafeteria-style dining room and carry-out store at the corner of 11th Avenue and 46th Street. Daisy May’s also takes their show on the road with mobile BBQ carts to feed the teeming masses of Manhattan who can’t make it to Clinton for lunch.
Head chef Adam Perry Lang has shared some of his barbecue knowledge in his book BBQ 25: The World’s Most Flavorful Recipes Now Made Foolproof. This “BBQ survival guide” is even printed on heavy board paper guaranteed to survive any sauce or beer spills, so you’ll feel comfortable bringing it out to the grill or smoker while you work.
In the restaurant, Lang creates a menu that represents styles from North Carolina to Texas, with stops in Kansas City and Memphis along the way. Indeed, a tasting menu features geographic variety from Kansas City sweet and sticky ribs to Memphis-style dry rub ribs, Tennessee beer can chicken, Oklahoma beef ribs, Texas beef brisket and a helping of Carolina pulled pork. Served with the obligatory slab of spicy cornbread and three sides (called “fixins’” on the menu in a quaint nod to the more agrarian regions), this meal is like a $30 tour of the heartland for hungry New Yorkers.
At Virgil’s Real Barbecue, Artie Cutler decided to take that sort of tour himself before even starting up the restaurant. Chronicled in the old school placemats in the form of a map of Barbecutopia, Cutler took his management team on a pilgrimage through the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas to discover the best in regional barbecue styles to add to their new menu. After his neo-roadhouse opened in the heart of Times Square in 1994, Cutler began to share his version of Southern hospitality to tourists and locals alike.
From an Oklahoma “Flat Dog” to brisket, ribs and pulled pork, Virgil’s offers solid representations of the food he and his staff discovered during their sojourn. With fried chicken and catfish, chicken fried steak and sides like collard greens stewed with ham hocks on the menu, Virgil’s is a great place for homesick Southerners to get a little taste of home while being held prisoner of war on the bustling island. Take the placemat home with you as a good start to planning your own journey into the smoky underbelly of America.
John Stage makes no pretense of having any sort of the South in him. A straight-up Yankee from upstate New York, Stage started smoking meat in a 55-gallon drum he’d cut in half to create a mobile concession stand for gatherings of Harley riders that he was already attending as a motorcycle enthusiast back in 1983. It turns out that bikers love them some good barbecue, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was born.
After opening brick and mortar locations in several towns in the northern part of New York State, Stage finally set his sights on the big city in 2004. Recently, Dinosaur’s Harlem location was forced to move a few blocks from 125th St. to 131st St to make room for an expansion of Columbia University, but in the truly resourceful fashion of a man who got his start cooking in a recycled oil drum, Stage only closed the restaurant for three days to make the move.
Dinosaur fans enjoy massive racks of St. Louis cut ribs that would satisfy Fred Flintstone and a slow-smoked shoulder dish known descriptively and accurately as the “Big Ass Pork Plate.” Stage reaches out beyond just the traditional American styles with Korean beef ribs, a chicken steak served churrasco-style and even seafood options like Drunken Shrimp and BBQ Jerked Salmon.
Elizabeth Karmel is a rarity in the male-dominated barbecue industry, a female pitmistress who is regarded as one of the country’s experts on grilling and smoking, regardless of gender. The author of numerous cookbooks and a frequent contributor to cooking magazine and television shows, Karmel has even been invited to grill at the James Beard House. Fortunately, New Yorkers don’t need to try to wrangle an invitation to Jimmy Beard’s bungalow to experience her cooking thanks to her gig as Executive Chef at Hill Country, Marc Glosserman’s restaurant dedicated to Austin, the barbecue and live music capital of Central Texas.
The custom meat-smoking room at Hill Country is filled with brisket, sausage and ribs being slow smoked over Texas post oak to create the most authentic experience possible outside of the Lone Star state. Served in the traditional butcher-style on sheets of paper and sold by the pound just like old-fashioned Texas meat markets, meat is served straight from the pit after being carved by professional pitmasters. Diners pay by the pound after making their choice of bread or crackers to use as a palette for Hill Country’s smoky masterpieces.
Karmel has also developed an outstanding menu of side dishes and desserts that feature other Texas regional favorites like Kreuz Market sausage, Big Red soda and Blue Bell ice cream. Add in a bar filled with longneck beers, bourbon and tequila, and a stage populated with the best in American roots rockers, and a visit to Hill Country is like a trip to Austin without having to mess with LaGuardia. Drop in for a Shiner Bock and a pound of sliced brisket.
116 East 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
255 Vesey St
New York, NY 10282
Daisy May’s BBQ USA
623 11th Avenue
New York, NY 10036
Virgil’s Real Barbecue
152 W 44th St
New York, NY 10036
700 W. 125th St
New York, NY 10027
Hill Country Barbecue Market
30 W 26th St
New York, NY 10010