Is New York the best barbecue city in America? The mere suggestion of it might ruffle down-home feathers, yet how could you argue otherwise? New York easily has eight quality barbecue restaurants that hold their own against the top spots across the country. (The secret that New York chefs and restaurateurs have finally gotten wise to is the importance of a proper wood-fueled smoker.) None of the other major barbecue cities in the country—Memphis, Austin, Kansas City or Raleigh-Durham—have half as many notable ‘cue spots. And while it’s true that many of the great barbecue joints can be found out in the country or in tiny towns, those illustrious names are often just that, illustrious names—with a staff that’s been phoning it in for years. Contrast that with New York, where competition is fierce, and you’re only as good as the last rib you smoked. And the range! Barbecuers from all over the country open restaurants here; the whole country is the city’s farm system.
Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque
Jean-Georges alumnus Hugh Mangum made waves with his Smorgasburg vending stalls, but no one was prepared for the Mighty Quinn when it opened in late 2012. This sublime East Village heavyweight produces what is unquestionably the best pulled pork in the city, thanks to the all-Berkshire butts and a piquant, balanced sauce that finishes them, as well as some of New York’s top-tier brisket and ribs. Meats go through a simple salt and pepper rub before entering the all-wood smoker. Given its fresh, original sides (edamame and sweet pea salad), its ultra-cool, stark yet artful decor (subway tiles, long wooden communal tables) and its use of meats at unheard-of levels of quality in any state, this cafeteria-style restaurant comes in at the top of the esteemed barbecue heap. 103 2nd Ave., 212-677-3733, mightyquinnsbbq.com (and seasonally at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg and DUMBO, www.smorgasburg.com)
Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue
Of the city’s traditional pan-regional barbecue, Fletcher’s is the very best, with A-plus performances in all the major barbecue categories (ribs, brisket, hot links), plus awesome specialty products like Chinese char siu pork steak. The moist, smoky, perfectly seasoned and rendered chicken is a major standout—about as good as BBQ chicken can get—and is available by the 1/4, 1/2 and whole bird. True, if you’re coming from Manhattan, its location in the mostly industrial Gowanus section of Brooklyn can be off-putting, and the interior has all the atmosphere of a Tulsa Wendy’s, but it’s what’s behind the sneeze guard (and in the all-wood smoker) that counts. 433 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, 347-763-2680, fletchersbklyn.com
The world capital of barbecue—as a region, not a city—is arguably Texas Hill Country, an area so committed to smoky excellence that many of its adherents refuse to use even sauce or seasoning. Hill Country, the restaurant, is a prettified homage to that region, and its food is not unworthy of comparison to the Lone Star originals. Among the sacred offerings are succulent brisket, meaty spare ribs and straight-from-the-source Kruez sausage. As in Texas, the meat is ordered at a counter by the pound and served on butcher paper; from there it’s communal tables, so this is not the place for a romantic date. 30 W. 26th St., 212-255-4544, hillcountryny.com
Blue Smoke was New York’s inaugural attempt at a first-class barbecue restaurant, and while it initially fell short when it opened in 2002, it has raised its game each year since then. It now serves a reliable, quality product that spans the regions—North Carolina pulled pork, Texas beef brisket, Memphis baby backs, etc.—smoked over apple and hickory woods. Just as importantly, it offers superb non-barbecue food (pan-roasted Atlantic salmon, smoked duck gumbo), as well as legendary Danny Meyer service, and a bourbon bar that just won’t quit. The room is somewhat lush, even opulent for barbecue, and that just goes to prove that you don’t need to perfectly mimic some backwater dive to serve great ‘cue. 116 E. 27th St., 212-447-7733, bluesmoke.com
Barbecue geeks are always shocked when this corporate concept, the very antithesis of what many think authentic barbecue should be, makes a “best of” list. Authentic, schmauthentic. The only thing that matters is a great pitmaster, and Wildwood’s got one who turns out reliable ‘cue, especially for pork sandwiches, beef and pork ribs and that wonderful house bacon. That said, don’t come here looking to savor the flavor when there’s a game on, because it turns into a complete bro-fest. 225 Park Ave S., 212-533-2500, wildwoodbbq.com
The choice for a family outing, the Syracuse-based Dinosaur (like Wildwood) has an unmistakable chain feel to it, and also, like Wildwood, it turns out absolutely cracking barbecue across the board, including an almost impossibly rare barbecued chicken wing. (Wings are hard to smoke because of their rubbery skin.) Food, from appetizer through dessert, arrives in huge portions, and there’s a pint-sized kids menu. Located in Harlem, it’s not as central as some of the other Manhattan joints, but it is near the 125th Street 1 train (and a lot of cool Harlem jazz joints). 700 W. 125th St., 212-694-1777, dinosaurbarbque.com
John Brown Smokehouse
A very cool outfit with a very young clientele, John Brown in Queens doesn’t have the most intense barbecue, owing to its reliance on electric smokers, but its food is delicious and the atmosphere wonderfully chill. Other perks? Indescribably moist meat (try the St. Louis-cut ribs) and a back garden that makes you want to hang out all day—which, thanks to the low prices (platters with one side start at $13), you can do on a budget. The post-industrial desolation of Long Island City lends itself to meat-sated reverie. 10-43 44th Dr., Long Island City, 347-617-1120, johnbrownseriousbbq.com
Both the best and worst that can be said of Fette Sau is that it’s pure Williamsburg: too cool for school, lackadaisical in its work ethic and overly art-directed all apply. Yet, when it’s on, it’s fantastic, and then there are the eccentric specialty meats that set it apart, such as pork belly, skirt steak and lamb ribs. The long wooden tables, meat-image wallpaper and ambient rock music set the tone, and the well-chosen beer selection, served in growlers, adds to the fun. 354 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, 718-963-3404, fettesaubbq.com
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