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BBQ NYC: New ‘cue, from the East Village to Gowanus

It was 21 years ago that former London hairdresser Robert Pearson opened Stick to Your Ribs in Long Island City, changing the face of New York barbecue forever. Previously, barbecue here had meant oven-roasted short ribs or pork shoulder coated with gooey red sauce. Restaurateurs claimed clean-air laws prevented them from using real hardwood smoke. Well, by installing a “scrubber” to neutralize the exhaust from his barbecue pit, Pearson proved them wrong. He went on to smoke beef briskets, kielbasas, and pork ribs for eight to 12 hours, Texas-style, with a coating of kosher salt and crushed peppercorns. Sauce—if you felt like you needed it—could be applied afterward.

Gradually, at least a dozen other good or great barbecues followed suit, so that now the city must be accounted one of the country’s ‘cue capitals, up there with Kansas City; Memphis; Lockhart, Texas; Owensboro, Kentucky; and Lexington, North Carolina. And just when we thought we had a solid collection, new pits began popping up. Several have appeared in the past few months, three of them among the best in the city. Counter Culture has reported on Daniel Delaney’s BrisketTown (359 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-701-8909), which obsesses on beef brisket smoked in a trailer located just off Flushing Avenue. Little else is served besides sides, pies, and the occasional pork rib, though Delaney has recently started selling brisket tacos ($4) during daylight hours.

The same fixation on Texas-style brisket is found at Mighty Quinn’s (103 Second Avenue, 212-677-3733), which occupies the former Vandaag space in the East Village and is named after a Bob Dylan song about a charismatic Inuit. If anyone thought you couldn’t open a real barbecue in such a densely populated neighborhood, Quinn’s shows you can. A giant black smoker thrusts into the dining room like an ancient angry god, and you can see the minions of pit master and Houston native Hugh Mangum juggling briskets in the back room. Quinn’s smokes its briskets a whopping 16 to 20 hours, and the fatty meat ($22 per pound) is ceremoniously sliced right in front of you. Meats are finished with a sprinkle of flaky Maldon sea salt—not a bad idea.

The barnlike place also does decent pulled pork, Carolina-style; small, meaty spare ribs with a touch of cumin in the glaze; and beef ribs so big that one easily feeds two people on its morass of blackened meat and jiggly fat. The bone itself will remind you of something Fred tossed to Dino on The Flintstones. The sides? As always with barbecue, who needs ’em? But note that the place serves both mayo- and vinegar-driven coleslaw; each has its advantages in the fat-cutting department. Skip the edamame salad, which belongs at one of the sushi joints up the street. Not only does Mighty Quinn’s sell meats by the pound, it also offers modest single servings of ‘cue in recyclable paper trays at $6.50 to $8.50, with cucumber pickles, pickled peppers, pickled purple onions, and brioche rolls. This is discount barbecue par excellence.

Located near the Gowanus Canal just north of Four & Twenty Blackbirds, in an industrial neighborhood that seems exactly where a great smokehouse ought to be, Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue (433 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, 347-763-2680) is eclectic in its smoky barbecue stylings, a combination it calls Brooklyn Barbecue. The utilitarian space is filled with trestle tables, and wan art lines the walls. The beef brisket is the unfatty half of the cut, so too dry, but the fatty part is coarsely chopped into wonderful and supremely rich burnt ends ($28 per pound). Another selection you can’t live without is chopped pork. It shines in a killer Carolina-style sandwich made on a potato roll ($10). You’ll be asked if you want coleslaw on top as you move past the sides toward the register. The compulsory answer: yes! This classic has never been done so well in the city before.

America’s most ambitious barbecues each enjoy their own quirks, and Fletcher’s is no exception. While many spots avoid poultry due to the rubbery nature of the skin, Fletcher’s embraces it, doing admirable chicken wings (10 for $10). Somehow, flamboyant pit master Matt Fisher has found a way to make the skin taut, if not crisp. Less felicitous is his adaptation of Chinese char siu, the kind of pork found in Chinatown rice shops. It turns out tough, and the accompanying sweet soy sauce doesn’t help. But what the hell—a barbecue without a dud or two is like a great beauty with no birthmark.

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Don’t Stop Smoking at BrisketTown

It was a cold autumn evening, around 5:45 p.m., and the stretch of Bedford Avenue just north of the Williamsburg Bridge was calm and nearly pitch black, save for the occasional J or M train whizzing by overhead, ablaze with light. A ragged line of people extended from the door of a place with minimum signage—it seemed anonymous in the darkness. As the minutes wore on, the line grew. At precisely 6 p.m., ghostly arms could be seen flailing out the door, and an excited murmur rose from the crowd, who pocketed their cell phones and became animated as they began inching toward the entrance.

Once inside, the line wound past a liquor-less bar, through what looked like a cattle sluice, and up to a counter, where a guy with horn-rim specs wore a red visor with a volcano of unkempt hair shooting out the top. Using a giant fork, he pulled smoke-blackened briskets out of a warming cabinet, set them down on the cutting board, and sliced fatty and lean brisket with surgical precision. Between carvings, he leaned over to consult with the customers to find out exactly what their meat expectations were, more priest than deli man. Behind him blazed a red neon cow, while the rest of the high-ceilinged room was plunged in deep shadow.

That was the scene early on at BrisketTown, yet another of New York’s Texas-style barbecues, where the amount of hardwood smoke absorbed by the meat is everything, and sauce is an afterthought. It joins Hill Country, Fette Sau, and, to a lesser extent, Mable’s and John Brown Smokehouse in trying to reproduce the precise taste and texture of Lone Star ‘cue, with brisket as its centerpiece. The man slicing the meat is Daniel Delaney, who as recently as a year ago worked in video production. He went to Texas, brought back a smoker capable of doing 200 pounds of meat at once, and fetched back a supply of post oak, too, the wood used in great barbecue towns like Lockhart and Elgin.

At first, Delaney started serving brisket to friends in his apartment, but soon he hatched the idea for Brisketlab, a pop-up feast that occurred 31 times from late spring to late summer at a variety of odd venues. I caught up with him in June at the cemetery behind the historic Dutch Reformed Church in Flatbush, where he doled out meat, coleslaw, and white bread as a band played old-timey music and customers wandered among the graves like gleeful mourners. The long-smoked brisket was splendid, crusted with a blackened spice rub that sealed in moisture, which wept as the meat was sliced. It was every bit as good as you get in Texas.

Inevitably, the successful pop-up yearns for brick and mortar, and Delaney recently moved into his Williamsburg storefront. He has preserved one of his earlier concepts: Brisket can be pre-ordered online, picked up at 6 p.m., and eaten in the overcrowded restaurant or taken away. But it turns out if you wait till 8 p.m. or so, you can just stroll right in and cop some ($25 per pound), along with a shifting roster of sides that can include coleslaw, cabbage stewed with apples, and German potato salad. Sliced onions and sweet pickles accompany the meat, plus a good stack of white bread for wrapping the brisket up with the condiments, Texas-style.

I talked to Delaney, an affable guy whose excitement is infectious, about the challenges of abandoning his nomad status. My first question: Where did he keep the smoker? “We put it in a 40-foot commercial shipping container and parked it on Flushing Avenue,” he said, whipping out his iPhone and showing me pictures of a metal cylinder fitted into a rectangular space. “It’s been really different smoking the briskets in autumn rather than summer. Briskets behave differently at various outdoor temperatures and humidities. A few days ago, we ruined some because they got too dry.”

While most Texas barbecues smoke their brisket eight to 10 hours, Delaney leaves his in for 12 to 16 hours, starting at 7 p.m. the night before, and selling them out the following day—no leftovers. He’s experimenting with pork ribs now, and on the occasions I visited, these were featured as a supplement with the brisket. The ribs ($22 per pound) are meatier than usual and coated with a rudimentary black pepper rub. But they have a touch of sweetness. “Honey and maple syrup,” said Delaney with a wink. “Come back next week, and we’ll be experimenting with pies.”

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Hanukkah Face-Off: Ashkenazi Dish #7

Hanukkah is a time for enjoying Jewish culinary traditions with family and friends, and to that end we present a daily competition between Ashkenazi and Sephardic food, going up around sunset on the first seven days of Hanukkah – and presenting a wrap-up as the sun goes down on the eighth day. Whose food is the most appealing? Help us decide with your comments and social media shares.

If you’re a vegetarian, you should probably stop reading this now.

In Ashkenazi cooking, meat is serious business. To be more specific, it’s all about the brisket.

Every Jewish cook has a recipe for this mass of tender sliced beef. Carrots, ketchup, onions, molasses — they’ve all made appearances at one time or another in the kitchen of many meat eaters. Personally, I can’t imagine ever biting into a piece of meat that is silkier and more inviting than my grandmother’s brisket. But that has less to do with flavor than comfort.

To try another distinctly awesome hunk of meat, visit BrisketLab creator, Daniel Delaney, at his new Williamsburg restaurant, BrisketTown. Delany, whose specialty is Texas-style barbecue, owes the intense woodsiness of his beef to an 18′ smoker that he picked up in Austin. And while his brisket isn’t family-made, it seems like certain critics agree that Delaney knows his meat.

Check out the entire Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic melee!

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BrisketTown Opening in Williamsburg

Daniel Delaney of VendrTV has been selling thousands of pounds of meat online and at his pop-up events. The Brooklyn native has put that money to good use and is opening up a brick and mortar in Williamsburg at 359 Bedford Avenue.

The shop, which will debut on October 31, will be called BrisketTown and will be a counter-service restaurant.

“We’re working with the design duo Oliver and Evan Haslegrave of hOmE to design the space. It will be modeled after a Texas meat market. All the food will be counter service, and we’re hoping to eventually have other provisions available for sale,” Delaney wrote in an e-mail.

People can pre-order some of the remaining brisket by visiting briskettown.com, while supplies last.