Big-City Barbecue 

Julie Besonen

(Updated 07/20/2016)
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We've got the lowdown the City's most delicious barbecue joints. Great 'cue used to be hard to find in NYC, but not so anymore. Mighty Quinn's in the East Village and Butcher Bar in Astoria do far more than punch the clock when it comes to smoking meats for as long as need be. This list features competition-worthy brisket and pulled pork, some with a Southern slant, some more Texas in style and one that shows off Korea's contribution to the canon. Origins aside, it's all independently homegrown, with much of the meat, wood and beer sourced locally. Read on for all the messy details.

Blue Smoke
116 E. 27th St., 212-447-7733, Flatiron District, Manhattan
More than a decade on, Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke still reels in the crowds. The alluring aromas of smoldering meat make the wait for a table almost unendurable, but there's such conviviality that peace prevails. The bi-level, warehouse-like space provides a finer dining experience than some of the City's other barbecue establishments, with a serious wine list and expert cocktails, but no dressing up is required. The sauce-slathered, Kansas City–style spareribs are so meaty you can eat them like a steak with a knife and fork, but do pick up the bone and gnaw off every last succulent shred. Smoked chicken and pulled pork are also of superior quality. Sides can be highbrow (seasonal vegetables, roasted brussels sprouts) or folksy (collard greens, baked pit beans with pork). The barbecue menu is also available in the pitch-perfect Jazz Standard downstairs. A second location operates down in Battery Park City.

Blue Smoke. Photo: Kate Glicksberg

BrisketTown
359 Bedford Ave., 718-701-8909, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Daniel Delaney is the wunderkind of the barbecue world, crowned Brisket King of NYC 2013 when he was just 26. Awesome is an overused word, but it applies to his supple, pepper-crusted slabs of brisket. It's enough to make you go weak in the knees, so take a seat before digging in. Pork ribs are a close second, the meat easily yielding from the bone. The space is cozy and industrial, a cross between a butcher shop and a small-town café. Made-from-scratch pies, especially the pecan, are blue ribbon–worthy; one can envision a spin-off called PieTown.  

Daisy May's BBQ USA
623 Eleventh Ave., 212-977-1500, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
You'd never know a celebrity chef, Adam Perry Lang, was behind this self-service shack in Hell's Kitchen. The ambience at Daisy May's BBQ USA, with its plain paneled walls, is nothing special—but things really improve when you get a taste of Lang's Kansas City sweet-and-sticky, supermeaty pork ribs and Carolina pulled pork. Eyeballing the mouthwatering sides, you'll have a difficult time deciding among creamy mashed potatoes with redeye gravy, velvety macaroni and cheese, and rustic creamed corn laced with New York State cheddar. Why not get them all and risk a heart scare? You never know when they'll run out, but if you see bourbon peaches, get them too—just like canned, but way better.

Daisy May's BBQ. Photo: Daniel Krieger

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
700 W. 125th St., 212-694-1777, Harlem, Manhattan
Head to Harlem on a weekend and see dressy customers packed in practically to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's rafters, clamoring for the hostess's attention. Tables are pushed together for big groups of friends and family, who laugh and whoop as they tear through huge platters of barbecue. Elvis is on the sound system, but he barely registers over the noise. You can't go wrong with the "Big Ass Pork Plate" (old-timey smoked pork shoulder) or St. Louis–cut pork ribs marinated in spice rub for 24 hours, then pit smoked and glazed with tangy sauce. Sides have more finesse than you'd expect: luscious Creole potato salad, moist "honey hush" corn bread and black-eyed peas with kale and bacon (a special side). The beer list—with many selections from the Northeast—is particularly strong. A sister outpost resides in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Photo: Daniel Krieger

Fette Sau
354 Metropolitan Ave., 718-963-3404, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Mississippi meets Williamsburg at Fette Sau, a former auto-body repair shop with cement floors, communal tables and a bluesy vibe. The name means "fat pig" in German, but the crowd here is scruffy, skinny and cool. Meat choices change frequently, but you're pretty sure to find multiple variations on barbecued pork and beef. Load your tray with mounds of brisket, hand-pulled Berkshire pork shoulder or house-cured pastrami from a three-day brine, then call it a night. Typical sides like potato salad and baked beans are good enough, but more noteworthy is the wide-ranging bourbon, cider and beer selection.

Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue
433 Third Ave., 347-763-2680, Gowanus, Brooklyn
The barbecue here is more about Brooklyn than Texas or the Carolinas. Owner Bill Fletcher sources meats from local farm cooperatives that eschew hormones and antibiotics. Upstate New York provides the red oak and maple wood for slow-smoking ribs, pork, beef and chicken. Fletcher's has a way with snappy hot links and pork steak, rosy chunks of shoulder that are so juicy and tasty naked no sauce is needed to cloak it. Brisket chili mac and cheese is wondrous, the smoky shreds of beef blanketing luscious, creamy noodles. Brisket burnt ends are also as good as they get. There's a modern sleekness to the space, with long wood tables and a short bar where you can sip a bracing bourbon and breathe in the amazing aromas.

Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue. Photo: Lori Lovejoy Fletcher

Hill Country
30 W. 26th St., 212-255-4544, Flatiron District, Manhattan
All that's missing is Debra Winger riding a bucking bronco in this urban tribute to Texas. Since it's in the Flatiron District, this big, lively roadhouse is bound to be more corporate than mom-and-pop, but Hill Country has got its 'cue down to a science. Everyone's given a ticket, which is filled out by the counter guys when you order—just like at Katz's Deli. Instead of pastrami, however, you'll be faced with choices of moist or lean brisket (get the moist) and beef ribs or hand-carved barbecue chicken, among other temptations. Wood tables are preset with a roll of paper towels, and you'll need them. Sides of church-supper green bean casserole, sweet potato bourbon mash and beer-braised pinto beans are also advised. This joint has proved so popular there's now an additional location in downtown Brooklyn too.

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Kunjip
32 W. 32nd St., 212-564-8238, Koreatown, Manhattan
Koreatown offers barbecue with a difference: it's more about do-it-yourself grilling marinated meats than leaving the job to a pitmaster who smokes them for hours. No matter your expertise, the result is delicious, especially at Kunjip, open 24 hours. The plain space is nothing special to look at, but tables filled with Korean families and groups of friends liven things up. In the middle of the night it's fun to observe the club kids piling in for sustenance before going home. For the uninitiated, some dishes can be hard to pronounce (doiji gal bi gui = "grilled boneless pork ribs"), but the menu is helpfully illustrated with pictures so you can simply point.

Mable's Smokehouse & Banquet Hall
44 Berry St., 718-218-6655, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
How fitting when the opening twangs of George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" blast out at Mable's Smokehouse, a warehouse-size honky-tonk. This kind of down-home barbecue calls out for the blues. Co-owner Jeff Lutonsky is from Oklahoma and has done his honest best to re-create his grandmother Mable's caramel-y barbecue sauce and pie crust (both the Key lime and peanut butter pies would make her proud). The restaurant evolved from the backyard barbecues he and his wife, Meghan Love, used to host. Their brisket is super-smoky, the collard greens flecked with bacon and the slabs of pork ribs good to the bone. People from the Oklahoma-Texas-Arkansas region will be especially happy to find the nostalgic party snack of spicy Ro*Tel diced tomatoes blended with Velveeta. The whole place is like one big party, with dressed-down groups gathered at long wood tables sharing pitchers of Brooklyn beer.

The Smoke Joint
87 S. Elliott Place, 718-797-1011, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
If you don't already live in Brooklyn, a visit to the Smoke Joint may make you wish you did. There's a genuine sense of community there, a palpable lovefest between staff and regulars. Flyers advertise local businesses and bands' upcoming gigs. Despite its barbecue focus, the Smoke Joint has a bistro—not a bluesy—feel. The pigs served here didn't live in vain, giving sustenance through juicy pulled pork and rich baby back ribs. Macaroni and cheese is straightforward in its golden splendor, the barbecue-spiced fries slim and crisp.

The Strand Smokehouse
25-27 Broadway, 718-440-3231, Astoria, Queens
Chef Eric Milley, an alum of Jeffrey's Grocery, smokes whatever quality meats he can get his hands on, which might mean rib eye, tri-tip and duck breast in addition to the expected pork and chicken. On a recent visit, smoked, herb-scented turkey stole the show, juicier than any bird served at Thanksgiving. He even makes a mean pastrami. There's a Southern slant to the sides, like mashed potatoes with sausage gravy and shrimp and grits. The massive, wood-detailed space has a stage presenting live music and a long bar fringed with barrels of whiskey. The whiskey theme continues at the communal tables, where jugs are repurposed as water bottles. It's easy to reach from Manhattan, near the Broadway stop on the N and Q lines.

Virgil's Real Barbecue
152 W. 44th St., 212-921-9494, Times Square, Manhattan
Virgil's is owned by the people-pleasing Alicart Restaurant Group, which also operates the eternally mobbed Carmine's, so there's a good-faith effort at authenticity here. The smell of hickory, oak and fruitwoods wafts through the air, as does raucous laughter and classic rock music, blues and country. The big, bi-level space is a casual, down-home alternative to the fancy hotels in the area, offering generous portions at an honest price and red terry cloth towels to wipe the sauce from your face. The menu makes regional pit stops all over the South: Memphis-style pork ribs, Carolina pulled pork and Texas beef brisket. And for lunch before a matinee, the grilled hot dogs with chili are sloppy delights.

Virgil's Real Barbecue. Photo: Daniel Krieger

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