Barbecue Town, USA
Not so long ago, New York City was considered a barbecue wasteland, on a par with other legendary barbecue wastelands like Paris, London, and L.A. But not anymore. Thanks to newfangled smoker technology and a new generation of inspired local pit masters, the city is in the midst of an unlikely meat-smoking renaissance. If you don’t believe me, take a seat with the rest of the yuppie brisket freaks at Hill Country, in the Flatiron district, where dinner is apportioned not by the sandwich or the slab but measured Texas style, by the pound, then flopped on great sheets of butcher paper. I like to get there in the early evening, before the crowds arrive, for my weekly ration of smoked “moist” brisket (the “lean” is good, but the fatty “moist” deckle cut is better), followed by several slabs of the densely flavorful beef shoulder, and a rack or two of the steamy pork ribs chopped from great smoky slabs by portly gentlemen in white butcher bibs. But if these calorie bombs send you clutching for your Lipitor, it’s possible to survive very nicely on the house chicken, which is brushed with a sweet barbecue sauce and falls gently from the bone when you tweak it with your fork.
The burned brisket ends and the slow-cooked pork shoulder are still my two favorite items on the bountiful, rigorously unhealthy menu at RUB, in Chelsea, and whenever I’m in need of a barbecue fix farther uptown, I like to speed up the West Side Highway to the frenzied and hectic Dinosaur Bar-B-Que complex on 131st Street, not for the ribs but for a bushel or two of the jumbo, pit-smoked, spice-rubbed, finger-licking chicken wings. For a true neighborly barbecue experience, however, I’ll pile the family in the car and find my way to Fette Sau, next to Tony & Sons Auto Repair on Metropolitan Avenue in the rambling, barely gentrified wilds of Williamsburg. They sell their slow-cooked beef and pork products market style here, too, and serve them to the rabble of festive local barbecue fiends at picnic tables set with rolls of paper towels and giant squirt bottles of home-brewed sauces. The thing to order on the ad hoc blackboard menu is the good old-fashioned pastrami, gnarled and peppery on its crunchy exterior and pink and slightly fatty within. I find this ancient regional delicacy goes best with tubs of sauerkraut and molasses-thick camp beans, which you can wash down with a fine selection of locally brewed artisanal beers, dispensed in giant gallon-size jugs or a decorous selection of mason jars.