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Four Reasons NYC Can’t Claim BBQ Capital Status

Like you even needed one.

by Daniel Vaughn · May 24, 2013

A month ago I wrote a friendly rebuttal to Robert Sietsema, the (former) Village Voice food critic who wrote an inflammatory piece back in March arguing that New York City was the country’s newest barbecue capital. I pointed out that Sietsema was simply a misguided New Yorker who was understandably giddy about having a few decent smoked meat options within the five boroughs. Good old Josh Ozersky (whose rejection of traditional barbecue I wrote about yesterday) was the first to come to Sietsema’s aid in the comments section of that post. He listed his favorite barbecue joints in New York and offered his opinion of the Texas landscape, which only served to cement his position as an amateur when it comes to our barbecue. His poor coverage of Austin (he failed to even mention John Mueller Meat Co, La Barbecue, Lambert’s, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Blue Ox, and Freedman’s Bar) shouldn’t have been surprising, considering that he inexplicably failed to bring up Delaney Barbecue in Brooklyn in his argument on behalf of NYC’s barbecue ascendence. Delaney has the best smoked brisket in New York, hands down. Furthermore, Ozersky’s digs on Black’s, Louie Mueller Barbecue, and Cooper’s showed a lack of up-to-date research. Similar oversights were apparent in his list of favorite barbecue joints in America, published last week on CitySearch, which included Harold’s in Atlanta, a place that’s been closed for almost a year.

Nobody paid much attention to our blog post. So Ozersky re-asked it, posing as a questioner named J.D. Tippit, on the “Ask Eat Like a Man” Q&A he does for Esquire.com every week. If the name J.D. Tippit sounds familiar, that’s because he was the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Very clever, Ozersky. But what came next took the issue to whole new level. In answering Tippit’s question, Ozersky idly suggested that New York should be considered THE single best city for barbecue in the country: “Obviously there are many places I don’t know about, but I’d be interested in finding a city with half as many first-rate barbecue restaurants as we have here in New York.” Preposterous!

My initial reaction was to respond immediately, but then I decided the prudent thing to do would be to travel to New York to sample some of the barbecue joints he mentioned. During a visit last week, I set out for Fletcher’s, Mighty Quinn’s, Delaney Barbecue, and John Brown Smokehouse. I took along Robert Sietsema and Pete Wells to help me navigate the local mores. Here’s what I found out:

As Ozersky noted, Mighty Quinn’s served a remarkable beef short rib and some very good fatty brisket. Delaney Barbecue equaled it in quality with brisket that would even hold up in Texas, but the rest of the list quickly deteriorated. Fletcher’s burnt ends were so undercooked they bounced on the table like a super ball. From a previous trip last year I already knew that the others listed like Dinosaur, Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Wildwood, Fette Sau, and Mable’s all had one or two good smoked meat items, but I wouldn’t consider any of them great and all would have a ways to go to make it on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ joint list. Sietsema and Wells agreed with me that John Brown Smokehouse was the worst of the bunch. There was even some embarrassment that we’d made a stop there at all. Every piece of meat we were served (save the lamb sausage) was shredded and dessicated. Ozersky doesn’t mention John Brown in his Q&A, but it does get a spot in his recently released list of New York’s top eight BBQ joints. I pity the city where that barbecue can make it onto a “Best of” list.

If the first half of Ozersky’s response was ill-informed, the second half was downright vainglorious. His reasoning for New York’s supposed smoke meat superiority is “…not that we are better cooks or eaters or anything; it’s just that barbecuers from all over the country want to come open restaurants here. The whole country is our farm system, essentially.” Really? I’m wondering if he can name a single successful, respected pitmaster in Texas that has pulled up stakes to move to the New York. Maybe there’s one or two who couldn’t make it in the Lone Star State, and thought their stuff would at least be good enough for New York, but I certainly can’t think of any. Let’s just say I’m not expecting to get a call from Aaron Franklin, Wayne Mueller, or Tootsie Tomanetz from a 212 number anytime soon.

In that original comment to our blog post that started all this, Ozersky wrote, “I’d be interested in a home-and-home with Vaughn.” Okay, let’s play (even though, it should be noted, my home team plays in a city with a tenth of the population of New York). I’ll give Ozersky Mighty Quinn’s and Delaney Barbecue (consider the latter a gift), and I’ll take Franklin Barbecue and John Mueller Meat Co. We’ll take those four off the table and compare what we have left. That still leaves Austin with a couple of the best barbecue joints in the world. I’d say I like my home team’s chances.

Comments

  • DJK

    It seems to me that arguing over regional BBQ is a bit like fans from rival teams arguing over sports. When the tone is light and tongue-in-cheek and armed with self-awareness (like most of your exchange with John Shelton Reed), it can be fun, and fine. But when it actually gets serious, it’s just cringe-worthy and pathetic.

    What’s odd, though, is Texas BBQ taking NYC BBQ seriously as a rival at all. Did our Cleveland insecurities trickle all the way down to Wooster?

  • AustinSportsBiz

    When Hill Country BBQ hit NYC five or so years ago, I rushed there looking for a slice of home. It was respectable for NYC BBQ, but even I thought their BBQ would be middle of pack in the actual Hill Country. They just had the ambition, and money I suppose, to set up shop in NYC. And if I’m not mistaken, the founders were snatched up by other elite NYC restaurants to become their BBQ pit masters. Imagine if Aaron Franklin or the Muellers set up shop in NYC. They could charge $40 a lb and would be gods.

  • Peter Taylor

    Not only is Harold’s in Atlanta out of business, it was unspeakably bad in its last days (check out Yelp, if you don’t believe me). I don’t know when Ozaersky went there, but it almost has to have been after they stopped cooking with wood, which suggests that he was swept away by the ambience. (It was near the prison.)

  • Peter Taylor

    By the way, I’m in New York right now and just had a wonderful hot pastrami on rye. New Yorkers should probably stick to what they’re good at and leave the barbecuing to folks who’ve grown up with it.

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