Chasing Beef Brisket in the Big Apple

Barbecue New York City

Three months have passed since my Manhattan burger roundup, allowing me enough time to recover from beef overload before commencing another piggish challenge: finding New York’s best Texas BBQ.

I got a taste of the country’s formidable competitors while attending this year’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party, an annual event that draws sixteen of the country’s leading pitmasters to Madison Square Park armed with their favorite ingredients, many of them closely guarded secrets. Hungry carnivores arrive early: the wise ones book fast passes to avoid wasting time in long lines, cluttered by more than 100,000 BBQ fanatics.

I still recall my favorite dish: a saltine cracker, liberally covered in homemade pimento cheese, topped with spicy pork sausage, courtesy of Birmingham-based Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ. The final condiments won me over: a sprinkling of spicy habanero sauce and fresh jalapeno peppers.

Now that I’d seen and tasted it, the idea of BBQ in New York City began to grow on me, but I’d need to find local eateries to satisfy recurring, insatiable, cravings. Sitting at my computer, I begin to scour the web for New York BBQ restaurants but soon discover that food sites liberally construe the term.

New York “BBQ” seems to encompass southern food. I simultaneously discover that few of the NYC-based spots offer proper Texas BBQ.

But when it appears on a menu, beef brisket can’t be missed, with exaggerated fonts the size of TEXAS.

So it begins, my quest for Texas-style BBQ in New York’s concrete jungle. I decide to start at Hill Country BBQ Market, which emulates the “meat-markets-turned-barbecue-joints of Central Texas with their distinctive, dry-rub style.”

Tried, true and unmistakably Texan, Hill Country continues to be my favorite BBQ eatery in New York City. With a classic formula and meats directly imported from Lockhart, Hill Country never disappoints. I’m typically here for an alumni gathering, which merely serves to distract me from the task at hand. This time I arrive with nothing besides food on my mind. My order?

Lean brisket, pork ribs, spicy sausage, jalapeno cheese sausage, and several sides, including green beans with crispy fried onions and mac and cheese. Everything tastes great, although these smoked meats wouldn’t stand a chance against their Lockhart counterparts, produced in one hundred year-old smokers. Nostalgia aside, I’m happy to discover a worthy fix and make notes for comparing competitor establishments. In addition to flavor, I’m primarily looking for brisket that nails the balance between lean and moist. Hill Country has earned an A.

My stomach begs me to wait several days before striking again, but duty calls, and I’m heading west towards R.U.B (Righteous Urban Barbecue) [CLOSED], Chelsea’s other preeminent BBQ eatery. Executive Chef, Paul Kirk, won seven World Barbecue Championships.

Praise notwithstanding, my lunch at R.U.B. disappoints. The brisket is dry, as is the sausage, and the cornbread is as flavorful as cardboard. Redemption barely arrives in the form of mustard-based potato salad, but even it can’t save this disaster of a meal. When I reveal my findings to friends, they decry my assessment: I was too full from Hill Country. Or perhaps in my food-induced coma I inadvertently ate elsewhere? Sorry, everyone, but R.U.B. was either having an off day or its many accolades don’t account for mediocre brisket.

My lunch at R.U.B. See the stiffness of the cornbread & brisket?

Several days later I meet friends at Williamsburg’s Fette Sau, my second favorite of the roundup. It also abides by the dry rub mantra, which is probably why I like it so much. That and its old-fashioned aura, personified by glass gallon jars. We order several gallons of the Six Point Vienna Pale Ale and dig in. Brisket, pork belly, pulled pork and sausage dominate Fette Sau’s sides, though the potato salad trumps R.U.B.’s.

Barbecue New York City
Commendably, Fette Sau purchases its wood and meat from local farms: this commitment to local sourcing ensures tasty cuts of meat, although it inhibits menu predictability. Fette Sau doesn’t take reservations, and it’s always busy, so plan to spend no less than thirty minutes waiting to order (grab a beer while you wait).


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