Friday morning. About three weeks after moving to Colorado. I’d accumulated a bill and a pay stub and the other forms of identification I needed to get a Colorado driver’s license. So I woke up bright and early with the intent of getting to the DMV in Boulder the minute it opened at 7 a.m.
But alas, life happens. I got a little bit of a late start. I let the dogs hang out in the yard a little longer than I’d planned — I’m a sucker for what the dogs want. I didn’t get to the DMV until 7:30.
The article was headlined “Why Is Brooklyn Barbecue Taking Over the World?” I’m not even going to link to it. But it was a perfect example of a certain sort of food writing: provocative clickbait written by someone seemingly ignorant about barbecue and journalism.
It also gave Brooklyn way too much credit while trying to champion something that didn’t need his damn help—which seems to be a particularly Brooklyn thing to do (and by that, I mean a particularly Williamsburg thing to do).
As a certified barbecue judge who’s eaten his way through Austin, Lockhart, Memphis, and Kansas City, with a couple of stops in the Carolinas, I can tell you this: Brooklyn barbecue isn’t taking over the world, but it is good and doesn’t need this trend-setting bullshit.
The piece featured a handful of places, including one Brooklyn barbecue restaurant that’s been closed for over a year. The only thing remotely supporting a claim that Brooklyn barbecue was taking over the world was that people in other locations are using the same sort of decor (which, to be honest, is generic Brooklyn hipster and not remotely unique to Brooklyn barbecue joints).
And there was the photo. On an oversized metal tray lined with butcher paper, five slices of gray brisket, two pickles, what appear to be two Kings Hawaiian rolls, and beer served in a Mason jar (of course). There had to be two inches of real estate between each item.
It was one of the more Texas things I’ve seen. The big guy walked into the place and took off his jacket, exposing the holstered pistol on his hip. He joined his two friends, each of whom were working on an $80 prime-rib steak. The big guy sat down to a rib that looked like it had come off of a T-Rex rather than a cow.
I’ve seen plenty of guns before. I’ve used guns before. I have family members who walk around their own houses with guns in their pockets. I’m okay with guns. But I kept stealing glances at this one.
Because I wasn’t in Texas. And the guy wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat. The big guy and his friends were all wearing yarmulkes.
Behold, the brisket. A beefy beauty, but not the easiest cut of meat to tame. That one there is moist, succulent. It is sporting a sexy little smoke ring and a glossy black bark. But appearances can be deceiving. I’m not going to complain (too much). The brisket was perhaps the juiciest one I’ve ever done. But it wasn’t smoky enough. Neither was it seasoned enough for my liking.
The amount of smoke — or lack thereof — wasn’t a surprise. I was experimenting. I use charcoal plus wood chunks. Even if I wanted to use logs, the practicalities of New York living would make it prohibitively expensive (though I did order some sticks from Smoak). I used a lot less wood this time around to see what would happen — and what happened was perfectly fine barbecue that I wish had gotten a little more wood smoke on it. I also expected it might be on the milder side since the turkey and chops I’d pulled off earlier didn’t get very much smoke on them.
It was time again for me to host the annual company barbecue. That meant 30 or more people coming over to the apartment in Brooklyn. That meant pounds and pound of meat. It meant bags and bags of charcoal. It meant hours and hours of work.
All of which is to say I was excited! And agitated. And nervous. A lot could go wrong, starting with the annual prediction of 60% chance of rain. I have a back yard just big enough for 30-some-odd people. I have an apartment that is smaller than the back yard. So, you do the math. But the chance of rain diminished throughout the week until the weather on the day of the actual event looked like it was supposed to be sunshine and lollipops. The day of cooking, on the other hand, looked to be a steady fall of rain.
Oh, yes. This is a two-day cooking affair. Three days if you include shopping. But it was all under control. I’ve done this before. Even if I haven’t mastered my brisket (shut up) just yet, I have the process down to a science.
If there’s one thing I like almost as much as stuffing my face full of smoked brisket, it’s barbecuing it myself.
Okay, that is a lie. Barbecuing brisket — and pork shoulder for that matter — is one of those things I really, really look forward to doing. And I maintain the kid-on-Christmas-morning glee until one of the following
The shopping trip turns into a shit-show of an obstacle course
The weather decides not to cooperate
Five hours into the proceeding and I’m just trying to stay awake
When the food is served and everybody’s all, “THIS IS AWESOME” and I’m thinking “This is shit. It’s crap. It doesn’t taste like Black’s or Franklin’s or Hill Country or Brisketlab. AND OH MY GOD, DID YOU JUST PUT SAUCE ON THAT?!?!”
But this last barbecue? It was going to be different. Because I’d learned something while in Texas with Nick on our Fabulous Brisket Tour. And it was game-changing.
The things you see in Brooklyn. Like this poster for a missing pigeon. “Dennis” was last seen crossing Atlantic Ave. by Court Street, which is exactly where this photo was taken. Maybe Dennis was going to Trader Joe’s or Sahadi’s. Obviously this either a joke or “art” or both. While taking the photo this morning, some guy pushing a stroller asked me if I’d put the poster up. I did not take credit for this bit of genius. (And neither did I call the phone number. )
Can you hear me, now? Good. Now listen to me. I did a podcast interview with the fine folks at Hey Brooklyn! You can hear me prattle on about The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival, blogging, work and lord knows what else. I even attempt to read a passage from the book at one point. It was a cold read on a passage I hadn’t read out loud before, so, well, it’s not my usual effort worthy of a Grammy. Anyway, go check it out.
As a resident of the Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Heights area, I have a love-hate relationship with Cadman Plaza. I love the open space and the soft-easy-on-the-knees cinder track. I hate that it looks like the Wolverines from Red Dawn failed and the Commies built half the stuff in and around the park. That said, this video reveals what it was like “back in the day.” It was a cluster-farg of elevated train tracks and NOISE and … well, it’s funny to think the plaza would not be a plaza had historical preservation groups been around back then. No, instead it would look like the lovely Roosevelt Ave. area of Jackson Heights. (Then again, maybe real estate would be cheaper in the area.) This comes from The Brooklyn Heights Blog.