Morgan’s Barbecue: Bark Has Bite

Since hearing that Morgan’s had opened on Flatbush and St. Mark’s in Brooklyn, I’d been itching to go. Word on the street (by which I mean one of the managers of Dinosaur: Brooklyn I’d bugged one afternoon) was that one of the guys involved worked at Franklin BBQ in Austin. A couple of news pieces about Morgan’s backed that up.

So, last night, instead of going some place fancy for my birthday, I took a chance and had Cara take me to unproven ‘cue place. We all know how badly that can end in New York.

But I’m happy to report that Morgan’s met and exceeded expectations. It’s a sit-down place–which I’m fine with in New York, because I’d rather not get stuck with a tray of meat and nowhere to sit (Mighty Quinn’s). And the menu isn’t very big–again, this is a good thing.

We ordered brisket, ribs and pulled pork. All three–yes, even the pulled pork–showed that Morgan’s is, at heart, Texas barbecue. The ribs and the brisket had been rubbed down with ample salt and black pepper and had a great bark. This actually might be the spiciest brisket I’ve had in New York. Unlike the ribs at Hill Country, which are large and a little on the tough side for my liking, these were small (baby backs?) and extremely tender. Almost too tender for your barbecue sticklers. The brisket was excellent and, well, what do reviewers say about brisket? It was beefy? I don’t know. It was good. The pulled pork was surprising in that, unlike a lot of places around here, it wasn’t drenched in sauce or overly mushy. It had a strong garlic flavor, too, which I liked.

For sides, we had a loaded baked potato, which was good. And mac and cheese, which wasn’t cheesy enough.

Morgan’s has a solid bourbon and rye selection and the Shiner Bock was served at the perfect temperature.

I recommend it. And yall know how I am about barbecue.

The Great Brisket Experiment: 2013

If there’s one thing I like almost as much as stuffing my face full of smoked brisket, it’s barbecuing it myself.

SpiritAnimalBrisket

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.

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The Barrage of Brisket Tour: 2013

When I told folks that my son Nick and I were going to Texas to eat barbecue and nothing but barbecue, they thought I was joking. Some of them even went so far as to offer suggestions for non-barbecue food–like seafood and duck enchiladas (whatever those might be).

SpiritAnimalBrisket

I was not joking. In fact, between pulling into Lockhart on a Tuesday afternoon and leaving on Friday, we ate nothing but brisket and ribs, half a sausage, one piece of barbecue turkey and candy. Thursday at 1 p.m, we had tacos. Thursday evening, we went back to barbecue. We weren’t there to goof around.

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Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue — It’ll Do Pig

The first thing to say before talking about Mighty Quinn’s is it’s nice that New York has become a city in which there are barbecue options to nitpick to death.

There are some good things about this barbecue joint on Second Ave. and Sixth Street. And if you live or work in the area, it’s probably going to become a favorite of yours. But for folks who “travel” from other parts of the City to get their cue, I’m still going to recommend Hill Country as the go-to-place in the city.

Full disclosure, Texas style barbecue is my favorite, so if you like over-sauced ribs (and by over-sauced, I mean sauced) or pulled pork is your thing, feel free to disagree. But I’m also a certified barbecue judge, so that makes me like a professional barbecue complainer!
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Bourbon-Brined Pork Chops

Last night decided to try grilling pork chops for the first time in my life. That sounds, wrong, doesn’t it? I’ve never grilled pork chops? Could that possibly be? Guess so.

Actual results may vary.

I turned to Steve Raichlen’s How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques. It’s the first grilling/barbecue book I ever bought, back in the day when I bought my first smoker. If you’re just starting out–even if you’ve been doing this awhile–I highly recommend it.

Basically, the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons salt, 3 tablespoons brown sugar dissolved in hot water. Then that mixed with 2 cups cold water and 3 tablespoons bourbon. After it cools down, chuck the chops into it (I put it all in a Ziploc bag) and let sit for a few hours. When ready to cook, take ’em out the fridge, let ’em hit room temperature and pat ’em dry.

Raichlen suggests indirect heat/smoke for the first 20 minutes, then grilling on high heat to get those pretty sear marks. I gave that a whirl. Put a box of wood chips in the gas grill, let it get hot, turned the burner off under the GrillGrates and put down a layer of foil, then the chops. Those GrillGrates hold a hell of a lot of heat and even without a direct flame under them radiate a lot of heat. The chops were done with the “smoking” portion of events in 15 minutes, so I yanked ’em, cranked the heat, then seared ’em four minutes aside directly on the GrillGrates (rotating 90 degrees at the 2 minute mark for the cross-hatching).

How’d they turn out? Excellent. Then again, I’m starting to suspect if you brined shoe leather it would come out good. If you’re dealing with dry meat like turkey, chicken breast or pork chops, USE A BRINE.

FYI, the onions? Slice an onion, skewer it, brush with olive oil and dust with your favorite seasoning (I use Tony’s) and just put on the grill until charred. That’s some good eating.

Barbecue Trials: No. 1

After receiving a charcoal basket and two new digital thermometers, I’d finally reached the breaking point. I’d intended to wait until the convection plate I’d ordered arrived, but I couldn’t take it any longer. Yesterday, I fired up the smoker.

Initially, I’d planned to just throw charcoal and chips into the fire box and get a feel for how the basket affected things, learn the heat zones and heat differentials. While in the grocery store yesterday morning, I told myself if I could find a cheap, trimmed brisket, I’d toss that on, as I also wanted to experiment with temps higher than 250 and try out the so-called Texas Crutch. But no luck on the brisket. So I picked up a 5.6 pound piece of pork shoulder.
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Barbecue in Park Slope: Fort Reno

I’ve been driving myself crazy lately by ordering bits and pieces to modify my smoker while I wait for the weather to warm up. And also by going to barbecue websites to pick up tips and secrets for better barbecue, particularly brisket. Last year’s first attempts at brisket went better than expected, but I’m still not getting it to the point where it comes thisclose to falling apart. It seems my problem may have been not letting it rest. I’m also getting suspicious of the whole low-and-slow thing. Whereas most cue bibles will tell you to keep it under 275, seems the good folks down in Lockhart stay well above 300 and achieve superior flavor in a shorter amount of time. We shall find out.

But in the meantime, I’ve been wanting to eat barbecue. Plenty of options in Manhattan, with Hill Country leading the pack. Then last week, I learned (from TNT buddy Rachel) of Fort Reno here in Park Slope, a five-minute walk from my house.

I’ll admit that a number of things about Rachel’s review had me skeptical going in, namely her mention of hipsters, handle-bar mustaches and that photo of sauce-slathered ribs she posted. Anyone who knows me knows I’m anti-hipster and pretty damn anti-sauce.

But we would have to see for ourselves, so last night Cara and I went.

Fort Reno IS small. And if it were a waiter-service place I might have turned right around and walked out. Can’t stand tiny restaurants. But it’s a counter-service joint, which moves things along quickly (and possibly chases off some folks who aren’t accustomed to such a scene). The tables were full, so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar, which was being manned by, yes, a guy with a handle-bar mustache.

Drinks are ordered from the bar tender, food from a separate counter. We went with brisket, pulled pork, ribs and a handful of sides.

Fort Reno isn’t necessarily going to please hardcore barbecue enthusiasts. The restaurants website mentioned that the meat is “smoked and braised”–and that braising is definitely in evidence with the pulled pork and the brisket, the latter of which was so tender, it was verging on pot roast. That’s not to say they weren’t delicious. Both items were.

And I turned out liking the ribs the best. Yes, they’d been sauced, but it was just the right amount. (If anyone remembers Biscuit, formerly of Flatbush Ave. and then of the cursed spot on Fifth Ave., those guys drowned their ribs in sauce). The ribs at Fort Reno were also done the right way: They had just the right amount of pull. (Barbecue nerd note: According to Kansas City Barbecue Society standards, ribs are NOT supposed to fall off the bone.)

The thing was, the sauce was necessary as most of the meat came up short in the smoked department. Perhaps it’s the result of using electric smokers in such a small place and not wanting to choke everyone to death. Or perhaps the folks running the show know their audience and that audience might not like heavy smoke flavors.

Again, this is basically picking a nit. The meats were well seasoned and well cooked, as were the sides (mac n’ cheese, baked beans and cornbread). There certainly wasn’t much left after we were done with the plate.

Now about that handle-bar mustachioed gent behind the bar. His name was Dan and he was a hell of a nice guy. And I’m not just saying that because he got us pretty hammered on a fine collection of cocktails.

If you like a good cocktail, I can’t recommend this place enough. I’m no expert on mixed drinks, but I’d put Dan up against Clover Club and Prime Meats (which is high praise from me). I’m not going to write 500 words noting hints of that balanced against note of this because I don’t know what I’m talking about. I just know what I like, and all of the cocktails we tried at Fort Reno (and we went through half the menu I think), I liked.

Bonus points for the place having a neighborhood feel. At only three-months old, a number of regulars were stopping by for take-out orders or to chat with Dan–and with us. It’s a friendly place.

Will we be going back? Hell to the yes. This despite my own backyard smoker and the eventual opening of a Dinosaur Barbecue in Park Slope. The food was delicious, the cocktails excellent and the atmosphere welcoming.

Should you go? Most definitely.