Barbecue Masters: Keepers of the Flame

In the summertime, the thoughts of many a New Yorker turn to one thing. No, not sex, barbecue! Yes, the flavor of melting meat cooked long hours over the fragrant fumes of burning hardwood is the season's greatest boast. Surely there's no shortage of barbecue spots in New York, but just because a restaurant exists doesn't mean you should eat there--we've isolated five of the city's true masters of the smoky art.

(Photo: RUB's short ribs/Marina Senra Fragoso)

Updated: June 03, 2009

The Pit Pantheon

Hill Country Barbecue

30 W 26th St, New York, NY 10010

Some barbecue enthusiasts prefer Kansas City or the Carolinas, but we'd argue that it's done best in central Texas, where the preparation is as primal and painstaking as a religious ritual. Salt and pepper are applied to the meat, oak set on fire, end of story! Hill Country has absolutely mastered this process--perhaps even more effectively than many of its Texas-based counterparts. The luscious brisket and immense, meaty spare ribs go dangerously well with the house cocktail, the Hill Country Cooler (made with Tito's vodka and Tang). Be sure to order plenty of all three.

Fette Sau

354 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

This funky Williamsburg upstart distinguished itself early with an extensive variety of barbecue offerings: pig tails, flank steak, pork belly and more. Which isn't to say that its straight-up barbecue products are any less deserving of accolades: Chicken and duck are mightily impressive, and the pulled pork is superb when it's fresh. Like most commercial barbecues, Fette Sau is wonderful when the food goes "pit to plate," but the stuff they have to hold for a while suffers. Happily, the appearance of those products is staggered, so something is usually coming out fresh. The enormous "growlers" of German tap beer, of course, never get stale.

Wildwood Barbeque

225 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10003

Union Square's Wildwood does a few things very well; stick to them, and you'll have a truly first-rate meal. The spare ribs are smoky, juicy and achieve the perfect consistency--coming off the bone with a slight tug while maintaining a toothsome give. The brisket is also very good, particularly the juicy "deckle," or point cut. But the real standout at Wildwood is the lamb ribs, a specialty seldom seen outside of Kentucky. The gaminess of the lamb is tamed by the smoke, and the fat is rendered by the high temperature of the industrial smokers in the kitchen. Side dishes are uniformly excellent here too, especially the collard greens and mac 'n' cheese.

Dinosaur Bar B Que

700 W 125th St, New York, NY 10027

Dinosaur is everybody's favorite good-time barbecue joint: a Harlem faux-roadhouse with a biker vibe. But sometimes lost in the jovial atmosphere is just how skillful Dinosaur's kitchen crew can be. There might not be a better, smokier, crispier chicken wing in the city, and the overstuffed pulled pork sandwiches are even better when wrapped up to go, which gives the pork goodness a chance to seep into the bread. Ribs, brisket and chicken are all expertly done, but don't miss out on specialty dishes like a cold-smoked rib steak or Korean-style barbecue beef ribs.


208 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

This Chelsea meatery supposedly pays homage to Kansas City and that city's legendary "baron of barbecue," Paul Kirk. But nowhere in Kansas or Missouri can you find 'cue of this quality. Pit master Scotty Smith cooks each rack of ribs and every brisket by hand over pure hickory smoke, which imparts an unmistakably powerful taste that no other wood can match. RUB specializes in ribs, but its brisket is almost as good as Hill Country's, and its bacon--house-cured, smoked and then flash-fried in hot lard(!)--may be the single greatest pork product in New York.