Barbecue in Brooklyn right now is about as ubiquitous as the bicycle.
Look around; it’s on your bar’s late night menu, it’s wafting down the street in a white haze from the latest joint to purchase picnic tables and a smoker, it’s on your friend’s Facebook page after his latest visit to the borough, and it’s got a New York Times food critic extolling the joy of eating things from cardboard boxes.
But in a town with a never-ending progression of food fads, barbecue is more than just a trend.
Given the hurdles pitmasters face to pursue their smoky craft, it’s a movement that gets its wings from the sine qua non of Brooklyn today: a do-it-yourself culture that encourages everyone to get their hands dirty.
Barbecue even served as the de facto emergency rations after Hurricane Sandy, as a pair of soon-to-be Red Hook pitmasters slow-cooked a half-ton of meat in a extra long smoker and gave it away to residents of their battered neighborhood the day after the tempest struck.
Here are four new barbecue joints smoking their way into the hearts and souls of Brooklynites:
1. Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue
A passion for the craft and a desire to remake himself led Bill Fletcher to sell the ad agency he started and go from a life of weekend-only grilling to opening the Gowanus hotspot with pitmaster Matt Fisher only a few days after Hurricane Sandy struck in November.
And the two are dead serious about doing barbecue right.
“Sometimes people think we say Brooklyn barbecue with a smirk, but it’s not a joke,” said Fisher, who helped start Grillin’ on the Bay, an amateur ’cue competition in Sheepshead Bay where the two met.
Fisher and Fletcher are self-described barbecue obsessives; both say that their homes — Windsor Terrace for Fletcher, Queens for Fisher — can be located from blocks away by following the long trail of fragrant white smoke floating over their neighborhoods. And both say that the adverse circumstances they faced as amateur grillers helped prepare them for the big stage. Blocks from the site of the future Whole Foods, their J&R smoker churns out maple- and red oak-smoked chickens, brisket, pork steaks, and some killer ribs.
Try the pit-smoked beans too, which are thrown in the smoker to bake for hours and taste like a Texas dream.
[433 Third Ave. between Seventh and Eighth streets in Gowanus. (347) 763–2680. www.fletchersbklyn.com].
BrisketTown is the offspring of a triple emphasis on food, media, and old-school know-how.
Owner, whiz kid, and mad brisket scientist Daniel Delaney spent three and a half years as a food-video blogger at Vendr.Tv, traveling all around the country and eventually meeting the piece of meat that set him on his current path as a brisket pro.
“I was in New Orleans at a festival and a chef there from Louie Mueller Barbecue in Texas brought his brisket,” he said. “It was just so much better than anything I had ever tasted before.”
Brisket was Delaney’s LSD — life would never be the same after that bite.
He bought a smoker at Home Depot in Bedford-Stuyvesant a few years ago, continuing to commune with the generation-wise brisket men at Louie Mueller. Then, at 2012’s South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, he bought another smoker, this one capable of holding 300 pounds of meat.
Armed with plenty of smoke, Delaney went on web-fueled marathon last summer where he cooked up more than 7,000 pounds of beef brisket from the home where he grew up in New Jersey, selling the meat online before he bought it, Kickstarter-style. He distributed much of the meat at 31 pop-up events in Brooklyn and beyond over 60 days at bars, rooftops, and other locations — such as the Dutch Reformed Church in Flatbush — giving the rising pitmaster foodie stardom in the process.
By the time he opened his restaurant in November just months later, he had achieved two milestones it takes some chefs decades to achieve; the entire city was salivating for more of his food, and he had just about perfected his craft. The delicious brisket is still smoked off premises, but not in Jersey anymore.
[359 Bedford Ave. between S. Fourth and S. Fifth streets in Williamsburg. (718) 701–8909 www.delaneybbq.com].
3. Fort Reno
The folks behind the year-old Fort Reno are doing their best to make their barbecue uniquely Brooklyn, risking drawing the NIMBY-rage of Park Slope neighbors. But manager Akil Marshall says their two “locker box” smokers haven’t set off any alarms in the neighborhood thanks to a five-story flue that gets the job done — and perhaps their location near Fourth Avenue. Far from making people angry, the place — the second project of chef Jacques Gautier — has charmed the townies with dual happy hours (5–7 pm and 10 pm–midnight). Folks getting back from work can get a “Redneck” taco and a tallboy for $5, or enjoy easy take-out and delivery options.
And for those willing to experiment, there’s the “Hot Mess” — which is pretty much everything they serve crammed into a mason jar. They aptly describe it as a barbecue parfait.
[669 Union St. at Fourth Avenue in Park Slope. (347) 227–7777, www.fort-reno.us]
4. Little Brother
If you need any proof that you can make it big as a barbecuer in Brooklyn, look no further than Little Brother, which opened about a year ago in Clinton Hill next to post-industrial beer well Hot Bird. Owners Ben Grossman and Craig Samuel are sitting on a small empire of barbecue and Southern food that they began with the Smoke Joint in Fort Greene in 2006 and continued one sauce at a time with Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Peaches and Peaches Hothouse a few years later. The hickory-smoked pork, chicken, and beef and no-nonsense storefront draws the neighborhood’s foodies to Little Brother, but the real appeal is ordering at the joint and relaxing at the bar next door, where in the warmer months they deliver. The “BBQ” salad, a plate of mixed greens, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes topped off with a hearty portion of a chopped meat of your choice is about the healthiest you can feel when eating barbecue.
[544 Clinton Ave. at Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill (347) 889–7885 www.littlebrotherbbq.com]