Let's set the table. In the middle, we'll drop a few pounds of warm, juicy beef brisket with grease stains already leaking outward from the paper. Now grab the pulled pork and the thin vinegar sauce and place it to the left of the brisket. I'll add a few wet ribs and dry ribs from Memphis to the spread if you add the pork steak from St. Louis. To represent Kansas City, we'll bring over some beef and pork ribs topped with that sweet, thick barbecue sauce. Side dishes aside, before us is a barbecue spread that represents the United States. Except, it's not.
According to Munchies, that spread is incomplete. The food publication recently published a tweet leading to their 2014 look at the Brooklyn, New York-based, Fette Sau, a barbecue joint making waves in the tri-state area. And that tweet set off a range of emotions for barbecue fans everywhere.
— MUNCHIES (@munchies) March 4, 2018
Texans were, of course, appalled to see a spread like that pegged as one taking over the world. After all, the smoke ring on those slices of brisket is so small, you can hardly see it from here. Kansas City barbecue lovers found the lack of sauce laughable. Carolinians from around the country found that spread so hipster, it has quickly become the pork butt of the barbecue joke this week.
To be fair, let's check out a typical plate of 'cue at Fette Sau. Now that paints a fairer picture, right?
New York barbecue, in the past few years, has been touted as some of the best, a statement that leads many asking, "The best of what?" The Wall Street Journal echoed this stance last year when they published an article that suggested Texans "move over" for NYC's barbecue scene and the backlash was real from Austin to El Paso.
When I covered the Wall Street Journal article, I praised the fact that New York pitmasters are out there putting in the time because just the act of cooking brisket does indeed take time. In the same breath, though, I wrote that I wanted to eat barbecue that reminds me of a tradition, of an open fire pit and a line around the shack with the smell of smoked meat in the air.
Brooklyn barbecue (which I've had a few times) is simply not that. But the point of Nicholas' Gill's 2014 article, "Why Is Brooklyn Barbecue Taking Over the World?" is not whose barbecue is better. In fact, he readily agrees with the rest of us and writes,
"The barbecue being assimilated in places like Colombia, Spain, Panama, Sweden, England, and Japan (and even other parts of the US) is not the killer 'cue from fabled Texas BBQ cities like Lockhart or Austin. Or even the pork-centric versions with sauce in the southeast. It's an adapted form of Southern barbecue from Brooklyn. And it all looks like it came straight out of Williamsburg."
So why are we up in arms, then? Apart from a poorly executed tweet, Gill echoes the majority's thought, and the fact that Brooklyn barbecue has become an international standard for mimicry is a mystery to him just as much as it is to us.
The reason, which Gill also points to by referencing fictional barbecue marketed as Austin-style, that many might be riffing specifically on Brooklyn barbecue and not Texas is for the same reason everyone is so dang upset at the tweet: because at heart, American barbecue fans are regional purists.
New York barbecue borrows from tradition, it's not groundbreaking in technique or style. The meat is sold and bought by the pound, pickles are a standard side dish, and even the portions are plated in the same way as other regions of the United States.
The fact of the matter is that New York City is an international capital of culture and unfortunately, Lockhart, Texas is not. What makes its way to the coast will inevitably make its way overseas and in the case of barbecue, it seems that those Brooklyn barbecue restaurants are being mimicked first.
So before you burn me at the stake in the comments section for standing up for this sad, sad tray of barbecue, remember that there's enough room in this world all of the barbecue styles out there, even ones we haven't even tried yet. After all, who says there isn't room for a Northern style of barbecue in the U.S.? Why shouldn't East Coasters have access to even decent barbecue?
Just don't try to tell me that the brisket is best outside of Texas. Now that's where I draw the line. As for international barbecue, we're sticking by our recommendation of The Beast in Paris, France. Now that is Texas barbecue overseas done right.