My barbecue-buddy in Philadelphia, Jim Arthur, is a Texas-reared ribs-and-brisket aficionado, and a geek for all things related to slow-smoking technology. But Jim, a real artisan, sneered at my suggestion I could get authentic American BBQ in New York; for that, he says, he'd have to take me through the back hills of Texas.
"Terroir is key," he insisted. "You need to ride around until you smell Pin Oak or Pecan burning and look for a place with a roughly equal distribution of beat-up old pickup trucks, late model family cars, and brand new Mercedes-Benz in the parking lot - the surest indicator of good local BBQ."
Around the same time, Thomas O. Ryder (the Louisiana-born board director of Amazon.com) and his son, Rob (founder of Connecticut's BBQ joint, The Cookhouse) asked me to join them as they "tested the tensile strength" of their shirts hitting five BBQ joints in New York City. I jumped at the invite, not least because I could finally ascertain if Arthur's dismissal of New York's BBQ scene was warranted. So, here's my take on the evening out in New York with the Ryder Boys.
So, other than Daisy May's BBQ, which I think would have passed even Arthur's sniff-test, I had to generally confirm his worst suspicions about NY's BBQ scene. Still, purists who insist on eating only Texas-Memphis-Kansas will be missing a treat if they bypass New York's "terroir." At Blue Smoke, they certainly serve what is sneeringly called "East Coast BBQ," with every classic dish given an urbane twist, but it was no less tasty for that.