There's no denying that New York City has a slate of truly terrific barbecue joints -- moreso, certainly than Houston itself -- including spots such as Mighty Quinn's from Texan pitmaster Hugh Mangum and Hill Country Barbecue Market, which seeks to emulate Central Texas-style brisket and ribs as closely one can in Chelsea.
But do a few great barbecue joints merit the Big Apple's inclusion as one of the nation's barbecue capitals? Robert Sietsema, food critic at the Village Voice, thinks so, despite an outcry from traditionalists.
"[T]he city must be accounted one of the country's 'cue capitals, up there with Kansas City; Memphis; Lockhart, Texas; Owensboro, Kentucky; and Lexington, North Carolina," Sietsema wrote in a controversial article last week. It's one that Sietsema knew would attract criticism, but he stands by his opinion nevertheless.
"I made it pretty clear that it's Texas-style barbecue," Sietsema replied when I asked him about the blowback from his article, "but most Texans don't believe me." But why shouldn't they? Sietsema went to high school in Dallas (again, better 'cue than here) and received his bachelor's from the University of Texas at Austin.
"So I at least partly know what I'm talking about," he jokes.
Noted barbecue blogger and author of the upcoming book The Prophets of Smoked Meat Daniel Vaughn disagrees. "They get a few joints with a decent brisket, and now NYC is a 'BBQ capital'?" he wrote in response.
More to the point, Vaughn added: "Lockhart, Texas has four good barbecue joints per 12,821 residents. THAT is a barbecue capital. NYC only needs 2,572 solid barbecue joints to match it. Almost there?"
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New York City already has most of the country beat when it comes to every other cuisine, from low-brow to high-end. Should it be able to stake a claim as a barbecue capital, too? As long as the city keeps attracting talented pitmasters from the Texas and the rest of South, we may not have a choice.
"The pitmaster at Mighty Quinn's is from Houston," Sietsema notes, "and I brought a bunch of my Houston friends living here to the place, and they loved it."