Restaurants

Where to Get Tender, Slow-Smoked Barbecue in Westchester

Marc Dietrich of Peekskill Smokehouse. By Ken Gabrielsen

These fan-favorite Westchester County barbecue dens dish up some of the best down-home smokehouse grub the Hudson Valley has to offer.

Peekskill Smokehouse

Peekskill; peekskillsmokehouse.com

One of Peekskill’s newest restaurants (as of mid-March) has familiar tenants. Marc Dietrich — who owns the popular RameNesque with his wife, Nicole Hwang — has taken over the location formerly occupied by The Quiet Man to bring quality barbecue to the city’s developing downtown area.

“I wanted this space when it became available, but someone beat me to it,” Dietrich says. “Luckily for me, it fell through. I’ve spent the last year building it out, inside.”

Marc Dietrich of Peekskill Smokehouse. By Ken Gabrielsen.

In addition to learning how to build Peekskill Smokehouse’s bar and renovating the space himself, Dietrich spent time doing delicious research and development on smoking brisket, which he calls an “American barbecue staple.”

Tackling the most difficult meat to smoke, Dietrich took online courses and went at it, trying different rubs, cuts, smoke times, woods, and everything else under the sun to settle on a brisket he’d be proud to serve. “I got all technical with it… measuring probes, temperature probes, and you have to understand that you don’t want to rush it; you have to let it do its thing, low and slow,” he says. “Now, I can tell by feeling the brisket if it’s right, without having to probe the meat.”

Peekskill Smokehouse. By Andrew Dominick.

Not adhering to any one style of barbecue, Peekskill Smokehouse draws inspiration from different parts of the U.S., but the brisket is prepared Texas-style. The Prime Angus beef is salt-and-pepper-rubbed and smoked for 12–13 hours or so in a gas-powered Southern Pride smoker with a hickory-filled smokebox. At a point during the process (we won’t give away too many secrets), the brisket is wrapped in butcher paper with beef tallow, not only to prevent a temperature stall but also to make the meat juicier and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

While it’s still early in the going for Peekskill Smokehouse, barbecue enthusiasts can nonetheless expect to indulge in Carolina pulled pork; butterflied-then-smoked chicken; sticky-sweet burnt ends when available; and St. Louis ribs, served sauceless, in the spirit of the style. “Our ribs don’t have the same spice rub as the brisket,” Dietrich says, “and they aren’t supposed to fall off the bone. There should be a little tug there.”

Not adhering to any one style of barbeque, Peekskill Smokehouse draws inspiration from different parts of the U.S.

The sides are all house-made, too, and feature a fresh, crunchy broccoli slaw, potato salad, breadcrumb-topped mac ’n’ cheese, and cornbread.

Soon, Dietrich hopes to tinker with making house-made sausages if he can successfully pull it off to his restaurant’s high standards. “We’ll do possibly one beef and one beef-pork mix, with plenty of room for funky stuff, like cheese or whatever else,” he says. “Barbecue is a laboratory, and there’s always room to learn and for change. We’re always eyeballing what’s left on people’s plates and try to get feedback from our customers.”

Pik Nik BBQ

Tarrytown; piknikbbq.com

Alberta and Hassan Jarane’s second act as restaurateurs has been a successful one. He was a fashion photographer, and she was a brand strategist before they opened the popular, Michelin Plate-designated Mint Premium Foods in 2003.

While Mint is a hybrid market-café with a focus on globally inspired fare, Pik Nik is its polar opposite, cuisine-wise. In 2016, a block away from Mint, Pik Nik began intoxicating Main Street’s passersby with smoky aromas emanating from their ribs, briskets, and wings.

The reason for the Jaranes’ cuisine 180° from Mint to smoked meat is simple: It’s good business. “If you’re gonna stay in the restaurant industry, you have to do something different,” Alberta says. “There was a need for it here. If you can do it, do it, but do it well, with quality ingredients and Prime beef.”

What’s different about Pik Nik is that it’s not pigeonholed into a particular barbecue style. You’ll spot influences from North Carolina in the pulled pork and the spirit of St. Louis in the tender, dry-rubbed ribs. Other sought-after selections are brisket that’s smoked for 20 hours, burnt ends, and chicken wings with house-made sweet-chili Thai, jerk, and Carolina-mustard-sauce choices.

Pik Nik BBQ. By Andrew Dominick.

At the helm is Steve Vinasco, who jumped from being Mint’s manager to Pik Nik’s pitmaster and discovered a love for barbecue in the process. “I’ve been with the family for seven years,” Vinasco says. “I’ve had barbecue before but was never enthusiastic about it until Hassan introduced me to it more. I learned, and I fell in love with it.”

Vinasco and the staff also have creative freedom to express themselves on the menu with regular specials, like smoked pastrami done up Jewish-deli-style, or sweet, sticky, Korean baby backs. Fresh fried chicken drizzled with honey mustard vinaigrette is another arrow in their quiver. It’s offered daily and often sells out.

Noticeable at Pik Nik is the plating when vibrant sides are added in the mix. Kale and apple slaw, cucumbers and fennel, salads, and house-brined pickles are all there to lighten the smokiness. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get cornbread, fries, or baked beans.

A key to Pik Nik’s success is its loyal customer base, sure, but it ultimately comes down to what’s on the plate. “The opening response was incredible, and it still is,” Alberta says. “It’s a mixture of locals and people from the Bronx and Long Island. People can tell the difference with what we’re doing here. If you’re ever not happy, our job isn’t to debate it; it’s to make you happy.”

Smokehouse Tailgate Grill

New Rochelle & Mamaroneck; shtailgate.com

This multiple Best of Westchester winner for Best Barbecue wasn’t even originally intended to serve anything smoked when it opened its New Rochelle flagship in 2007. Founders Justin Zeytoonian and Michael Hofer figured their restaurant would be chili-focused, stemming from their enjoyment of tailgating at sports stadiums.

“We were called Smokehouse Chili with intentions of doing a couple types of chili that we enjoy making when tailgating — burgers, fries, stuff like that,” Hofer says. “We liked the name ‘Smokehouse’ because it sounded cool. We went in not being experts and didn’t have a smoker. We had little stovetop box smokers. A growing passion for the craft took us that way, and I became obsessed with smoking meats. We bought a smoker at a hardware store, then upgraded to a J&R smoker from Texas.”

“I became obsessed with smoking meats. We bought a smoker at a hardware store, then upgraded to a J&R smoker from Texas.”

For Hofer and Zeytoonian, it’s about evolving based on input from an eager staff and customers. Smokehouse isn’t simply pulled pork and cornbread. It’s those, plus creative barbecue tacos, crunchy-coated fried chicken and waffles, craft beer, bourbon, cocktails, and fresh-ground burgers that take backseats to none.

Smokehouse Tailgate Grill. By Andrew Dominick.

Because ’cue is the focus for this story, Smokehouse’s wings are a definite staple. They’re brined, spice-rubbed, smoked, and kissed on the grill with a basting of agave butter. Next to the wings, Hofer is proud of the Prime beef brisket, formerly a weekly special that was too popular to keep at bay. It’s simply seasoned, not rubbed, with kosher salt and 16-mesh black pepper that’s not too fine, not too course, en route to an 11-hour smoke. Choose the fatty, the lean, or both, but they begin slicing at 4 p.m., so avoid a sellout by not procrastinating.

Hofer’s favorite, though, is the pastrami, which is house-cured for seven days and smoked just like the brisket. “It’s not talked about enough, and I think it’s up there with Katz’s,” he says. “Every Wednesday, it’s pastrami on rye, and Justin makes a rye whiskey cocktail to go with it.”

After having to overcome obvious adversity over the past couple of years and not knowing if they’d still be in New Rochelle when their flagship shuttered for redevelopment, Smokehouse is back, across the street from the original, in a newer, bigger space. “It’s fun to cook here, and it’s fun to serve our customers,” Hofer says. “I’m not sure we could’ve moved forward if we weren’t in NewRo. We hope people embrace the city and that more restaurants open. We’re proud to be a part of it.”

Whole Hog Cafe

Yonkers; wholehogcafeny.com

This fast-casual, counter-style barbecue joint has roots that date back to 2000, when founders Mike “Sarge” Davis, Ron Blasingame, and Steve Lucchi entered the Memphis-in-May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and won second-place honors for their ribs. A year later, they took second in ribs again and top honors in the whole-hog category. The logical next step was to sell it in their hometown of Little Rock, AR, which started with a trailer in a parking lot and was followed by a successful brick-and-mortar. Today, Whole Hog is a micro-chain comprising 16 locations.

The first New York State site was launched in October 2020 by Mount Vernon resident JayDee Wyatt, who formerly worked in finance and saw a hole in the Yonkers market when it came to good barbecue.

Wyatt is continuing the Whole Hog Cafe tradition by slow-smoking those famous ribs, brisket, and pork butt with red oak for 4 to 6 hours, 12 to 16 for the brisket.

Aside from the Memphis-style, dry-rubbed, lightly sauce-lacquered ribs, Whole Hog is known for its potato salad; loaded baked potatoes; snappy-casing smoked pork sausage, piled high; meaty and saucy sandwiches; and although it’s not listed on the menu under the “plates” or “combos” sections, you should inquire about brisket burnt ends, always a delicacy in the barbecue world.

Related: The Couple Behind Mint Premium Foods Builds a Vibrant Legacy

Barbecue Worth a Border Crossing

Hoodoo Brown BBQ

Ridgefield; hoodoobrownbbq.com

Since 2015, Cody Sperry’s Texas-inspired barbecue joint is frequently mentioned as one of the best in the Tristate. Barbecue fanatics come from all over for the massive beef ribs, house-made jalapeño-cheddar sausage, smoked pork belly with chicharron-like crunchy skin, and brisket so juicy, it’s wet. Additionally, you’ll want to set calendar reminders for weekly theme nights, like Baby Back Wednesday and Prime Rib Thursday, plus the monthly Tex-Mex Tuesday on the first Tuesday of each month.

Holy Smoke

Mahopac; holysmokebbq.net

Holy Smoke believes barbecue and craft beer (and bourbon) go together. Pair a pint with its famed marinated, smoked, then flash-fried crispy-skin wings. Also a fan-favorite among the hefty portions are the dry-rubbed, frequently basted, eight-hour-hickory-smoked spareribs. But one thing makes this place unique: It’s licensed to turn your wild game into sausage, jerky, or pastrami.

’Cue From Other Cultures

Indi-q Indian Bistro & BBQ

Armonk; indiqarmonk.com

The barbecue section of the menu at Indi-Q includes Indian classics that are all slow-roasted over hot coals in a clay tandoor oven. Usual suspects here are kebabs, house-made paneer tikka, chicken tikka, and succulent New Zealand lamb chops previously bathed in yogurt, ginger, and garlic. Your best bet is to order a bunch and share.

Indi-q Indian Bistro & BBQ. By Natasha Miller of Tashography/ Courtesy of Indi-q

Lincoln Barbeque

Mount Vernon; lincolnbbqgazebo.com

Front and center on this trip to Portugal by way of Mount Vernon is Lincoln’s piri-piri chicken. The spatchcocked birds sit in a blend of butter, garlic, and cilantro for a few hours, then soak for up to a day in a chili-and-paprika-based piri-piri sauce and slow-cooked over wood charcoal, making it juicy on the inside, with crispy skin outside. Pork ribs with fries, smoked duck, and grilled steak, seafood, and quail are also offered.

Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse

White Plains; fogodechao.com

The churrasco experience at this upscale chain introduces diners to a feast of 21-day-aged beef. Filet mignon, rib-eye, and popular Brazilian cuts — like fraldinha (flank steak) and picanha, a rich beef cut from the sirloin rump cap — are carved and served tableside. While admittedly beef-heavy, pork, lamb, and chicken are on offer, as are salads, fresh veggies, black bean stew, and pão de queijo — a toothsome warm cheese bread. It’s a steal at $64.95 per person.

Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ

White Plains; gyu-kaku.com

White Plains is lucky to have one of nearly 60 U.S. Gyu-Kaku franchises (about 700 worldwide), where it’s about searing your own meat on personal charcoal grills installed at each table. Depending on the size of your group, choose an appropriate package that includes starters, meat — mostly beef, plus chicken and pork, or A5 Wagyu if you’re splurging — and s’mores if you’re sticking with the interactive Japanese yakiniku theme.

Korean BBQ Grill

New Rochelle; korean-bbq-grill.com

One could stop by this tiny Main Street eatery for bubble tea, noodles, and bibimbap, but don’t forget to grab a couple grilled meats as part of your Korean flavor feast. Standouts are thin-sliced rib-eye bulgogi, chicken wings, and tender, bone-in, short-rib galbi, marinated in a garlic, ginger, soy sauce, pear, and sesame oil base.

Andrew Dominick

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