Meat. Smoke. Time. It’s a simple, primal equation with seemingly endless permutations. There’s pepper-crusted Texas brisket, multiple styles of vinegary Carolina pork, yieldingly fatty Kansas City burnt ends, and all manner of sausages squeezed into snappy cases. But finding good incarnations of those dishes has often been a challenge in Westchester. Not so anymore, as new ’cue joints, embracing the spirit (if not always the flavors) of authentic barbecue have been opening throughout the county.
Mighty Quinn’s, an outpost of pitmaster Hugh Mangum’s NYC restaurant, opened at Savor in The Westchester in 2017. Mahopac’s Holy Smoke, serving saucy, St. Louis-style ribs, opened a second location in Croton-on-Hudson in 2016. That same year, Pik Nik opened in Tarrytown, doing smoked chicken, pulled pork, and nontraditional sides, like plum-fennel salad. And they’re not alone.
At 6 a.m., the day is already in full swing at Revenge BBQ in Irvington. In the kitchen, prime briskets are trimmed to hit the smoker later tonight. Currently, the smoker, which has been running all night, is weighed down with pork butts and racks of ribs for today’s customers. Pretty soon, it’ll be time to start wrapping briskets in butcher paper, a traditional technique that keeps moisture in and softens the coarse Malabar pepper bark. There are also sides to be made, like creamy coleslaw and peppery mac ’n’ cheese, a blend of Gruyère, cheddar, and American.
The barbecue here is Texas-style, meaning you should order brisket and the sausages owner Jacob Styburski imports from Kreuz Market in Central Texas. Everything is simply seasoned, with salt and pepper, smoked low and slow, and never served with sauce (it’s on the tables if you want to dip). “I’d had barbecue throughout my life, but the first time I ate Texas-style barbecue, I was like: This is barbecue,” says Styburski.
Styburski started doing briskets in his backyard Weber smoker before heading down to Texas — first for Camp Brisket, an annual symposium at Texas A&M, then to study under Houston pitmaster Russell Roegels — to learn more about traditional Texas ’cue. “What I’ve found is that really good barbecue people are open to sharing what they know,” says Styburski, who spent more than three years working on his technique before opening Revenge, with his wife, Catherine, last year.
“We’re raising our son in Irvington, and we felt like we were just commuting in and out of town, not really connected to the town as much as we wanted,” adds Styburksi. “It’s a shared experience. That’s one of the things that’s most enjoyable about barbecue.”
Things are less regionally specific at Three Little Pigs BBQ in Hawthorne. For years, owner Marc Mazzarulli ran Wild Westchester BBQ, a catering company that he describes as “New York style, where everything’s smothered in barbecue sauce.” In 2016, after selling his two Armonk restaurants, Mazzarulli decided to open a casual roadside barbecue joint with just three communal tables. “We built the menu the way they do down south,” he explains. “Everything is dry-rubbed and smoked. [You order a] quarter, half, or full pound of meat, and then your sides in small, medium, or large.”
The menu includes classic pulled pork, sliced brisket, and tender St. Louis-style ribs, plus giant turkey drumsticks and wings, sticky with bark. Each is served with an assortment of pickles, including carrots, celery, and garlicky pickled corn. Five regional sauces — sweet New York-style; a spicy Texas version, made with multiple types of peppers; traditional, vinegar-based North Carolina; mustardy South Carolina; and a white, sour-cream-based Alabama sauce — are available on each table, allowing customers to dip their way through the South.
Just over the border, in Ridgefield, Hoodoo Brown is a barbecue joint worth its hype. Rows of caps line the walls at this sit-down roadside restaurant, signifying the favorite places owner Cody Sperry has eaten barbecue in his never-ending quest to learn more about the craft of ’cue. The son of a butcher, Sperry started smoking various cuts in a ceramic smoker in his parents’ backyard. A catering business soon followed and then Hoodoo Brown in 2015. “I’d literally be here for 20 hours a day,” recalls Sperry. “I learned a lot that way, but we’re still changing things. People use the term pitmaster, but I haven’t mastered the trade yet.”
Customers seem to disagree: On a busy Saturday night, Sperry and his five smokers will sell through hundreds of pounds of meat, including 40 briskets, more than 80 racks of ribs, six pork bellies, and nearly 100 pounds of chicken wings. “We call our style Outlaw Barbecue, where we use Texas, Carolina, even the pork belly is kind of like pernil, which is Puerto Rican,” says Sperry. “We take anywhere and make it our own. That’s what’s cool about being in the Northeast.”
If you can catch it, Hoodoo Brown often does a Carolina-style whole hog, which is smoked, deboned, and chopped with shards of crisp skin running through tender bites
“Man watching the fire is the most important aspect of all this,” says Sperry. “I never thought we’d be where we are this soon. I’m tired; I get exhausted, but my office is out there in the pit. I can’t complain about that.”