Feature

Critics’ choice: Three variations on barbecue

John Brown Smokehouse; Helen’s Bar-B-Q; Woodshed Smokehouse

John Brown Smokehouse New York City“It’s something of an urban miracle how quickly NYC has gone from being a barbecue wasteland to a national ’cue capital,” said Robert Sietsema in The Village Voice. Barbecue in the city tilts toward Texas, but pit masters have dabbled in styles including Memphis, Oklahoma, and the Carolinas. John Brown is the first to focus on Kansas City, selling meat by the pound. This working-class Queens spot, newly ensconced in a larger Hunters Point space, prominently features burnt ends, “those little blackened pyramids of juicy flavor” that are so rich, a half-pound is enough for two. The brisket here is a bit lean, but tasty nonetheless. The excellent pulled pork is one of the few menu items that diverge from Kansas City style. Pair the roughly broken pieces of pork shoulder with a serving of vinegar slaw and slices of white bread for “a perfect Carolina-style pig sandwich.” As with any great ’cue spot, the menu offerings at John Brown are “quirky and uneven.” But we “wouldn’t want it any other way.” Return customers will “quickly zone in” on the things the pit master does best. 10-43 44th Dr., (718) 361-0085

Helen’s Bar-B-Q Brownsville, Tenn.This six-seat café exemplifies the things I love best about western Tennessee barbecue, said John T. Edge in Garden & Gun. On road trips between Jackson and Memphis, I’ve come to think of the region as “a Land of the Lost for hickory-cooked pork barbecue,” a place where roadside purveyors “still fuel masonry pits with hickory and oak logs and undiscovered treasures always seem to lurk around the bend.” Helen Turner is one of the South’s few female pit masters, and her café sits across from a derelict motel along a hard turn on a nondescript commercial road. “She’s a dervish”: In a simple pit room behind the café, she burns hickory and oak down to coals, then shovels those coals into a concrete-block berth. Ten to 12 hours later, the smoked pork shoulder is ready to be coarsely chopped by Turner’s own hand, piled high on buns, and doused with a red sauce. It’s “a stupendously great sandwich.” 1016 N. Washington Ave., (731) 779-3255

Woodshed Smokehouse Fort WorthCelebrity chef Tim Love has bigger ideas for barbecue, said Leslie Brenner in The Dallas Morning News. His 6-month-old operation on the bank of the Trinity River features a dining area that opens onto a large deck “all twinkly with lighted trees,” and its menu aims to prove that even vegetables can be special after a spell in the smoke pit. “You might start with a suave oak-smoked whitefish dip” or hickory-smoked artichokes with lemon and Parmesan, then call for a whole head of cauliflower smoked over oak. The Woodshed offers meaty family-style spreads too, including one that features an underseasoned and “pretty disappointing” beef shin. But stick to such traditional barbecue fare as the pecan-smoked pork ribs and you’ll be more than satisfied as you sip beer from a plastic cup, listen to a live band, and watch cyclists roll past along the riverfront. Once you know your way around the menu, the Woodshed is “more than a good barbecue spot. It’s a mini vacation.” 3201 Riverfront Dr., (817) 877-4545

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