YouTube is one of our greatest sources of research to find ‘cue joints and Pitmasters we want to hook up with whilst on these road trips.
Billy Durney was one of them. His short video clip, which showed him at The Big Apple Block Party – an invitational only BBQ competition – serving up what looked to be the most epic beef short ribs, instantly convinced us we needed a meet.
He’s big. Both in stature and personality. His former life as a private security guard for high profile celebs, got too intense and so he decided to jack it all in and follow his true calling as a Pitmaster. Like us, he spent more than four years travelling across the US researching, refining and learning his trade, before taking over a disused warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn to carve out a name.
He believes in using huge barrel smokers you find in many of the Texas smokehouses to create the best barbecue. But unlike the Lone Star state, it’s not that easy to park these smokin’ beasts right outside a restaurant in Brooklyn. So Billy has taken an additional outdoor lock up nearby.
We arrived early doors in the pissing down rain. Mike, Billy’s hirsute pitmaster, had been tending the pit all night, and was just finishing off the brisket and beef ribs. As ever on these trips, most good things start with bourbon and beers, and so we cracked a bottle and a 24 box and talked all things barbecue.
It turns out Billy is super connected and knows most of the Pitmasters and smokehouse owners we’ve met over the last few years. And like his contemporary greats, his approach to the art is beyond obsessive. From wood type, to smoking temperatures, techniques, spritzers, rubs and everything in-between, he’s tested it, practised, and re-tested to keep his game strong. We took a break from chucking a tomahawk into a tree sump to try a beef rib, straight from the smoker. Its 12hr oak-smoked home had turned this rib into an indescribably amazing snack.
The high fat content had allowed the meat to slowly cook, whilst never drying out and so fell easily from the bone. The salt and pepper bark gave an amazing crunch, and mixed perfectly with the buttery fat and lightly smoked meat. The last time we tasted ‘cue this good was back in Texas last year. Now with a feverish taste, we headed to Hometown BBQ to check the rest of Billy’s menu.
Whist in Brooklyn, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch up with our pal Adam Richman over Brunch. The man is a walking Foodiepedia and for the next few hours, and a gallon of consommé Bloody Mary’s, we swapped stories, jokes and quotes, and walked away with a tonne of new places to check out on the road trip ahead. Thanks dude!
Still with a taste for more, we bounced to Arrogant Swine in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Pitmaster and owner, Tyson, is on a mission to bring North Carolina whole hog to NYC. This style of barbecue involves slowly smoking the whole animal for almost an entire day before mixing all the parts together to create a flavour bomb of pork. Just like Billy, the intensity and passion of Tyson’s art burns through every conversation. It was clear to see why NYC is steadily stamping its mark on the true barbecue scene.
Barbecue is all about sharing knowledge, so whilst there we took the opportunity to introduce Tyson to the Red’s Donut Burger. We jumped into the kitchen, and using only a waffle iron – they don’t have any broilers or grills – we cooked and built our holy union of sweet and meat.
Lacking Dirty Sauce we chop housed a blend of Tyson’s Carolina Gold mustard sauce and Sriracha (chilli sauce) and pimped it with a healthy serving of chopped whole hog. It’s safe to say this bastardised Red’s classic travels well; the entire crew engulfed the kitchen and nailed every tasty morsel within seconds.
What James Brown did for funk, Brian Shebairo is doing for hot dogs – ‘watch yourself!’
In a Tardis-like joint, the smell of deep fried, bacon-wrapped hot dogs practically clogged the air… in a really, really good way!
These guys have taken the saying “everything tastes better with bacon” to a whole new level. Each dog is lovingly wrapped, stabbed (with a cocktail stick) deep fried and laid in a freshly baked soft finger roll before being dressed with a medley of toppings unlike anything we’ve ever seen… staples such as sour cheese dog, spicy redneck and tempted dog are part and parcel of what Crif Dogs has come to represent, a well known product in a way you never expected and more surprisingly a way you didn’t realise you’d absolutely love.
Every item on the menu is created, made and served from a kitchen no bigger than the average spare bedroom, with pretty much no ceiling height, and no space to swing a cat (or hot dog for that matter) but the kitchen team deal out some of the best examples of New York’s most famous street food.
Brian’s laid-back approach could be mistaken for disinterest, that is until you realise he’s simply one of the most chilled out guys you’ll ever meet. Even the name “Crif” Dogs comes from an infectious yet admirably lackadaisical approach to branding.. “Back in the day, I’d have a mouth full of hot dogs and I’d shout my buddy Chris and it just came out sounding like Crif… so we called it Crif Dogs.”
He started the business on a wing and a prayer after eating shoddy dogs at the end of his many nights out; 15 years later this guy has established himself as one of NY’s coolest independent food joints… and rightly so.
If you find yourself in NYC, put this on your bucket list. And if you’re lucky you might just discover the speakeasy bar hidden inside a telephone box.