The beef ribs are massive—extremely rich, pleasingly salty meat under a black cloak of pepper. Right down to the bone, the flavors of smoke are sweet and lush and long.
"I started out on my deck in Park Slope," says Brooklyn-born Billy Durney, who taught himself to smoke with a Weber bullet and a lot of alarm clocks. Slowly, he learned how to transform a slab of meat into something beautiful. "It's all about the fire," he says.
At Hometown Bar-B-Que, the restaurant Durney co-owns with Chris Miller, he manages four smokers on Valentino Pier, turning out classic beef ribs but also the kind of no-rules barbecue you can get away with in New York and not, say, Central Texas. Here, without the firmly established rules of what constitutes a singular correct kind of rack of ribs, you can push baby backs into a hot, vinegary jerk marinade; you can smoke Sriracha-stained wings and serve melting pieces of lamb belly inspired by Vietnamese street food.
Stunning jerk-marinated baby back ribs
But it would be a shame to miss the brisket ($14 for half a pound), which Durney cooks until it's as wobbly as a thigh. "It's gotta have that jiggle," he says, patting a particularly handsome piece. As he slices it, steam rises and fatty juices run. It is irresistible.
Durney serves cornbread to people in line, wipes the picnic tables and clears trays, strikes up conversations with Russian businessmen and local electricians. There are guys in leather vests and sleeveless T-shirts drinking whiskey at the bar, and happy children gnawing on rib bones while their parents chat.
Hometown is a casual, counter-service kind of place where Gillian Welch plays softly on the speakers during the day and bands often take over the back room at dinnertime. Some nights the first thing to run out is that spectacular brisket. On others, the spare ribs are gone by 6:30. It's okay: Close to midnight, the pitmaster lights the fires and starts all over again.
Clockwise from top: Steamy brisket | The casual dining room | Chris Miller and Billy Durney
Here are a few of our team's other go-tos for fine smoked meat right now:
BrisketTown: Make a reservation at Daniel Delaney's Williamsburg restaurant, and you'll be rewarded with some excellent, 15-hour-long smoked brisket and house-made pork sausages ($13 for half a pound).
Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue: This Gowanus restaurant makes a particularly delicious pulled pork, ($6 for a quarter pound) smoked over oak and maple wood. It's just the right amount of fat and salt when piled into a sandwich.
Mighty Quinn's: At this barbecue empire, which just opened a new location in the West Village, the moist, peppery brisket ($22 for a pound) comes with pickled chiles, onions and cucumbers—that basically counts as salad.