What Is Jewish Barbecue (& Is It Kosher)?

When most people think about eating barbecue, the first thing that comes to mind is probably something along the lines of ribs or pulled pork. Many barbecue restaurants around the U.S. are adorned in pig-themed imagery or have porcine puns as names, so the idea of Jewish or Kosher barbecue is perplexing because consuming pork is strictly prohibited by Kosher rules. However, in recent years, a number of chefs have begun serving up what they've dubbed as Jewish-style barbecue. This unique style of barbecue focuses on beef, chicken, and even lamb dishes to replicate the classic smoked and slow-roasted flavors of barbecue without violating too many (if any) religious dietary restrictions.

Many Jewish barbecue menus center around brisket, which is both a staple of barbecue culture and Jewish cooking. The notoriously tough cut of meat is ideal for a barbecue because it requires long, slow cooking, but was also embraced by Jewish immigrants in New York who popularized it with their corned beef and pastrami. But it's not all about brisket; Many Jewish pitmasters have gotten experimental and found ways of imitating the flavors of other pork-based foods by serving items like beef sausages, lamb bacon, and even chicken chitlins at their restaurants.

To be or not to be kosher

Jewish barbecue takes influence from Jewish cultural dishes and avoids pork, but is it kosher? That question is a bit complicated. Kosher rules are a lot more involved than simply avoiding pork and shellfish; They also require meat to be slaughtered a certain way and prohibit mixing dairy with meat. While most Jewish-style barbecue restaurants use Kosher meat, which comes pre-salted and therefore, requires slightly different preparation, they don't necessarily keep kosher in their cooking practices, much like many Jewish people do as individuals. Keeping Kosher is a spectrum within the Jewish community with many people picking and choosing rules to adhere to, making personal exceptions, or choosing to ignore the regulations entirely.

While many Jewish restaurants are not certified Kosher, there are some chefs who have gone the extra mile to make sure their barbecue is 100% Kosher-friendly. Unpacked spoke in-depth with Dani Goldblatt, a Jewish pitmaster and owner of Holy Smokes Kosher BBQ in California, who keeps Kosher and believes that Kosher barbecue can "1000% compete" with traditional barbecue "with the right equipment." 

While Jewish chefs are venturing into the barbecue space more and more, there are only a handful of truly Kosher barbecue restaurants in the country.