Let’s all take a breath.
The accompanying photo did little to help their case: a gray pile of Steak-Umms-inspired brisket, smushed Hawaiian rolls, a dark beer in a mason jar and two bright green pickles in a paper tray, the most appetizing thing on the plate. Art lovers may appreciate the tray’s use of negative space, but to barbecue fans, it looked like prison food.
The internet responded accordingly, with Brooklyn Barbecue trending for much of the day. “This looks like a party where everyone just stands around awkwardly and talks to the person they came with,” someone tweeted.
By Monday, North Carolina politicians were weighing in with N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, issuing a press release calling for a “Bipartisan defense of N.C. Barbecue.”
The biggest problem, though, is the whole thing is actually a bit of fake news.
Munchies said it first published the story in 2014, meaning we’ve already lived through the great Brooklyn barbecue apocalypse without even knowing it.
Still, the suggestion that a New York borough has something to say barbecue-wise, that there’s even such a thing as Brooklyn barbecue, sent regional fans screaming into the Twittersphere that they’d never trade their ‘cue for all the Edison bulbs in Brooklyn.
“Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s time for the writers at Munchies to admit theirs: ‘Brooklyn barbecue’ – whatever that is – won’t be taking over North Carolina anytime soon,” Berger said in a statement. “This is a fact on which we can all agree, and I call on Gov. Cooper and Speaker Moore to join me in mounting a bipartisan defense of our state’s finest food.”
Sen. Thom Tillis tweeted: “Fact Check: A) This isn’t barbecue. B) The only two types of barbecue worth eating are Eastern and Western.”
Indeed, barbecue’s fire and smoke is the thread that connects to a time thousands of years ago to when mankind first started to cook.
Today, the regions of barbecue are fiercely debated and unconditionally beloved by their brethren. North Carolina or Texas, Memphis or Kansas City, the first barbecue you taste first is likely the barbecue you’ll love forever.
Turns out the writer, Nicholas Gill, agrees. He pointed out Monday that his story is dated and was never about pitting one barbecue against another. His point was that Fette Sau, a barbecue spot in Brooklyn, was being copied outside the United States.
“I was definitely not saying that all BBQ should be Brooklyn style, or whatever that means,” he wrote. “Or that Brooklyn should teach Texas or the Carolinas how to make BBQ. There’s incredible BBQ in Texas, the Carolinas, Kansas City, and yes, even in New York City.”
According to his website, this is the only story the James Beard-nominated writer has written for Munchies.
“To everyone that keeps writing me about the Brooklyn BBQ story I wrote 5 years ago that has suddenly gone viral, I appreciate all the strong feelings but you have to ignore the dumb clickbait headline and sad photo,” he wrote Monday. “This was simply a report that five years ago a BBQ restaurant in Brooklyn was influencing BBQ restaurants around the world. I wasn’t saying the trend was positive or negative, just that it was happening. In most cases, the imitations were bad; just copying the aesthetic.”
He’s right. In the years since that story first ran, regional barbecue is bigger than ever.
In North Carolina, three spots have opened across the state specializing in our barbecue claim to fame: whole hog.
In Eastern North Carolina, Skylight Inn heir Sam Jones opened Sam Jones BBQ near Greenville, doing his family’s traditional recipes, just more of them.
In Durham, Ben Adams, Wyatt Dickson and Ryan Butler – a chef, a farmer and a pitmaster, respectively – opened Picnic in 2016, raising, smoking and serving their own whole hogs.
And over in Asheville, James-Beard nominated chef Elliot Moss opened Buxton Hall in 2015, smoking whole hogs like he grew up eating in Eastern North Carolina and collecting a nod from Bon Appetit as one of the country’s 10 Best New Restaurants in the process. And the state’s old school joints are alive and well.
Elsewhere, in South Carolina, pitmaster Rodney Scott opened a Charleston outpost of his original Hemingway spot. Snow’s in Texas, run by 82-year old Tootsie Tomanetz, was named the best in the state last year by Texas Monthly, beating out all of the new spots that helped make barbecue suddenly trendy.
So no, Brooklyn barbecue isn’t likely to conquer the world. It didn’t happen in 2014 and it doesn’t seem like North Carolina’s barbecue traditions are in any more danger today.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson