Just before the turn of the year we had the opportunity to sit down with Ari White, New York City pitboss for Gemstone Catering (Hakadosh BBQ). The Texas native is making huge waves in the city via a series of pop up food parties where he regularly cooks and sells over a ton (2k pounds) of meat.
But can he be the brisket king? Every winter in NYC, a group of die hard barbecue men get together to crown their king. Brisket King NYC is a mammoth food party disguised as a barbecue competition. Last year the winner was Daniel Delaney of BrisketTown over in Brooklyn; in 2012 it was John Brown Smokehouse of Queens.
Will 2014 be the year of Hakadosh?
That will be determined on February 12th 2014 at the Firehouse on Lafayette, but to tide us over before the big night we had some queries for Ari White as he prepares to wade into battle. It’s a given that pit bosses don’t eat a whole lot of barbecue, but we were curious as to where White breaks bread on his nights off.
He recommends Southside Sandwich Shop, Hassid + Hipster and Izzy’s BBQ Addiction.
You can’t have great smoked meat without great wood to fuel your smoker. Out here in Texas there are millions of acres of post oak waiting to be converted into firewood, but what in the world do you burn for wood in NYC? While we figured pallets, old school desks or maybe pool cues from shuttered billiard halls might be the woods of choice White schooled us otherwise:
“Oak is still my staple across the board, briskets especially, and Hurricane Sandy left me with ample stocks of it.
With that said, I’ve been having a lot of fun this year playing with the woods at my immediate disposal : Sweet maple, Mulberry and Hickory for the lamb belly bacon, mesquite for turkeys, oak and apple or pear woods for my ribs and so on.
With piles of cherry, mulberry, apple and pear piled up next to the mountains of red and white oak and sweet maple that we collect regularly, it’s been fun to mix it up a bit.”
White goes on to add that the only woods that he actually purchases are hickory, pecan and mesquite.
After you’ve built your fire you’ve got to season that meat. White goes all out with a 12 ingredient rub that’s outlined here in a Youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nn2Ud7Sh0VY
How long are you cooking your briskets Ari?
“The answer most simply is until they’re done. We generally pack my Gator pit with 3-400lbs at a time, so size of the packers will vary.”
12-18hrs is the norm depending on everything from weather and humidity to what time my kid’s need to be picked up from school.”
We start the pit hot for the first hour giving every slab it’s time in the hot spots, then we tune the pit to 225 and let it ride low and slow all the way home.”
Who’s on queue to snatch up all that Texas barbecue in the frozen north?
“The NYC street festivals on the other hand have opened us up to the public where I’d say roughly 25% of our sales are to kosher folks with the rest going to the you name it.”
“New York’s streets are anything but homogenous and each street fair is trampled by over 250,000 sets of feet. We have been the most expensive option at each festival by far, but with that beautiful 18ft behemoth filling each block with the thin blue holy spirit, we’ve also been the only ones with lines a block long and weekly sell-outs to boot.”
“It’s been a killer season!”
While it’s certainly true that a skilled meat man can take the most wretched cut of beef from the lowest grade market on offer, and make it good, White does not shortcut when it comes time to visit high grade purveyors, using Agristar for brisket, and getting his beef ribs, lamb, veal and poultry from Alle processing.
White: “Both are kosher, both are expensive, but the meats we are getting are as good as anything available in the US.”
With our conversation winding down we asked for some closing thoughts from this El Paso native, a son of Texas who’s standing in the glow of the bright lights of the big city.
“I’m pleased as pie that bbq, real bbq, 100% wood smoked bbq, has proved so far to not just be a fad up here in Yankee-land. With places like Briskettown and Mighty Quinns as popular as ever, shit, Quinn’s long bone beef ribs made New York Times top 10 restaurant dishes of the year! Gen Q is alive and well and there is no doubt the bbq gospel is spreading like wildfire. Maybe there is hope for humanity after all.”
Redemption and salvation through the power of smoked meat.
erratum: White no longer uses the name Hakadosh BBQ as it is offensive to some people.