Here comes summer, and could there be anything more classic to eat than barbecue? For centuries, Americans have loved tearing into smoky, crackling-good, slow-cooked meats on a hot day. Granted, the South may have pioneered barbecue techniques, sauces, and rubs but the Hudson Valley has done a lot more than play catch-up. Our little patch of paradise boasts dozens of amazing eateries where pulled pork, baby back ribs, and other sweet, savory, and sticky treats await. Here are 12 hot spots.
TRY THIS: Seoul ribs (St. Louis-style and gochujang-glazed ribs)
STAR SIDES: Smoked queso mac ‘n’ cheese, kimchi slaw, Peruvian fried rice
BILLY JOE’S RIBWORKS
In 2011, “two old men —my grandfather Billy and his partner Joe—were looking for something to do and decided to open a BBQ spot,” says Jonathan Gatsik, the current operator of Billy Joe’s Ribworks. The dynamic duo traveled the country, sampled all kinds of variations on the BBQ theme, and returned home to concoct their own recipe. Seems like they had the knack, because Billy Joe’s Ribworks now employs 150 people in the summer to serve the thousands of customers who queue up.
HIS PICKS: Make a beeline for the St. Louis beef ribs. “We call them brontosaurus ribs. They are massive,” says Gatsik. Porky mac ‘n’ cheese (loaded with pulled pork and bacon), fried pickles, and smoked wings are other house specialties.
STEP RIGHT UP: Sure, the food is the star, but if you’re a music-lover, you will be an extra-happy camper. Tuesdays are Country night, Wednesdays are a throwback to hits of the 80s and 90s, Thursdays are Latin night, and on weekends, bands and DJs rule. Oh, and kids eat for $3.99 on Sundays.
The Farella brothers—Gavin, Jamie, and Chris—spent their childhood summers visiting family in North Carolina, which nurtured their love of BBQ. Wanting to bring a taste of the South to the North, they opened Brothers BBQ in 2008. While that first incarnation sadly burned down, they were back bigger and better than ever in 2012, dishing up delicacies to hungry hordes and nabbing “best wings” honors.
THEIR PICKS: You can’t go wrong with the freshly smoked ribs, brisket, chicken, pulled pork, and those famous wings. Be sure to sample the made-from-scratch sides, from tangy collard greens to cornbread to creamy cheese grits.
STEP RIGHT UP: Stop by and fuel up, but let it be known that the brothers will also cater your event. Whole and half pans of their famous recipes can be ordered for takeout, or they’ll roast an entire pig on site for you.
TRY THIS: Crispy half duck or baby back ribs (available Mondays only)
STAR SIDES: Sweet corn soufflé, East Texas-style potato salad, quackie tatties
HANDSOME DEVIL BBQ
Travel to central Texas and taste its BBQ without leaving the county: That’s the concept behind Handsome Devil, co-owned by Ed Randolph, a Food Network “Chopped” champion and cookbook author, and his wife Noelle. Fresh and authentic guides everything they do. “All our beef is prime grade, the same quality as at your favorite steakhouse, and we make everything in house, down to the sweet tea and carrot cake.” Star sides include the Thai chili crispy cauliflower and the honey butter cornbread.
HIS PICKS: The brisket and St. Louis pork ribs are renowned, but, says Randolph, “our sausages are our menu sleepers, and the collards are my favorite. Then belly up to the bar for a local brew or a selection out of our bourbon collection.”
STEP RIGHT UP: “Meat begins to oxidize in three minutes so it’s important to us to slice everything to order,” he explains. “We often sell out of a dish, but the silver lining is you have the chance to taste something else.” (Psst, try the turkey).
JOHN FAZIO FARMS BBQ + PIZZA
Eight years ago, farmer and trucker John Fazio was delivering his locally raised rabbits, ducks, and chickens to NYC restaurants. On his way back, he smelled something good—really good—and pulled over to a roadside, open-flame BBQ stand. “Why don’t I do something like this?” he thought, and soon enough, he was. What began as a single takeout window has become something of an institution. “Everything is fresh, perfectly smoked on local Ulster County applewood,” says Brad Goulden, a CIA-trained chef who’s part of Fazio’s dream team. “We take the time to get it right. Our pastrami is brined for 20-plus days, then smoked for hours and hours.” Also try the Smokin’ Sample Platter (brisket or pastrami, ribs, chicken wings, pulled pork, and cornbread). Star sides are Old Bay chips and macaroni salad.
HIS PICKS: That pastrami is in a league of its own, say fans. Piled high on fresh rye bread with Thousand Island dressing, it can challenge anything in NYC for the “world’s best” title. The brisket is always a top seller, and don’t miss Fazio’s Cheezy Piggy Chips. It’s a ridiculously delectable reinvention of nachos: homemade potato chips, pulled pork, two kinds of cheese, and smoked chipotle sour cream. Pizza-lovers, go for the Elmer Fudd; it’s half smoked duck, half smoked rabbit (or is that wabbit?).
STEP RIGHT UP: The allure of the food is undeniable, but the setting is pretty darn delightful as well—perfect for whiling away an afternoon. There’s a pavilion by a pond, swans, geese, and Clydesdales to admire.
MY FATHER’S HOUSE SOUTHERN CUISINE
It was her father’s dream to open a restaurant reflecting his North Carolina roots, says Adrienne Cromartie-Wolf, chef and owner at My Father’s House Southern Cuisine. While he didn’t get to achieve that goal, she did, launching her soul-food eatery in the middle of the pandemic. BBQ anchors the menu. “It’s an American staple, especially in summer. It’s what everyone gathers to enjoy together,” says Cromartie-Wolf.
HER PICKS: The BBQ chicken and pork ribs have guests swooning. “We don’t smoke our meat. We use a wet rub and then bake it in our family’s secret sauce—North Carolina is known for molasses so that sweetens it up,” says Cromartie-Wolf. Also popular are the Carolina Wingettes: BBQ wings, deep-fried and slicked with that special, signature sauce.
STEP RIGHT UP: If a tablemate isn’t a barbecue fan, no worries: there’s chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and other southern specialties.
OUTPOST BARBECUE AND MORE
Let’s make one thing clear: The “and More” in Outpost BBQ’s name really means something. “I started as a roadside stand over a decade ago,” says owner Dennis Ballentine, whose finger-lickin’-good food attracts deep throngs of devotees. But German chef Richard Rettenmaier joined the team a year or so ago, and that means you’ll find all kinds of bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerbraten, as well as delicious vegetarian dishes on the menu.
HIS PICKS: The brisket and baby back ribs, smoked in Ballentine’s Southern Pride smoker (“It’s just the best out there,” he says), are the heartbeat of the Outpost operation. The pulled pork has a dedicated fan club, too, as does Chef Rettenmaier’s kasseler ripchen (smoked pork with sauerkraut). Star sides are cajun or truffle fries, and baked beans.
STEP RIGHT UP: And get ready to two-step. “It was my dream to offer entertainment, so we’re the Kerhonkytonk Roadhouse, too,” says Ballentine. Look for country, Zydeco, and Western swing bands for delicious, dance-able fun.
RICK’S CLUB AMERICAN
After 20 years of dining at Rick’s Club American, Nick Rosa and a few friends bought it, determined to keep their favorite hangout just the way they liked it. The historic building, which was a lakeside hotel over 100 years ago, is now a wainscoted dining room which is known throughout the area for its ribs—a recipe Rosa would never mess with.
HIS PICKS: Wings, BBQ chicken, and BBQ ribs are what packs the house. “We use Rick’s classic, unique BBQ sauce,” says Rosa. “Our Baby Back Ribs are special, they come from Denmark and are smaller than what you might be used to.”
STEP RIGHT UP: You can pair those ribs with a cold beer or a cocktail, and when ordering, don’t forget to check out that bar. It survived a fire at NYC’s Old Homestead restaurant and relocated to Rick’s in the Hudson Valley—another reason why the restaurant is such a beloved local gem.
ROUND UP TEXAS BBQ
About 15 years ago, William Villetto was building houses in the Hudson Valley, and one of his clients, Linda Vaughan, who hailed from Texas, kept saying, “We should open a barbecue place around here.” So they did. Partners to this day, they serve Texas-style barbecue to appreciative crowds.
HIS PICKS: “Texas is all dry rub—there’s so much flavor, you don’t even need sauce,” says pit-master Villetto, who chuckles when asked about the rub’s secret ingredient. “The brisket is our claim to fame; moist and tender, it melts in your mouth,” he says. Locals swear by the chili and cornbread as well. And don’t miss Villetto’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe (page 82).
STEP RIGHT UP: If you’re looking for a white tablecloth, keep on moving. “We’re a roadside place, which is very popular in Texas, and we’ve got a true, beat-up old building,” says Villetto. Grab a picnic table indoors or out and dig in!
SMOKY ROCK BBQ
Many years ago, Dimitri Psichas caught the barbecue bug and began experimenting with smoking meat as a hobby. He MacGyvered an old bread oven into a smoker, and soon enough, Smoky Rock BBQ was born. It’s now an always-packed family-run business, with pit-master Dimitri’s wife Niki and daughters Vasiliki and Christiana in on the action. “Many sleepless nights were spent perfecting my brisket recipe,” says Dimitri, who’s won the Best of the Hudson Valley honors for his brisket in 2021 and ribs in 2020. While his recipes are a closely guarded secret, he will reveal that “love and patience” are the key ingredients in his BBQ. The smoked pastrami and chicken wings are a delicious bite, as well as burnt ends baked beans and chipotle coleslaw on the side.
HIS PICKS: “We are best known for our dry rubs on our classic St. Louis and baby back ribs, brisket, and smoked chicken,” says Psichas. But don’t overlook the scrumptious smoked duck or maple-smoked ham. Remember, says the pit-master: “Great barbecue does not need sauce. A beautiful dry rub gives it amazing standalone flavor.”
STEP RIGHT UP: Enjoy the patio’s flowers and fountain in warm weather. Military, police, firefighters, EMS, and nurses receive a discount as thanks for their service.
THE SMOKE JOINT
Visit the Smoke Joint, and you may overhear the kitchen team talking about Number 78, a.k.a. their spice rub. “It’s named that because it was our 78th iteration of making our blend ‘til we got it just right,” says Ben Grossman, who co-owns the place with his sister, Jennifer, and his fellow classically trained chef, Craig Samuel. Obviously, the 78th time was the charm; their eats are good enough to have been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
The Joint (whose owners also operate a small, popular chain of “Peaches” restaurants in Brooklyn) adopt a melting-pot approach to barbecue perfection. “Southern, Carolina, Texas, St. Louis, Asia… there are so many traditions we draw upon,” says Samuel.
THEIR PICKS: You can’t go wrong with a combo plate—you’ll get a taste of their brisket, pork, and chicken, plus their sides. Add one of their house-made cocktails, like the Honkytonk Woman (fresh blackberry purée, vodka, and limeade), and be sure to save room for a fresh-baked brownie.
STEP RIGHT UP: As you relax at their riverside location, can you smell that smoke? While traditional barbecue uses hickory or oak, the Smoke Joint uses local ash, which burns hotter, longer, and cleaner. “It lets the meat speak for itself,” says Jennifer, who’s also an environmental attorney. “And since the ash trees here are being culled due to disease, we want to use what’s being made available and be a link in the chain to solving this problem.