I have a beef rib sized bone to pick with food writer and claimed meat expert, Josh Ozersky. As a professional chef and pit master who has worked at top notch barbecue outlets in both his home turf of New York City and the absolute capital of barbecue in the United States of America, Austin, Texas, I have a unique outlook. His recent claims from last month, this past week, and earlier this spring culminated in a malformed understanding of barbecue that I can no longer allow without proper rebuttal.
I’m not trying to pick a food fight, I simply speak from my own experience. A real Texan who cooks barbecue for 70+ hours a week and then reads a few sentences in an Esquire blog on his phone during a break in the smoke and fervor, claiming New York’s barbecue supremacy on shaky arguments. I respect Ozersky, especially his WSJ article from this past May about new school barbecue, but even then, he’s not getting it exactly right.
Last month Ozersky posted an answer to a question on his Eat Like a Man blog about brisket. He warned the reader against it, writing that “only a third of it is fit to eat” and “in the end, it’s not even as good as the worst spare rib.” Texas Monthly’s Daniel Vaughn posted a quick response calling out Ozersky on his obvious word fumble. Daniel laughed it off like most Texans, accepting the New York writer’s challenge in a cook-off, which has yet to happen.
Ozersky also defended Robert Sietsema’s outlandish argument that New York is now a barbecue capital. His case was that everybody wants to open restaurants in New York. Since New York has more good barbecue restaurants than any city in Texas, the barbecue capital, it must be the best barbecue city.
First of all, that claim is completely incorrect. New York has only a small handful of barbecue places that are decent and only a couple that could compete with Austin’s best. I’ve eaten and cooked barbecue in both cities, this claim does not go unsupported. Also, barbecue is rooted in tradition. Texas and specifically Austin have always had the same rabidity for smoked meats that the rest of the country is now only developing. It has and always will be an enormous and honorable part of our culture here. Just because there are a lot of barbecue restaurants in New York does not meant it’s a capital. New York has a lot of everything because it’s New York and it’s huge. I loved living there. I had indispensible restaurant and life experiences there. New York is the best at a lot of things; barbecue ain’t one of ‘em.
Secondly, the brisket comment was obviously meant to stir the pot and to invoke a response from Texas Monthly. Great job, everybody got their clicks. To make those claims is to not understand barbecue, the work that goes into it, and the superlative quality of the best of the best. Like the previous remarks, simply untrue.
Like I said before, this is not an ill willed rebuke, rather an invitation. I cook barbecue at Freedmen’s in Austin. It’s a historic building from the 1800’s that has housed families, a grocery store, a church, a printing press and now a barbecue joint and cocktail bar. The building is old but updated with a new beer garden. The cocktails offerings are classic but forward thinking with many house-made, smoke-infused syrups. The barbecue is classic Texas style done right, with only salt, pepper, and smoke, but the accompaniments have modern touches. Tradition is a delicate balance between respect for the past and innovation.
Mr. Ozersky, this is my invitation to you to come to Freedmen’s and eat a meal on me. I’ll show you some Texas hospitality, we’ll have a beer, talk about meat, and hopefully, with the help of my friends the Holy Trinity (brisket, spare ribs, and sausage) I’ll get you to understand what we Texans talk about when we talk about barbecue.