When one thinks of barbeque, usually the great State of New Jersey doesn’t usually come to mind. The foods that define New Jersey usually stem from its diverse cultural makeup and are still being perfected in the small towns and establishments that serve as the stronghold for the numerous nationalities that have delivered their time-honed ingredients and processes from across the seas (or the river). And because the towns are so small and contiguous, access to the food is as easy as walking down to the corner. Each town has grown to love and boast about the bakeries, restaurants, and butchers that serve their community and many never feel the need to go anywhere else, while the establishments themselves are very happy serving and supporting them. Not long ago, it was not unusual for the person behind the counter to know exactly what the local customer wanted when that bell on the door rang. The line is not only drawn between North Jersey and South Jersey (and Central Jersey to some), but also from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood. As a result, you can ask any number of New Jerseyans what the state food is, and you will get as many answers. But most likely, barbeque will not be one them.
This blog is meant to be an adventure into how New Jersey does barbeque. I am by no means one of the barbeque aristocracy who suckled a bottle a barbeque sauce before I tasted milk or was raised in the backwoods of Carolina or a ranch in Texas. I was born and raised here in New Jersey, but grew up under the roof of a man who was raised among a family of Texas ranchers, and though expatriated, still exposed his kids to the joy of eating meat being pulled effortlessly from a bone as sauce cascaded from our chins. From his stories, a good brisket is one of the seven wonders of the world, and was shipped in from well-known barbeque joints whenever he was sufficiently homesick or frustrated with the scarcity of barbeque in New Jersey. In college, I had the luck of meeting a few friends who enjoyed cooking and eating. Black Beauty, whose first lease on life consisted of holding and expelling propane, soon joined the family of one these friends, as a five foot, trailer-hitched smoker and our barbeque team was complete. For the last fifteen years, we have participated in the east coast circuit of competitive barbequing and have catered various events. Every year, we taste the best and worst barbeque, (often from our own hands) but in that time, we have learned to appreciate the finer points of the art and its influence on our own families. In that time, we have also seen the influence of barbeque in New Jersey grow, not only in the growth of restaurants and home-grown competitive teams, but also in backyard experimentation.
I hope that you will join me in exploring that thing that is the art and science of New Jersey barbeque. From cultivation and selection, to processing, to cooking, and finally eating, we will take a look at all that New Jersey has to offer in the best restaurants and teams, to the lesser known joints, butchers, slaughterhouses, and growers. I also hope that if you enjoy this forum, you will pass it along to those that you know will help this community grow. And I am always open to invites to see and share how you do barbeque. Enjoy!