11 Smoking North Jersey BBQ Spots

Brisket, wings and ribs, oh my! These BBQ places have plenty to offer.

A full spread from Mighty Quinn.
A full spread from Mighty Quinn.
Photo by Jason Varney

Bourbon
Wyckoff, Garfield
In Wyckoff, pitmaster Mike Feygin cooks 2,000 pounds of meat a week (400 of brisket alone) to supply his two restaurants. Wyckoff has table service; food is served on plates. Garfield, a kind of baby Bourbon, has counter service and food served on butcher paper, roadhouse style. Feygin smokes pork ($14.99 a pound) and chicken ($9.99 half, $18.99 whole) over white oak and either hickory or applewood; brisket ($18.99 a pound) over white oak and mesquite. The meat on his spare ribs ($19.99 with hand-cut fries and coleslaw) does not fall off the bone; it pulls off easily, a point of pride for any pitmaster. (The bone itself, he says, should not be stark white—a sign of moisture loss from overcooking.) A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, Feygin named his venture for Bourbon County, Kentucky, where he first met veteran pitmaster Gary Needham. In 2007, they teamed to open Bourbon BBQ. (Needham partially retired in 2013; Feygin and his wife, Helen, opened the Garfield spot in February.) On the table are squeeze bottles of tomato-based medium spicy Delta sauce, sweet Kansas City sauce, spicy “XXX” sauce (made with smoked jalapeño and Scotch bonnet peppers) and vinegar-based Carolina sauce. The Garbage Plate (ribs, brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, cole slaw, smokehouse beans, hand-cut fries, house-made cornbread, $29.99) easily feeds two famished souls. Sides include collards, haystack fried onions and sweet potato mash. Still hungry? Try catfish, blackened and grilled or cornmeal-crusted and fried. For dessert, there are rice pudding with cherries, almonds and whipped cream; and “redneck zeppoles”—cinnamon-dusted, deep-fried chunks of cornbread.—MACF
529 Goffle Road, Wyckoff, 201-444-4744; 499 Midland Avenue, Garfield, 201-464-4744.

Cubby’s

Hackensack
“There’s no pitmaster at Cubby’s! This is the North; we won the war!” booms Bobby Egan, owner of this 33-year-old institution where sports memorabilia is interlaced with photos of Egan with North Korean diplomats (he documented his barbecue diplomacy in a 2010 book, Eating With the Enemy). Over hickory, his staff slow cooks baby-back ribs, sourced from Denmark ($18 half rack, $24 whole), and slow smokes pulled pork ($7 small, $14 large). The rest of the 4,000 pounds of meat his staff preps each week is grilled, which he calls “Jersey cookout style.” Buffalo chicken wings, burgers, hot dogs, chicken and fish round out the entrées. Cajun, waffle and loop fries come with choice of gravy, melted cheese, barbecue sauce or chili. For a civilized touch, food is served on ceramic plates with metal utensils.—MACF
249 South River Street, 201-488-9389.

Dinosaur BBQ
Newark
In 1983, John Stage and two partners introduced Dinosaur as a mobile concession that delivered good barbecue to fellow Harley riders at a gathering in Albany, New York. Today Dinosaur has 10 brick-and-mortar locations. The Newark outpost, opened around the corner from the Prudential Center in 2012, is the only one that offers gumbo. To make it, cooks simmer smoked chicken, andouille sausage and okra for an hour in spicy chicken stock and serve it with rice and chopped scallions ($7.44 a bowl, or as a side with entrée, $3.75). Newark’s best-sellers include Jumbo BBQ Chicken Wings with medium-hot Wango Tango sauce ($13.95 for 13) and smoked brisket, as sandwich ($7.95) or platter ($11.50, with two sides). Blackjack Pie—pecan pie baked with chocolate chips and barely a dash of Jack Daniels—is the best-selling dessert ($6).—LB
224 Market Street, 862-214-6100.

Finks BBQ Smokehouse
Dumont
“I do New Jersey barbecue,” says Dave Finkelstein, owner/pitmaster of Finks. “I make the kind of food people in New Jersey like to eat, which is different from what they like in Texas or Kansas City.”

If you ask us, Exhibit A would be Porkenfries—fries smothered with pulled pork, melted cheddar and Muenster, sour cream, and chopped scallions ($11.95). If that isn’t Jersey enough, grab an order of Jersey Lollipops—Taylor ham tucked into a hollowed red potato on a stick, wrapped in bacon, deep fried and served with horseradish cream. The Texas Lollipop is smoked sausage wrapped in bacon, deep fried, on a stick. (Both are five for $9.45.) If you survive those, mellow out with Smokey Garlic Ale Shrimp—shrimp sautéed with bacon, garlic, ale and lemon, served over Finks’s luscious, just-dense-enough sweet-corn soufflé ($12.95).

Finkelstein, who has a forearm tattoo of a pig with numbered body sections, has been obsessed with smoking meat since the mid-’90s. Fresh out of the New England Culinary Institute and living in a garden apartment in River Edge, he “started messing around with a stovetop smoker,” he says. At some point, the smoke brought the River Edge Fire Department. Finkelstein himself was a volunteer fireman. He met fellow fireman Robert Gant. A barbecue enthusiast, Gant has now been Finkelstein’s sous chef and “lead pitman” for two decades.

After a few years as chef of Mexicali Blues in Teaneck, Finkelstein opened the first Finks in River Edge in 2001. It had 10 seats. The current location, opened in 2012, has 130 seats in the dining room and 30 at the bar. The soundtrack is classic rock.

Of course Finks serves pulled pork ($11.95), spare ribs ($13.95 half rack, $22.95 whole) and mixed chopped beef brisket and beef rib ($12.95). But his creative flywheel is always turning. Hence, Fried-a-Que. After he smokes a chicken, he drops it in the fryer. “Because it’s fully cooked, it doesn’t pick up any fat,” he explains. “It just picks up crispness.” There’s also BBQ Beef Stuffed Meatloaf.

“I came to barbecue as a cook, so I had a lot of these things going already,” says Finkelstein, 43. “I would get bored cooking just pork and ribs all day. Anyway, in Bergen County people won’t come out seven days a week for pulled pork. You need other things to bring people in.” Finks has them, including a tangy apple barbecue sauce for pulled pork. “Apple,” he says, “is another flavor I’ve found that people in New Jersey especially like.”—TLG
26 West Madison Avenue, 201-384-3210.

Hot Rods
Wharton
“We’re trying to teach our customers that sometimes we run out of things, so they have to come early,” says Anthony Sibona, pitmaster and co-owner with his wife, Toby, of Hot Rods Real Pit BBQ. At legendary joints like Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, lines form in the morning because devotees know only so much meat is cooked, and when it’s gone, the place closes for the day. No Jersey pit is quite in that class, but since the Sibonas were mentioned in a “best wings” article in USA Today in 2012 and appeared on an episode of the Food Network’s Restaurant Stakeout in 2013, Anthony says business at Hot Rods has grown more each year.

“I’m trying to cut down to 60-hour work weeks from 90-hour work weeks,” he says.

Judging by the crowds on a recent Friday afternoon at the 110-seat restaurant, with its 20 taps of craft beer, such relative leisure may be a ways off.

Anthony has been roasting pigs since 1989. In 2002, the Sibonas launched their restaurant in Mine Hill and moved it to Wharton in 2005. They call their style Yankee barbecue. It’s “our own take on what we do,” Toby says. “We don’t try to be something from any other region. But certain aspects of what we do have flavors from other places.”

Competing on the barbecue circuit has helped them hone their technique. “You learn a lot,” says Anthony. The couple won a first place for sauce at last year’s Smokin’ Hot Atlantic City BBQ Competition and a third place for pork at last year’s New Jersey State Barbecue Championship. Both Sibonas are judges certified by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. They haven’t judged events in which they compete, but all KCBS judging is blind, “so you have no idea whose food you’re tasting,” Anthony says. Competing is time consuming and requires different tools and techniques than restaurant cooking, so they’ve competed in about three per year—as many as geographically possible.

Technique only takes you so far. “I pour my heart into everything I put in the smoker,” he says, “because I want to make sure it’s as tasty as it was the first time you tried it.”

In their massive, impressively clean Ole Hickory smoker, the Sibonas burn 75 percent hickory and 25 percent fruitwoods. They smoke Certified Angus brisket at 210 degrees for 13 hours ($12.99 a platter). “You finish them with sauce four hours before they’re done, and it gives you a nice crust,” Sibona says.

Pulled pork is dry-rubbed with the house spice mix and smoked at 230 degrees for 16 hours, then hand-pulled ($12.99 a platter). Baby-back ribs are dry-rubbed and smoked at 220 degrees for six hours. They are wrapped in foil for the last hour of smoking to seal in juices and flavor ($17.99 a half rack, $25.99 full rack). Chickens get a 24-hour saltwater bath before being dry-rubbed and smoked at 220 degrees for three hours. (A menu note alerts newbies that the pink hue of the meat is a normal result of the smoking process, not an indication of undercooking.) Wings are coated with a secret seasoning before being smoked for three hours. Then they’re deep-fried and coated with one of Hot Rods’ signature wing sauces, sweet-and-spicy or Buffalo spicy ($7.99 for six pieces).

Brisket is mopped with a honey-brown-sugar concoction to impart a tasty crust before it exits the smoker. On the tables are squeeze bottles of Hot Rods original sauce (tomato-based, spiked with cider and white vinegars and just a touch of brown sugar) and finger-licking maple bourbon sauce. Willie Degel, host of Restaurant Stakeout, suggested the Sibonas create this sweeter sauce. “It’s awesome on French fries,” Anthony says.

There’s cole slaw, baked beans, burgers, salads, even meatloaf. Pizza is coming. One pie will feature burnt ends with vodka sauce.—TLG
175 N. Main Street, 973-361-5050.

Mama’s Southern Style BBQ 2
Vauxhall
“I haven’t met no one that came here just once,” says Chris Finnick, pitmaster since 2007 of this takeout establishment opened in 1997. The native Jerseyan taps his family’s Carolina roots to infuse sweet-and-sour style into barbecued chicken ($8.50), pork ribs ($8), beef short ribs ($9) and chopped pork ($8) sandwiches. His mother, the owner (“I just go by Mama”), says the pork gets a dry rub, is baked four hours, smoked in a coal-fired pit, chopped, then marinated overnight in her grandfather’s Carolina vinegar sauce. Pork ribs ($10 half rack, $20 whole) get a similar treatment. The menu includes fried chicken ($13), fried whiting, catfish, shrimp and tilapia as sandwiches or dinners. Add candied yams, collards, string beans or Spanish rice, among other sides. The tough choice is dessert. So many paths to perdition: sweet potato pie, banana pudding, peach cobbler, pineapple-coconut cake and more. Regulars know to call in their orders to shorten their waits in the tiny space. “It gets crowded here,” says Finnick. “There’s a lot of kitchen and no front.”—MACF
2181 Springfield Avenue, 908-687-0400.

Mighty Quinn
Clifton
“I cook a lot on feel,” says pitmaster and co-owner Hugh Mangum. “It sounds ridiculous, but the brisket has to tell you when it’s ready to be touched, when it’s ready to be pulled. After you do this for awhile, you develop a relationship with the meat.”

Jerseyans are developing a relationship with Mighty Quinn, which has four New York City locations and opened its first here, in Clifton, in 2014. The restaurant, with its long wooden tables (130 seats), reclaimed wood and white tile walls, suggests a butcher shop and also an old-time food hall, but with a hard-rock soundtrack.

“When I cook, the dream I’m chasing is the taste of the food I ate with my father when I was a kid,” Mangum says. “I think it’s that way for everybody.” Mangum grew up in Los Angeles, where his father, Hugh III, was a banker. Together they often visited Houston, his father’s hometown, and made pilgrimages to its barbecue temples. When Mangum’s father died in 1999, “he left me a little bit of money, and I wanted to honor my relationship with him,” says the son. “That’s what sent me on this path.”

Mangum does not sauce his brisket “because they don’t sauce it in Texas. And the only items we sauce on the top are pulled pork and a thin glaze on spareribs.” The result is soft meat with crisp skin, because sauce doesn’t touch it until it’s done cooking.

Sauce is on the table in growlers. Mighty Quinn offers just one kind. It’s basically Texas-style (molasses, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic and other spices) nipped up Carolina style with a touch of apple-cider vinegar.

“Sauce enhances the flavor, but it’s not the first thing you taste,” Mangum says. “You want the meat to be the first thing you taste.”

In taste, you can’t entirely separate the meat from the smoke. “I cook on olfactory senses and remembrances,” he says. He and his father cooked on pecan wood, all but unavailable here. So he uses 90 percent oak, 10 percent fruitwoods.

“Oak is an amazing heat source,” he says. “It burns down the cleanest, and it’s the longest burning. It produces the best smoke, the best embers. And meat should be kissed, not hugged by smoke. I’m a firm believer in that.” Cherry might be his favorite fruitwood, but he says the flavor is too strong to use for the full 18 to 24 hours the briskets smoke. “It’s great for pork,” he says, adding, “It’s a great finisher.”

Spice rubs also contribute flavor. Mighty Quinn uses two. The rub is essentially salt, pepper and paprika; the pork and chicken rub includes a few more ingredients, notably sugar. “People tend to think that because it’s called rub, you have to rub it in,” Mangum notes. “But it should be sprinkled over. Because meat sweats, and you want the pores to be open so they can work for you. If you rub the meat with rub, you’re clogging the pores.”

Mighty Quinn has earned praise from New York food critics and attained something like cult status among the city’s barbecue cognoscenti. But when it comes to food, Mangum is not just blowing smoke. He graduated from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan in 2001 and worked briefly with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and other top chefs.

“I’ve had some highbrow jobs, but the highbrow stuff doesn’t always pay very well,” he says. So in 2011, he launched Mighty Quinn with a mobile smoker he set up on a street in Brooklyn. In 2013, he opened his first brick-and-mortar Mighty Quinn in Manhattan’s East Village, naming it for the oldest of his three sons, who is now 12.

Mighty Quinn has a few specialties not to miss: burnt ends (the caramelized end slabs, called flats, simmered in the house sauce); the huge Brontosaurus Rib (short rib on the bone); pork spare ribs; spicy wings; smoked half chickens; smoked sausage. Entrées come with pickled vegetables that balance the richness of the ’cue. Upscale sides include roasted beet salad with fennel, mint and orange vinaigrette; and buttermilk broccoli salad with bacon and almonds.

Mangum knows what’s mighty. “Brisket built the house; it’s what put us on the map,” he says. “But I hang my hat on every meat I cook.”—TLG
850 Route 3 West (in the Promenade Shops at Clifton), 973-777-8340.

Ruthie’s
Montclair
Eric Kaplan fell in love with blues guitar as a teenager; while a student at the Culinary Institute of America, his externship in Houston exposed him to the wonders of barbecue. After graduating in 1983, he worked at such haute establishments as Le Bernardin and the Waldorf-Astoria’s Bull & Bear steak house. But he was smitten with barbecue—and with his wife, Ruthie, for whom he named his restaurant, opened in 2007. Kaplan serves on metal trays covered with butcher paper. Chopped brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken come as sandwiches ($7.75-$10.50) or as platters with hand-cut fries and house-made red-cabbage-and-apple slaw ($13). Then there is Fry-B-Q ($6.75), a catchy name for fries topped with one of the three pulled meats. Hickory-smoked pork ribs are four for $10.25. Belgian-style dipping sauces like tarragon dijon and roasted garlic rosemary are 35 cents each. Popular sides include four-cheese mac and cheese ($4.75) and baked beans studded with burnt ends ($3.95). The seven-table establishment is “not a traditional barbecue place,” Kaplan says—witness his 18-inch pizzas, sold whole ($23) or by the slice. They include a Texas pie with house-made smoked sausage, smoked mozz, marinara, barbecued onions and pesto. Friday and Saturday nights Ruthie’s adds live music to the menu and, in summer, tables on the sidewalk and the back patio.—MACF
64 Chestnut Street, 973-509-1134.

Smokey Joe’s
Teaneck
“There is no pork on our fork!” proclaims Joe Godin, owner and pitmaster of this Glatt kosher oasis offering smoked beef, lamb and poultry as well as burgers, sausage, burritos, tacos and fajitas. In compliance with rabbinical regulations, dairy is banished, so forget mac and cheese—but pile on the mashed potatoes with garlic, caramelized onions, scallions and kosher beef bacon; sautéed spinach with garlic; and cornbread with onion jelly, the latter included with every entrée. Served sauced, the ’cued beef is prepped with a spicy brown mustard to better enable Godin’s aromatic dry rub to adhere and impart flavor. The brisket ($16.99) and pulled chicken ($15.99) sandwiches come on a brioche bun, accompanied by coleslaw and french fries or sweet potato chips. Other popular dishes include burnt ends with hoppin’ John (Southern peas and rice) and sausage ($21.99), and beef ribs ($29.99 for 3; $35.99 for 4; $41.99 for 5). In observance of the Sabbath, Smokey Joe’s closes Fridays at 2 pm and reopens for lunch on Sunday. —MACF
494 Cedar Lane, 201-836-7427.

Texas Smoke
Jefferson Township
Co-pitmasters Scott Reid and Freddy Smith view certain joints with suspicion. “If they’re serving you barbecue with sauce on it, they’re hiding something,” says Smith. “We put out the meat and people can decide if they want sauce. A lot of them find they don’t.” Reid, who owns the rustic restaurant with a big party room upstairs, was tutored in barbecue in the early aughts by Bill Milroy, founder of the Texas Rib Rangers competition team in Denton, Texas. “I fell in love with his barbecue,” Reid says. “I had never come across anything quite like it, and I thought maybe I could bring it back here.” Texas Smoke has had some success on the competition circuit. “We won best ribs seven out of eight years at the Sussex County Champion of the Grill competition,” Reid says. They were named Grand Champion of the Grill at the same competition three times, most recently in 2012. But the restaurant is how they make a living. They serve St. Louis-cut ribs ($13.95 half rack, $20.95 whole), brisket ($13.95 a pound), chicken ($10.95 a whole 4-pound bird) and pulled pork ($11.95 a pound). “Barbecue is not just about the food,” Reid says. “It’s about people getting together. If you’re a home cook and you’ve just bought a smoker, I have no problem sharing what I’ve learned.”—TLG
400 Route 15 South, 862-209-4078.

The Wood Pit
Montclair
“We never put sauce on anything we serve,” says owner/pitmaster Lawrence Hackney. “We leave that to the customer. We don’t want to hide the meat, you know?”

Walk in and the hickory aroma lassos your nostrils. There’s brisket, which Hackney learned how to make when he lived in Dallas years ago ($12.95 small, $21.95 large, each with two sides). There are St Louis-cut pork ribs, thick and meaty ($10.95 half rack, $19.95 whole). The moist smokiness of his chickens makes them a must ($8 half, $13.95 whole).

And wings? You haven’t had wings until you’ve had his. “The smoked wings fly out of here,” he says, “no pun intended.” About 300 a day. Those are complete wings, big bruisers, with all three sections. (The scrawny tips discarded in dip-crazed Buffalo renditions are delightfully present here, offering charry-chewy bits to the probing eater.) Wingwise, the killer app is the deep-fryer. The smoked wings (four for $5.75) go in for a 60-second crisping. The result?

“Unbelievable,” Hackney says, with a sly chuckle.

Three levels of his family’s North Carolina mustard-vinegar sauce are on the counter: Mild, Hot and Super Hot. If you’re crazy enough, ask for his private stock, the Extra Super Hot. “Do NOT spread it on your food,” he warns. “Put a little in a cup and dip just the edge of your meat into it.” For scalded palates there is no known antidote, except a slice of his wife’s red velvet cake.—EL
108 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-954-4679.

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