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Feb 10, 2014 02:47 PM

Kosher BBQ heats up - anyone have an explanation?

Full confession: my heart - and my stomach - belong to the vegetable department. I would go further out of my way for a perfect tomato than for a perfect steak.

This may be why I was blindsided by the wave of kosher BBQ. There's the day school in Tennessee that air freights BBQ. There's Ari White who tours the greater New York Jewish communities with a BBQ smoker-on wheels (it looks something like Robert Stephenson's rocket There's a new BBQ joint in Rockville. Milt's BBQ in Chicago There's even a BBQ place in Lakewood (imagine, a cutting-edge foodie trend in Lakewood). And all of them have opened within the the last couple of years, Chicago and Rockville this month alone.

What gives?

I have a theory. Kosher diners are notorious for unimaginatively equating a large steak with a nice restaurant meal. But even in pretty stodgy parts of the haimish community (I'm looking at you Lakewood, and at the Five Towns where shuls have hosted the Wandering Que) there is a growing interest in the food scene. BBQ isn't a new thing, it's been hot in the more general American food scene for years. But for the traditonal among us, the thing about a BBQ is that no one is trying to make you eat seaweed salad, carrot foam, or - gasp - kale. These kosher BBQ places are offering a big hunk of meat in the guise of a hip culinary experience.

Or is kosher BBQ is suddenly popular simply because we suddenly have sophisticated pit bosses producing great kosher BBQ?

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  1. Dunno. I kinda like the large steak. Could I get that well done please, with a side of smothered onions and some plain rice?

    10 Replies
      1. re: SoCal Mother

        Ah but it's brisket so it has to be well done. Problem solved.

        But you have to admit that Jews have enjoyed pastrami and smoked salmon way before any of this came along.

        1. re: SoCal Mother

          You must be the product of a mixed marriage to prefer rice to potatoes.

          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

            I prefer rice to potatoes...............
            and yes I come from a mixed marriage.

            Mom's side is German
            Dad's side is Litvak (peasants from the East)

            I'm already 5th generation American and wonder what if anything your quip has to do with my dislike of potatoes?

            1. re: bagelman01

              bagelman01- Both sides are potato cultures. You must be some sort of gastro-apikoiros. By mixed I was referring to the product of an Ashkenazi and Sefardi marriage. I once knew someone with one parent Hungarian, the other Moroccan. Couscous with goose schmaltz, merguez and lecso! Eegen yallah!

              1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                No, you are now considered a gastro apikoros if you don't eat sushi with your pizza or if you don't have at least 5 kinds of dips on Shabbos.

                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                  Never saw the German Oma make potatoes.
                  The usual starch was spaetzel

                  and she came to us for Pesach, so there were potatoes, but usually sweet potatoes, not white

              2. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                Well, socal likes to have something exciting once in a while. Like fried onions on a bagel. :)

                1. re: arifree

                  I just saw hot cross bagels. By appearance, they looked sort of pumpernickel with raisins. I don't know if the dough rises once or twice.

                  1. re: arifree

                    arifree, someone once gave me a corned beef sandwich on a bagel. Tasted better than it sounds.

              3. I think it's the latter. Ari is a genius who markets his wares impressively, and others are catching wind and wanting to ride the wave.

                1. If I can toss in my two shekels...there is certainly more and more great que happening everywhere with smoked goodies making cameos on menus across the country : Think Mike's Bistro, Pardes, and Abigails in NY. New bbq joints lighting up in Illinois, Maryland, Texas, California and even Canada. Underground Eats the likes of Hassid+Hipster and IZZY's BBQ Addiction are smokin up Brooklyn backyards with everything from classic short ribs to duck prosciutto. Southside Sandwich Shop in Lakewood is operating a legit smoking rig. And if you're looking for the kale salad thing, offerings with inventive and seasonal sides check out what Chef Josh Massin is turning out at Nobo alongside his killer smoked offerings. I don't know if it's a result of the paleo movement, or as Chef Ottolenghi, known for his famous use and love of vegetables, said on the Taste last week (refferring to making a vegetarian entree sing), that once you're smoking it, your halfway there. The smoke from real wood burning is simply transformative, not just on meats, or veg but even milchigs....think Basil. With so many new places opening up around the country and the bbq competition circuit nationwide and strong and fast growing as ever, I'd don't think this will be a fast passing fad. I'm 3 generations into it myself, and have 3 boys who will make up #4. As far as I see it, this is a movement to stay.

                  *note for the Mods * I am a chef and pitboss, owner of Gemstone Catering and the Wandering Que and I love that Kosher BBQ and the art of Smoking have finally begun to catch on!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: gotcholent

                    Speaking of shekels, can I toss you a whole bagful in exchange for some ribs?!

                    Seriously, though, I think you hit it on the head with "new places." There's so many new places and only enough room for meat/potatoes and fish/salad/pasta. Being bold brings customers

                    1. re: gotcholent

                      Oh I'm pro-smoking. I love the meat I've eaten from Wandering Q. And amazing things Moshe Wendel smokes at Pardes (smoked egg yolk, heavenly)

                      But I was surprised by the sudden popularity. BBQ, after all, is hardly new. And other kinds of Restaurants (Mexican, Thai) have risen to popularity while largely bypassing the kosher community. Then, suddenly, this wave of BBQ

                        1. re: AdinaA

                          I think it also has a lot to do with availability of ingredients and accessibility of flavor. Texas BBQ is just different enough to be new and interesting without being so hard to "get" that it scares people away. In contrast with, say, Thai or other Asian cuisines, the raw ingredients for Texas BBQ are very accessible to kosher cooks (no hunting for obscure Asian noodles or impossible-to-find fish sauce). For the consumer, while the flavors may be far beyond what they are used to eating off a backyard grill, at least the flavor profiles are somewhat familiar and not too intimidating, unlike Thai, for example, which is famous for funky, sour flavors that can be intimidating to a Western palate.

                      1. I think it's both. There's so much access to food these days- social media plays a huge role. It's so easy to see what other people are cooking, eating, and buying. BBQ is big all over, and the from community wants a bite. You also have the guys who are making it possible and producing some really great stuff. (Friends of mine went to a wandering que event. They ate, got takeout for the next day, and also bought $300 worth of food for us and other friends. So you have people who will spend, which is important)

                        I'm also going to say that the thing with meat is that it's black and white. It's not like kale or strawberries in that there's a grey area whether it's kosher. Sure, a hunk of ribs isn't cheap, but it's crowd pleasing.

                        1. I think it's just the latest fad which as usual is trailing the secular world. The first guy opens and he gets press, so then the next tries to copy him. When that guy gets press too more guys pile on in different cities. It's like the Subway fad a couple years ago, although hopefully this one will have better long term results.

                          It also helps that Texas BBQ tends to feature kosher ingredients so the dishes don't need too many modifications. I think the other trends you mention below are newer in the secular world, so we should expect to see them appear in the kosher world in another couple years. Maybe Mexikosher is that first place which will spark others.