Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
Barbecue. BBQ. Barbeque. Bar-B-Que. No matter how you spell it, I love good barbecue. I understand barbecue and it understands me. Good barbecue is like a good friend. It soothes my soul. I’ve seen God in the fires of a barbecue pit.
Living in Sheepshead Bay, you probably don’t understand barbecue. Barbecue is a noun, not a verb. You can’t “barbecue,” you create barbecue. Barbecue is not simply throwing a piece of meat on a grill. True barbecue is taking a cheap cut of meat, seasoning it, and smoking it over a small wood fire. Barbecue has nothing to do with sauce. In fact, in many of the great barbecue joints, sauce is forbidden or offered grudgingly. Barbecue is a state of mind.
Barbecue is a time consuming process that doesn’t lend itself to today’s lifestyle. It certainly doesn’t work for fast food restaurants. To properly cook pork ribs for barbecue it takes as little as six hours, but can take as long as 12. As I said, it’s time consuming, so it’s expensive to produce commercially.
As you have probably gleaned by now, I take my barbecue seriously. Imagine my glee when I heard of a real, wood-fired barbecue pit restaurant had opened nearby. No, it’s not in Sheepshead Bay, but that didn’t scare me off; most good barbecue joints are off the beaten path. Come with me, brothers and sisters, as we discover Joeper’s Smokeshack (2085 Flatbush Avenue) in sleepy Flatlands.
Located at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Troy Avenue, Joeper’s is a nice-looking, take-out only joint, that cooks its Que on a Cookshack wood-pellet-fired cooker. Some barbecue purist claim that using a “pellet pooper” and not a stick burner is cheating, but to this inner-city boy it’s a welcome addition to the local cooking scene. There’s not a single restaurant in Southern Brooklyn cooking barbecue over wood, so I’ll take what I can get.
Joeper’s Smokehouse, like all good barbecue joints, has a very limited menu, with chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket. The menu also has the usual side of mac and cheese, beans, corn bread and hush puppies. There’s a few other diversions such as cheese steaks, sausage and peppers, fish and chips and something called “Sloppy Joepers.”
I’m a meaty guy, so I went right for the three meat combo ($17.00); pulled pork (pork shoulder), beef brisket and pork ribs. No sides. After some banter with the owner and a quick discussion about barbecue pits, I received my food and headed out to the offices of Sheepshead Bites eagerly awaiting my lunch. Driving back, something was missing. Where was the smell of barbecue? Why wasn’t my car being engulfed in the scent of hickory?
Getting into the office and opening up the Styrofoam container of the promised barbecue, I was immediately repulsed – it looked like cat food! (I know it looks good in the picture, but believe me, we did some major food styling.) I showed the container to the other staff members of Sheepshead Bites, offering some of the contents and found no takers.
The pulled pork was tossed in a mustard-based sauce, as served in the Carolinas. I actually prefer a mustard sauce on my pulled pork and have done well in competition with it. Joeper’s sauce was tangy and sweet and would be a very nice compliment to well-cooked meat, which, unfortunately, wasn’t the story here. The meat tasted like it was boiled and was a couple of steps away from the consistency of mush.
The brisket was cut from the flat of the full brisket. The flat is the leaner bottom muscle of a full brisket, which is harder to cook properly due to its low fat content. It dries out quickly when sliced. Joeper’s counters that by topping the brisket in a sweet Kansas City-style sauce. Brisket can be tough and chewy when it is under-cooked or sliced incorrectly. Cook it too long and it falls apart. In my box, I was given slices that were over-cooked, under-cooked, sliced improperly and sliced correctly. It was hard to understand. The flavor was okay, but more reminiscent of pot roast than properly cooked barbecue.
The ribs were lightly glazed with different sauce than either the brisket or pork, and was easily my favorite flavor on the platter. I was glad to see that the ribs weren’t over sauced, which would allow the flavor of the meat to come through. Unfortunately, that flavor didn’t show up. These very meaty ribs cried out for seasoning and at least another hour in the smoker.
Most people want their meat “falling off the bone” when it comes to ribs, but that’s a sign that the meat is over cooked. Properly cooked ribs will cleanly release the meat only where you bite, leaving the rest of the meat on the bone and not on your plate. On perfectly cooked ribs, the bone will sweat lightly where the meat has been removed. Here I couldn’t get to the bone, no matter how long I gnawed on each rib.
I haven’t tried the sides at Joeper’s, but from what I hear the desserts and corn bread are fantastic. Maybe that’s true. On Joeper’s Facebook page, they only have pictures of the side dishes and not the meats. I guess they know their strengths. It’s certainly not the barbecue.
Joeper’s Smokeshack, 2085 Flatbush Avenue, (718) 677-4225.