Editor’s Note: Bark Barbecue is currently only stationed at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Prospect Park on Sundays. Check their Instagram for the most up-to-date location.
NYC prides itself on having it all. But when was the last time you paid cash for smoked meats next to a four-lane road by the airport? That’s where you’ll currently find the city’s best barbecue.
Bark Barbecue started during the summer of 2020, serving freshly smoked meat by the pound, Dominican specialty sides, and luscious arroz con leche on Saturdays in South Ozone Park, Queens. It’s run by Ruben Santana - a Queens-born pitmaster who parks his smoker directly on 149th Avenue, across from Vito Locascio Field. There’s no website, no iPad to accept your credit card, no official location, and definitely no designated seating area. Instead, you’ll get Central Texas-style smoked brisket that you’ll likely devour in a nearby overgrown baseball field, like a cave person who has found their way to the present day.
You can suss out the quality of Bark Barbecue’s meat simply by watching Ruben slice brisket. As he gets closer to the center, the cuts look increasingly flaky and tender rather than hefty, matte, and fatty (like what you’ll see on the ends). The brisket - which has crunchy, dark black bark, pink inner rings, and juicy meat - is smoked on the street for about twelve hours the day before you eat it.
When you’re selecting your meat by the pound, Ruben might instruct you to “not sleep on the turkey.” We can’t stress this point enough: Bark Barbecue’s turkey will make you feel bad for ever demonizing the ugly stepsister of poultry at Thanksgiving. It’s moist like it’s the star of a skincare advertisement, and covered in a dry rub of paprika and chili powder. Order enough and the people in the tent might call you a barbecue freak.
If you deem yourself a barbecue freak like us, move your plans around to try Bark Barbecue. Even if it means sending this review to your friend with a car, or taking the A train to the stop before JFK and walking about 15 minutes. Or, you can follow Bark Barbecue on Instagram and wait for one of their pop-up events (potentially at Bridge & Tunnel Brewery in Ridgewood).
Your friends (and frankly most restaurants) aren’t throwing backyard barbecue parties like Bark Barbecue does. So when you’re ready to have a barbecue experience unlike anything else in NYC, this is where you need to go.
There’s something primal that happens when you eat crunchy brisket bark and fatty meat you could pull apart with just the strength of your pinky - all outside in sweltering heat. Quality smoked brisket is really hard to find in NYC (or attempt to make yourself), and it’s a big reason why we’re so hot on Bark Barbecue.
When we first went to eat this smoked turkey, we automatically drenched it in sauce and sides to hide whatever dryness might be present. That was wrong of us - and we apologize. This moist turkey will make you reconsider all of your feelings about the sometimes-unfortunate bird.
We spent most of our time with this pulled pork thinking about the BBQ sauce. Not because the meat itself isn’t exciting, but because it really benefits from Bark Barbecue’s homemade vinegar-based BBQ sauce. In addition to chili powder, Ruben uses ancho chilis to create the flavor of spice-laden Latin meats. Ask for a couple plastic condiment containers worth of sauce, which are served in what looks like something you dip fries into at a Mets game.
These were a special, and they were so tender that the meat immediately came off the bone upon contact. If you don’t see these, there are always pork (and sometimes beef) ribs available.
You’re not coming to Bark Barbecue for the sides, and you’re not going to leave thinking about the sides. That’s OK. We’d still recommend plantains or sweet Dominican cornbread for a break from the savory meat.
This is one thick, viscous, and cinnamon-y side you shouldn’t leave without. We opened this up before we were even done with our meat, and ate it in between bites of smoky brisket and juicy pulled pork.