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On Wednesday night, George Motz — one of America’s foremost hamburger experts and author of Hamburger America — made his famous “smash burgers” at the NYC Brewers Choice event in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His burgers paired well with the more than 20 small-batch beers that were available to try from local breweries including Alewife, Freethought, Keg & Lantern, Saint James, Sixpoint, Union Beer, and more.
Unfortunately, due to a terrible thunderstorm that hit New York on Wednesday night, Motz was cut short of his goal of making 600 burgers for the night and only completed 350 before he was shut down. The storm brought everyone inside the event venue, and thankfully the crowd still had plenty of beer to enjoy.
While the storm was raging, I pulled Motz aside to ask him about his smash burger popups, his favorite burgers in the New York area, and fun projects including his Food Film Festival. Here is a transcript (lightly edited for clarity) of our conversation.
Sean Ludwig: How did you feel about NYC Brewers Choice considering you had to stop early?
George Motz: I feel bad that some people did not get the burgers they expected to get. We tried but Mother Nature calls. Overall, it's a great event because it involves beer, and there's nothing better than burgers and beer.
SL: You've been doing a lot of popups this year and just broke your own burger-making record with nearly 1,500 burgers in Buenos Aires. How did that come together?
GM: I set a record at Smorgasburg in Los Angeles at 803 burgers, which was a tremendous achievement. My friends in Argentina knew I was coming down and they said they don't care about anything but breaking the L.A. record. And we did. They had a staff of 20 with nine cooks and we did it over 9 hours. And the U.S. embassy in Argentina even got involved and they were more excited about breaking the record than I was.
SL: Any chance you're planning to break that record again?
GM: The guys in Argentina want to break it again and we're talking about November potentially. I have a feeling these guys want to break the record so it can never be broken again.
SL: Can you name some of your favorite burgers in New York?
GM: I don't play favorites and there are so many good burgers in New York. But ... I will give a list of new favorites. Here are a couple of weird ones that not many people have heard of: Camperdown Elm in Brooklyn, where you can only get the burger at the bar. Also in Brooklyn, the burger at the new Red Hook Tavern is mind-blowing. In Manhattan, try The Usual, which has a great burger and also an off-menu burger you can ask for that has cheese flowing down on it. In Queens, check out The Burger Garage in Long Island City. ... Also, everyone should make a pilgrimage out to Louis Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, which is the longest continually operating burger restaurant in America.
SL: I enjoyed the last iteration of the Food Film Festival (where you eat the food you are seeing on screen) in Manhattan this past November. What is the latest with your event and how is planning going for this year?
GM: We just started planning the events [this week] so I can't publicly say much. I can tell you that after watching the excitement in the room, it's going to be a phenomenal festival. What we're trying to do is take a food film and give it more than a one-time screening at a big festival where it gets lost. We try to make sure people appreciate what they are seeing and what they are eating at the same time. We are overwhelmed with how much quality content we have now. It will run the gamut from high-end food to working-class food.
SL: Any other cool projects you're working on?
GM: A few things. First, we are trying to get Smashula [a spatula for making smash burgers at home] back online. Our factory stopped making them and we are actively seeking a new factory in America. I refuse to go to China. We have a waiting list of 175 people for this $200 spatula and I apologize to everyone for the wait. ... I'm also hoping to open a restaurant in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It's going to let you step back in time 100 years to the dawn of the burger age. You will be enveloped in this moment that makes you want to appreciate hamburger history, whether you like it or not.
Thanks to Motz for taking the time to chat and giving me a few more burger places to try. In fact, I'll be trying the Red Hook Tavern burger this weekend. Have a good weekend everyone!
Founder, NYC BBQ
EAT ALL ABOUT IT
Here are the top BBQ and food stories in the New York area this week:
The long-awaited Red Hook Tavern, from Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que fame, opened to the public Thursday night. The menu is not barbecue per se, but it is meat-centric. The menu includes a Peter Luger-inspired 45-day dry-aged burger, a 45-day dry-aged strip steak, brick chicken, chicken liver pate, country ham croquettes, and a wedge salad with thick-cut bacon. Look for my take on the new restaurant in next week’s newsletter.
More than 60 barbecue teams competed this past weekend in Wildwood, New Jersey for the 21st annual New Jersey State Barbecue Festival. Ercole Chila, owner and pit boss of Uncle Pig’s Barbecue Pit, was named the Grand Champion for the second year in a row.
Eater NY senior editor Robert Sietsema (who has written some of the best BBQ and meat-focused articles about our city’s restaurants) was recently hit by a taxi while on his bike. He writes in a new article about the struggles of dining in a wheelchair in New York. “I was receiving a crash course in the obstacles that discourage the handicapped from dining out, and I felt like a second class citizen,” Sietsema writes. I would encourage all of you to read it.
If you look around the world of barbecue, it’s clear there are not enough women pitmasters in this mostly male-dominated profession. So it’s refreshing to read a new story from New Jersey Monthly that spotlighted Alyson Lupinetti, a 27-year-old female pitmaster for the Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ barbecue team in NJ.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que founder John Stage spoke to Entrepreneur about buying back a majority interest of his restaurant, the lessons he learned in the process of getting back control, and more about his business.
Finally, in a particularly strange incident in Pennsylvania, a DoorDash delivery driver ate a man’s barbecue ribs before they were delivered. DoorDash immediately fired the driver after the incident.
Here are the top BBQ (and related) food events coming soon to the New York metro and the Tri-State area:
August 15: The Thrillist Savor the Summer event will feature BBQ and other joints from around NYC at Pier A Harbor House on Thursday, August 15. You can come and judge some of NYC’s best bites, sip on drinks, see live music and more. Vendors include Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue, The Nugget Spot, Black Iron Burger, Ho’Brah Tacos, and Schaller's Stube Sausage Bar. Buy tickets here.
August 16-18: When it comes to barbecue festivals north of New York, Hudson Valley Ribfest 2019 is one of the top events. RibFest will be held at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz and it will feature family activities, live music, and more. More info here.
August 24: One of the last summer barbecue events held in NYC is the Hudson River Park Blues BBQ Festival, which is held annually at Pier 97 at Hudson River Park on the west side of Manhattan. Admission is free and there will be five different blues acts throughout the day and BBQ vendors selling grub. More info here.
September 7: For those that love all things pork and barbecue, the 10th annual Pig Island NYC will be a can’t-miss affair. Held outdoors at beautiful Erie Basin Park in Red Hook, Brooklyn, this all-inclusive event will feature a ton of great food, beer, cider, and liquor. I’m already hungry for it all. Buy early bird tickets here.
September 7: The USA TODAY Wine & Food Experience will be taking place on September 7 at LeFrak Center at Lakeside Prospect Park. Attendees will be able to taste, savor, and explore the Brooklyn culinary scene, from local trends to regional traditions. Chefs and speakers include Antoni Porowski (Queer Eye), Alex Guarnaschelli (Chopped), and Dom De Marco (Di Fara Pizza). Buy tickets here.
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