John Brown Smokehouse

Pork ribs at John Brown Smokehouse New York

I remember being déçu (disappointed) a few years back when I signed up to go to a barbecue dinner in Paris and I was super-excited to attend. But instead of being served platters of long-cooked meat, I found myself being handed a plate of a piece of beef cooked on a regular grill: I’d forgotten that the word “barbecue” in Europe usually means “grilled.” (Shhhh. Don’t tell the people from Texas or Kansas City.)

John Brown Smokehouse New York Pastrami

Nowadays there are real barbecues in Paris, including The Beast and a few other places. And there is even an Association Française de Barbecue that celebrates the “low and slow” style of meat cooking that we know as barbecue, American-style, apparently enjoyed by an alliance of the two cultures.

Several places in America celebrate their own style of barbecue, but since Queens, New York, is one of the most vivid examples of diversity and culinary multiculturalism anywhere, it seems right that there’s a pretty great barbecue in the mix, just a short subway or cab ride across (or under) the river from Manhattan.

Sides at John Brown Smokehouse New York

It’s estimated that nearly half the people in Queens were born somewhere else, and you can get everything, from Tibetan to Colombian food on the crowded streets of the borough. But in a less-densely populated part of Queens, Long Island City, stands John Brown Smokehouse, which offers up Kansas City style barbecue.

The first time I took my French other-half there, he was mesmerized by the tender meat – slow cooked ribs, burnt ends, and, in a nod to the city, pastrami. He insisted on going back this week and like the previous time, he (and I) were once again delighted by the especially crispy, and too-good-to-share, French fries, along with just about everything else on the chalkboard menu.

Menu at John Brown Smokehouse New York

On a warm spring day, we parked ourselves outside in the backyard, surrounded by tables other people having lunch. And I gotta add that it’s nice to eat outside where the only smell of smoke you’re inhaling is coming from platters of meat right from the smoker. (The metal kind.) And what a smell it is!

Since there were four of us this time around, we ordered a whole rack of ribs. Each rib was meaty, with a burnished crust and well-seasoned. Although some traditionalists scoff, they were great dipped in the spicy bbq sauce served alongside, but were fine without it, if you’re not into it.

Pastrami at John Brown Smokehouse New York

They were out of burnt ends, which we had before, but along with the rack of pork ribs, we had brisket, and pastrami. The brisket got the least attention from us, but the pastrami was some of the best I’ve had in New York – much better than a well-known deli that served me and some other friends inedible twenty-buck sandwiches a couple of years back. (I’m still irked that I didn’t say anything, if only to let them know to fix them.)

John Brown Smokehouse New York

The co-stars at John Brown are the sides. I’m not a big fan of collards (there, I said it…), but the cornbread was excellent. Every time I make cornbread for Romain, he invariably says, “What is this?” (French short-term memory for American foods?) – he loves it. He scraped with crumbs from paper barquette clean before I got my fill. But the biggest star are the fries – crispy, well-browned, salty, with a lively, peppery kick.

Meat sandwich at John Brown Smokehouse New York

I’ve never had one of their sandwiches on a bun but a group of office workers from nearby was having a great time enjoying lunch in the sun as well, surrounding one of the tables with meat sandwiches piled up high. However we were content to sit there, polishing off our trays heaped with meat, then licking our fingers afterward.

Pork ribs at John Brown Smokehouse New York

John Brown Smokehouse
10-43 44th Drive
Long Island City, NY


Related Posts and Recipes

The Beast Barbecue in Paris

Kreuz Market BBQ

Braised short ribs (recipe)

Cornbread with harissa butter

Hometown Barbecue Sings the Ballad of Beef Ribs (Serious Eats)

Hill Country BBQ

Where to eat barbecue in Brooklyn (Edible Brooklyn)

Smitty’s Market Barbecue

Mile End Deli

Lockhart Smokehouse 

Eating Around Queens



Never miss a post!


  • April 16, 2016 9:34pm

    OMG! That is making my mouth water. Reply

  • Jill
    April 17, 2016 2:43am

    just a few blocks from me! i wish i had run into you – after all, the more people, the more dishes we can all try! Reply

  • Portia
    April 17, 2016 4:34am

    Why is there no photo of the chef or cooks? Reply

    • April 17, 2016 5:21am
      David Lebovitz

      I generally don’t put photos of people on the site without asking them first. And living in France, people are v. reluctant to be photographed in the first place. (One a similar note: I once got scolded for taking a picture of a bunch of carrots at a market, too!) So in instances where I am able to get pictures of staff or chefs, I make sure they’re comfortable having their pictures taken and ask if they mind being published, because not everybody is. I didn’t ask here because I was focusing on the food & having lunch with friends I don’t get to see often. Reply

  • Taste of France
    April 17, 2016 8:47am

    This is a constant issue with my (European) husband: how to deal with BBQ ribs. He wants to grill; I want to cook them slowly, for a long time. He loves the sauce. We went to KCMO and had the real thing. He didn’t understand that the restaurants wouldn’t have tablecloths and waiters, and was surprised. But the meat was amazing! Reply

    • April 17, 2016 12:59pm

      I often cook them slowly in the oven first then put on the BBQ for a few minutes to finish them off. The best of both worlds. Reply

    • Roisin
      May 6, 2016 6:32am

      I have a green egg bbq/smoker and it gives me the best of both worlds. It’s based on an old fashioned Japanese kamado and is a wonderful bbq/smoker. I can even bake bread in it it I didn’t have a gluten free kitchen. Reply

  • April 17, 2016 7:13pm

    I’m sorry, but I’ve missed something here. I do know that when I talk of “grilling” foods, I mean cooking them underneath the grill that forms part of 99.9% of British cookers – I thought, though, that Americans called that “broiling”, and cooking something over coals, which I would call barbecuing it, was what you called grilling? But you seem to be making a distinction between the two….. could you help out this poor, confused Englishwoman, please? Reply

    • Aileen
      April 17, 2016 10:16pm

      I am a Scot living in Massachusetts. You are correct about broiling and grilling. However outdoor grilling means cooking fast on high heat, barbecuing is cooking it slowly over a low heat. Reply

    • Randy Francisco
      April 18, 2016 12:48am

      BBQ requires indirect heat, no? Otherwise it is grilling. Reply

  • Katie
    April 17, 2016 8:24pm

    I was born and raised in Kansas City, and ribs traditionally come sauced there. Many restaurants know it’s a point of contention, especially with tourists and ask you, but home-smoked dishes will invariably be served sauced. Reply

  • Christine
    April 17, 2016 9:24pm

    John Brown, correct? You mention John Smith in the paragraph about the sides.

    All sounds fab. Hope to get there someday. Reply

  • April 17, 2016 10:33pm

    Enjoyed this post, as always. I invested in a smoker with no regrets. So far the Pork Spare Ribs (Kansas City style) are my favorite. Love to smoke pork butts and whole chickens too. There’s a place on the Calif. Central Coast that does dry rub only…my next smoker project! Reply

  • April 17, 2016 10:35pm

    I have my own smoker and love it. I smoke K.C. style pork ribs, chicken and pork butts. Next project is dry rubbed beef ribs, like a place that does them on the Cal. Central Coast. Reply

  • Chloe
    April 22, 2016 1:30am

    David, this is why you are my pretend best friend. I wasn’t planning on going to Queens on my weekend in NYC, but I think I shall make the trek! Right in my budget. The last time I had BBQ was months ago in Mexico City, which was good, but not great so I could use a re-do. (Side story: I almost burned down the Air B&B while trying to give those ribs an extra low-and-slow treatment. At least now I know how to light a gas oven – not after it’s been “pre-heating” for 10 mins.)

    Thank you for your blog – makes us all a bit more adventurous! Reply

  • wellfedfred
    May 8, 2016 12:15am

    Glad you enjoyed JB! We’ve had great food and very respectable draft beer there, but do be warned, they’re very inconsistent. We’ve called to make sure they’re open and then arrived to find the place closed for a private party. We’ve also arrived a little after 7:00 on a Sunday night and found the staff closing up because they hadn’t been “all that busy.” They did us a favor and fed us…. I still recommend the place, but with the proviso that it’s more than a little quirky and it might be advisable to have a fall-back. You might want to try Mighty Quinn, 2nd Ave & E 6th St. the next time you’re up for bbq (I know, so much food, so little time). Reply

  • Rebecca
    May 12, 2016 10:10pm

    While the legendary Arthur Bryant’s and Gates barbecue restaurants originated in KCMO, the entire Kansas City metro area on both sides of the state line is home to plenty of good and great bbq joints. That includes Kansas City, Kansas (there are two Kansas Cities) and all the surrounding suburbs. Reply

Leave a comment