In 2014, I wrote a story for the Vice website Munchies titled “Why is Brooklyn BBQ taking over the world?” It was about how a pretty reliable BBQ restaurant in Brooklyn, New York named Fette Sau was the source of influence for a string of BBQ restaurants that I had encountered around the world, from Barcelona to Bogota to Panama. Everything from the very NY aesthetic – Edison bulbs, subway tiles, knife handle beer taps, etc – to the style of the food was straight out of Brooklyn rather than somewhere with storied regional BBQ traditions like Texas. I wasn’t insinuating anything other than this was quite strange. I was just reporting what I saw. I still find that this was happening intriguing. I went to Fette Sau and took a beautiful photo of their bar area to capture the aesthetic. For the most part, no one really took notice of the story.
In 2018, Munchies shared the story on Twitter, but this time with an image attached of my lunch plate that was supposed to be used more as a comp for the other BBQ restaurants than a lead photo. It went viral. The tweet was commented on ten thousand times. I received violent threat DMs on all social media platforms. There were reports about it in the Washington Post, USA Today, Buzz Feed, and dozens of other publications. I can’t even count how many morning news shows from around the United States and the world contacted me for interviews. Even US Senator Ted Cruz mocked it. Ted Cruz! There were hilarious memes of people recreating Brooklyn BBQ with crayfish or things like Oklahoma sushi with Goldfish crackers. Here’s a link to an interview I did with Daniel Vaughn, the BBQ editor at Texas Monthly that probably explains it best. Strange side note: In 2021, Vaughn and his family went to Peru right when the Covid lockdown happened, and because of this Brooklyn BBQ story, I was able to use my connections to evacuate he and his family to Texas so he could help save Texas BBQ when it needed his help the most.
I have thought about this image quite a bit since it became a meme. I’m endlessly fascinated by it. Imagine you have an image of a full plate of BBQ from Franklin’s BBQ in Austin – brisket, short ribs, sausage, pulled pork, slaw, beans, etc. To someone that is interested in BBQ it’s appealing, but they’ve seen it before. They aren’t going to have a visceral reaction to it. Senators aren’t going to comment on it. So, why did this cause such a reaction? What is it about this image? Many people felt threatened by it. Was it because someone from New York, at least as they were interpreting it, was saying that BBQ in Brooklyn was better than in Texas? Was it because how it was eaten? It was a 1/4 of brisket, a pickle, and a roll, which is probably, a healthy portion. Is what I ate a threat to eating obscene amounts of meat. Was it some imagined hipster portion control because eating several pounds of meat is terrible for their bodies and for the planet? I really don’t know. The reaction to the photo brings about more questions than answers, but I can say that there isn’t another image of BBQ, or anything else in the entire culinary world, quite like it. Now it is the first major NFT in the culinary world. Own a piece of BBQ history. On sale August 5.