It took a while, but we finally have our smoke together here in the Big Apple.

For far too long, what passed as barbecue in NYC was steamed or grilled chicken and ribs in a cloyingly sweet sauce. The idea of actually smoking meat over wood and embracing a distinct regional style such as Texas, Kansas City, Tennessee, North or South Carolina was as distant and remote as those places themselves. Without these foundations, we could never hope to turn out decent barbecue, let alone develop our own style.

But during the early to mid 2000s, we saw a steady rise in quality barbecue, bolstered in 2003 by the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party that brought pitmasters from across America to NYC and exposed locals to real wood-smoked barbecue. The first wave of restaurants that sold respectable 'cue emerged during this time: Blue Smoke, Dinosaur BBQ, Daisy May's USA, RUB and Hill Country. By and large these were corporate enterprises. They turned out legitimate barbecue, but perhaps lacked the heart and soul that is as much as part of the experience as the food itself.

We now have a new breed of pitmaster. They are, in many cases, coming to barbecue as a second career, and are opening smaller, more personal restaurants. While each is unique, they are collectively establishing NYC as a serious barbecue town.

--NICK SOLARES