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

Hometown Barbecue

Pitmaster/Owner: Billy Durney Style: NYC Inspiration: Pearson’s Texas

Pitmaster/Owner: Billy Durney

Style: NYC

Inspiration: Pearson’s Texas Barbecue in Queens (now closed) was an early influence and time spent with legendary pitmasters Wayne Mueller and Mike Mills convinced Durney to give up life in the limelight for long hours tending a pit. Many of the dishes have distinctly local influences. He serves a jerk chicken, for example, that comes from the Jamaican immigrants that lived close to Durney’s childhood home in Brooklyn. His sausage and most of his meat is provided by local butcher Paisano’s and the restaurant’s name is a dedication to his grandmother who emigrated through Ellis Island and settled in Red Hook.

Before BBQ: Durney was a bodyguard to the stars, running a successful international personnel protection agency. You can still catch him on the red carpet, as he sometimes helps out old friends.

Recommended on first visit: Brisket, baby back ribs and jerk chicken.

454 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, 347-294-4644, hometownbarbque.com

(Credit: Nick Solares)

The Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue

Pitmaster/Owner: Hugh Mangum Style: NYC/“Texalina” Inspiration: Mangum grew

Pitmaster/Owner: Hugh Mangum

Style: NYC/“Texalina”

Inspiration: Mangum grew up with a deep love for beef brisket inherited from his Texan father, an amateur smoker. He applies this background to his fine dining sensibility, gleaned from years spent in high-end restaurant kitchens. To placate his wife’s North Carolina family, he fused that style with Texas to arrive at “Texalina” — but what has emerged is something uniquely NYC. Mangum “fell in love” with the city in the late ’90s, and it shows.

Before BBQ: He was a rock drummer before culinary school and stints in fine kitchens with chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Recommended on first visit: Brisket and spareribs.

103 Second Ave., 212-677-3733, mightyquinnsbbq.com

(Credit: Nick Solares)

Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue

Pitmaster: Matt Fisher Owner: Bill Fletcher Style: Brooklyn

Pitmaster: Matt Fisher

Owner: Bill Fletcher

Style: Brooklyn

Inspiration: Fisher was a big fan of Pearson’s, too, but even earlier than that was exposed to BBQ on summer road trips down South with his father. He turned his passion for backyard BBQ into a full-time career working at RUB and Wildwood BBQ in Manhattan before teaming up with Bill Fletcher to open Fletcher’s in 2012. He met Fletcher during an amateur BBQ competition and the two hit it off immediately sharing a love for barbecue and a “shared vision of hospitality.”

Before BBQ: Fisher worked in marketing and communications, and Fletcher owned a creative design firm.

Recommended on first visit: Burnt ends and Char Siu Pork.

Pier 57, 25 Eleventh Ave. or 433 Third Ave., Gowanus, 347-763-2680, fletchersbklyn.com

(Credit: Nick Solares)

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BrisketTown

Pitmaster/Owner: Daniel Delaney Style: Central Texas Inspiration: When

Pitmaster/Owner: Daniel Delaney

Style: Central Texas

Inspiration: When asked how he decided on Texas-style barbecue Delaney’s answer was simple: “I opened my mouth.” He fell so deeply in love with beef brisket cooked by Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue that he bought a smoker in Texas and drove it up to New York City, hitched to a U-Haul. What followed was a period of intense experimentation called BrisketLab in which he perfected his craft before opening BrisketTown in 2012.

Before BBQ: Delaney produced VendrTV, an online food program, and also worked as a food event consultant.

Recommended on first visit: Brisket and spareribs.

359 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, 718-701-8909, delaneybbq.com

(Credit: Nick Solares)