Billy Joe’s Ribworks
26 Front Street
845 565 1560
There is something about the first days of spring that draws people to the river. It is a ritual with my Wednesday night dining companions that we visit the Newburgh waterfront around the same time that the first crocuses appear in the driveway. This year we had a new name to check out ~ Billy Joe’s Ribworks, at the sight of the old “Front Street” location. As the name suggests the focus at Billy Joe’s is on barbecue, which is something near and dear to your correspondent’s heart. Their literature traces the genesis of Billy Joe’s rub recipe to an outdoor BBQ stand near Galveston Texas, famous for their BBQ ribs. The owner shared the rub recipe with a traveling goat named Billy Joe, who brought it back to Newburgh. I’m not buyin’ it. I was immediately suspicious of this story because they don’t barbecue ribs in Texas; they make brisket. And then there’s the talking goat. More likely the name sprang from the names of the proprietors – Joe Bonura, who brought you Shadows and Anthony’s Pier 9, and his partner – local entrepreneur, Billy Kaplan. At least that’s my theory.
Billy Joe’s offers three rib cuts – “Baby Back” and “St. Louis” pork ribs, and “Brontosaurus” beef ribs, which are basically smoked short ribs – the other end of a prime rib. Baby Backs are the meaty little guys cut from near the loin. “St Louis” style refers to the cut, not the sauce. They are the larger traditional ribs with the breast sternum plate cut off from the top of the ribs before they are cooked. The menu also offer a traditional Texas style brisket and Carolina style pulled pork.
A bevy of Oyler smokers are visible in the kitchen. Oyler is a top of the line commercial cooker, available as a pure wood fired unit, or with electric heating coil assist. The key to BBQ is low and slow, traditionally cooked at around 200 degrees. Baby backs will take about five hours at that temperature. St Louis ribs take six. An eight pound pork shoulder for pulled pork will take the better part of ten hours, and even more for a brisket. These Oyler units can each slow cook a thousand pounds at a clip, and the dining rooms here are equipped to put that out.
Barbecue originated as a way to make cheap tough cuts of meat palatable. It has developed into a cuisine in its own right, with regional derivations of spice rubs and sauces. Devotees show up by the thousands at BBQ cook-offs, a summer ritual across the country. Enthusiasts will all have their own favorite spice rubs and and their preference for sauce, or Memphis style – with no sauce, going nekked. All styles and regional variations will still have one goal in common – a perfectly slow cooked piece of meat. Contrary to popular opinion, good barbecue does not “fall off the bone”. Anyone can get a piece of meat to fall off the bone if you cook it long enough. If you have ever overcooked pot roast or braised short ribs you know what I am talking about. A perfect rib should be tender, but still have texture. Perfect barbecue has a distinct “mouth feel”. The meat should easily pull away from the bone, but you should need teeth to do it. It is a heavenly blend of texture and tenderness that comes from a perfectly executed slow cooking process. Collagen is the protein that holds meat together, and it breaks down at around 160F. The object of the exercise is to break down that collagen without overcooking the meat. Most pitmasters use 175F as a target temperature when they cook barbecue.
Billy Joe’s is a family style restaurant. The pricing reflects that patronage, as does the décor. The spacious dining rooms were filled with families with children on the night we were there. The sound system cranked (a little too loud) with a 70’s soundtrack. Multiple big screen TV’s hung in the bar area. We sampled combinations of beef and pork ribs. I also tried the brisket, and smoked andouille sausage with sides of corn bread and braised greens. Various combo platters offer choices of ribs and one or two meats with a choice of sides for $16 – $17. They were big enough to share. It was quite the plateful for the price. The St. Louis were my favorite. The beef ribs, though the largest, were the least “meaty” of the choices.
“Family style” restaurants have to cater to a family palate and the seasonings here – sparingly applied – reflected that family audience. Most rubs are some combination of salt, black pepper, paprika, cumin, cayenne, garlic, onion, and brown sugar. The percentage of each will dictate the amount of fire in the finish. I like it to hurt a little. Billy Joe’s rub recipe was a little more muted. I prefer a Memphis style presentation – no sauce – but I use more smoke too, with wild cherry culled from my firewood. The house sauce lathered on the meats here – the default setting unless you insist otherwise – is on the sweet side, a St. Louis variation, and well made. We all enjoyed our meals, even George (a/k/a Grumpy) who ordered the salmon. Go figure. (George once ordered fish at Peter Luger’s, of all places, which embarrassed the rest of us to no end.)
BBQ fans and families looking for a reasonably priced night out should welcome this new addition to the Newburgh waterfront. Think Torches, with smoke, sauce, and less bling.
In the next few weeks we intend to visit Big W’s BBQ in Wingdale, and a new outdoor “parking lot” cooker – Munk’s BBQ – which has appeared in Fishkill. If you have any other suggestions, please drop me a line. My BBQ rub and BBQ sauce recipes can be found on www.NorthCountryBBQ.com
If you do stop in please let our readers know about your visit in the comments section.