Us Northerners need to bone up on our barbecue facts. First off, a barbecue isn’t just a get-together. It’s a distinct way of cooking. Not to be confused with grilling — which is cooking over direct heat on a hot fire — barbecue is another animal entirely, involving indirect heat and a long cooking time, using wood smoke for a layer of flavor. You’ll know it’s true barbecue when you see that pink smoke ring develop along the outside of the meat and around the bone.
The second thing you must know (and this is a little bit of a touchy subject) is that, for many people, barbecue isn’t just food — it’s a religion. The holy trinity? Brisket, ribs, and pulled pork. Purists will spend hours arguing North Carolina style versus Kansas City versus Texas. Happily, there isn’t just one true way. Even better, you can taste it all without taking a road trip down South. This low-and-slow, unhurried style has finally drifted into the Valley, part of a national trend sparked by tastemakers like Bobby Flay and Danny Meyer, who have opened their own barbecue tribute restaurants. All over the country, pitmasters (those keepers of the flame) are vying in competitions, such as our own homegrown Rib Fest this month in New Paltz (www.hudsonvalleyribfest.org). Here’s a guide to the region’s greatest barbecue, with more places heating up and popping onto the radar every day.