Ready your bibs, New York: East Williamsburg is getting some whole hog barbecue. Tyson Ho, the Flushing-bred, North-Carolina-trained pit master, has confirmed that he'll be setting up a beer and barbecue hall at 173 Morgan Avenue to open this summer.
The restaurant is meant to emulate the experience of a communal pig picking, the format of his Hog Days of Summer pop-up meals last year. (For a more detailed primer on Ho and his approach to barbecue, check out James Boo's profile on the pitmaster.) The communal experience will also allow Ho to turn whole hog barbecue, a lower-yield process compared to smoking single cuts like brisket or shoulder, into a financially viable restaurant. He'll be digging into Carolina barbecue tradition by serving west Carolina-style outside brown, and the menu will also include a selection of country ham from around the U.S. "to establish ourselves as a church of pork."
Ho's search for a space began during the Hog Days, an opportunity to make a name for himself and feel out possible restaurant locations in Greenpoint and Long Island City. Since quitting his job in financial technology two weeks after his final event in September, he's devoted most of his time to finding a new space.
Though both neighborhoods supported his endeavors, he stumbled on a lower-rent East Williamsburg location that may well be the perfect location. For Ho, the experience of eating whole hog is inseparable from the communal aspect of the pig picking. "That's the thing about North Carolina barbecue: pig picking is a party. People have them for everything. Birthdays, weddings, losing your virginity..."
The challenge was to replicate that party tradition in urban New York. His new location's relative isolation and industrial surroundings allow him to do just that. 1,850 square feet, with an additional 3,150 outside, give him enough space to smoke on premises and spread his wings. Nor will he have to worry about bothering residential neighbors with noise and fumes.
Ho's barbecue journey has been one of self-discovery—both as a cook and an American. As a Chinese-American guy from Queens embracing the traditional cuisine of North Carolina, Ho isn't looking to reinvent the barbecue wheel. "When I started doing barbecue, something clicked," Ho explained, "I was like, 'This is what I want to do. This is the cuisine that defines me.'" And after training with whole hog barbecue master Ed Mitchell, he's able to discern good hog from bad without any personal regional ties or prejudice.
Though Ho grew up in a Chinese community, he doesn't strongly identify with Chinese culture. The flavors of his mother's kitchen, the soy sauce and the chili paste, are the flavors he grew up with. "But they're not directly connected with what I identify as my country."
"I have absolutely no idea what it means to be Chinese. I have an idea of what its like to grow up in a Chinese community. But when someone's looking at me they're thinking, 'He's Chinese,' I'm not. I'm American. But I'm not able to take being American for granted the same way someone who's white or black can. For me, barbecue is a way to carve out what it means to be American."
About the author: Chris Crowley has written about food in the Bronx and three other boroughs, the lives of Smorgasburg vendors, and the effect of Hurricane Sandy on New York's food industry. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piraña trailer.