Barbecue sauce must run through the veins of Jeffrey Held: His first restaurant job was amongst smoke houses and pig roasts, and after 10 years working at Blue Smoke in the Flatiron district, Held now comes to the eatery’s second outpost in Battery Park City. We spoke with the urban barbecue maestro about bringing a taste of the South to Lower Manhattan.
You’ve introduced some new items to Blue Smoke’s menu.
[We] just add a little bit of refinement and finesse to cater to this neighborhood, yet at the same time keep the core menu items the same. You’d be surprised — there are devout fans that come back and want these three modifications on this exact dish they’ve been having for many years.
Why do you think they’re so loyal to Blue Smoke?
I think the brand is just comforting for a lot of people. We already have regulars here after six, seven weeks.
What’s your favorite dish to cook on the menu here?
I love to cook the barbecue. We learned how to engineer our smoker here to make the process much more consistent. Rather than having the chimney directly connected to the smoker, it just sits beneath a hood just as an oven or grill would in a restaurant, so it really enables us to monitor the cooking process. You don’t have to worry about weather, atmospheric issues or sucking the smoke out — we can keep our eyes on exactly what’s going on. That’s definitely something we’re excited about. I think the baby back ribs are coming out really, really good. We started cooking our beef ribs at a lower temperature, and we’re really excited with the way those are coming out. We’ve added a pretty delicious pork chop [and] a bunch of different little bar snacks. We have a very, very heavy happy hour bar crowd. [At] 5:05 every day it’s packed.
I see you’ve got a wedding ring on. What dish would you cook to impress your wife?
I hate to say salmon because it’s so average, but one of my sous chefs has developed a [recipe] using actual lemons, forming them into charcoal. We roast whole, juiced lemons till fully charred and dried to the form of charcoal. We then fire up this “lemon charcoal” in our wood smoker and smoke fresh lemons with the smoke from the coal. We then use the smoked lemon juice and zest in the sauce preparation. We serve that with our seared salmon and a brussel sprout, butternut squash and fennel hash. The lemon charcoal permeates through the whole lemon so you get actual smoked lemon juice and zest out of that product.
Why do you think Blue Smoke needed a second location?
We waited so long to get this place this open. There was always dialogue about it, for many, many years. We always wanted to expand and finally it happened. I think people really have a good time here. They know what to expect. You always know you can come here, have delicious food, have a good time. You may have to wait a little while at the door, but you’re gonna get sat, and you can enjoy some pretty cool cocktails if you have to wait.