By now, most hard core BBQ fans have probably heard that Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has arrived in New Jersey. I would think that most of these people have already been to Dinosaur. At least once. I was there twice in one week. Yes, it’s that good. We’re talking competition style BBQ, my friends. This is the real deal. This is brisket that is smoked for 14-16 hours, and when you see the smoke ring, and taste the tenderness of the meat, you understand why the people at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que say “BBQ is not a science, it’s not an art, it’s a craft.” Amen.
The newest Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Newark, opened about two months ago, after two years of renovation on a building that was once a distillery and a haberdashery (in Newark’s hey day). It is in fact the fifth location for this young company, all in urban environments. They started out in 1988 as a mobile operation in Syracuse, NY.
But we came to eat so let’s get on with it! At a blogger’s lunch in mid-June, hosted by Scott Kleckner, Dinosaur’s VP of Operations, we were treated to a non-stop parade of appetizers, mains, and desserts. Important to note that everything is made in-house and from scratch. During the tour, Scott made it a point to show us the storage room so we could see that there are no boxed items and nothing frozen. Even the pickles are house made.
Appetizers included a benign sounding “Sausage, Cheese, & Crackers.” Whoa, there was nothing benign about this! House made smoked hot-link sausage served with pimento cheese, and black pepper cheddar crackers and pickled onions. Absolutely addictive!
They’ve got a hit on their hands with the authentic Fried Green Tomatoes. Crispy tomatoes served with a spicy smoked shrimp remoulade and topped with chives.
When was the last time you saw Deviled Eggs on a menu? Um, I’m thinking maybe never. Well, Dinosaur’s version have a delicious Creole spice to them.
Still on appetizers…next up, the Bar-B-Que Shrimp. Wild-caught Louisiana Gulf shrimp sautéed in a Creole butter sauce and served over grilled corn bread. Just like being on the Bayou!It’s not all about meat at Dinosaur. The BBQ Salmon Fritters were outstanding. House smoked (I can probably stop saying that; you get the idea) salmon tossed with red pepper, corn, and chives. They are crispy fried and served with a creamy creole mustard sauce.
Staying with the Southern theme, Scott thought we should try the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (and who am I to argue?). Smoked chicken, okra, and chorizo served over rice. That would be great on a chilly evening.
The Newark location has 160 employees, including two pit masters. They have 12 people just in the finishing kitchen on the main floor. The three smokers are in the basement and they go through at least two cords of wood each week. That’s hickory wood. They do all their own butchering, and all the BBQ gets inspected and approved by a manager before it gets served. This is a very hands-on operation. The managers must learn every aspect of the restaurant and learn to make all the food, even the sausage.Finishing up the first course, Dinosaur’s famous Jumbo BBQ Chicken Wings. Their wings are spice rubbed, pit smoked, then finished on the grill. They come in four varieties: Mild (honey BBQ or sesame hoisin), Hot (Wango Tango with a Jerk glaze), Hotter (garlic chipotle), and hottest (Devil’s Duel). These babies were finger-lickin’ good! The Wango Tango was my favorite.
Now that we’ve digested the appetizers, Scott sent out the ribs. They do St Louis ribs here – dry rubbed and slow pit smoked. The ribs have a very light glaze of Dinosaur’s own BBQ sauce. They sold over one million pounds of ribs last year. At the top of this post I mentioned “competition style” BBQ. That means the meat should not fall off the bone. There should be a slight tug when you bite it. Too many so called rib joints, overcook the meat and when that happens, the meat falls off the bones. This is not how it’s done at the highest level of real BBQ. And Dinosaur knows what it’s doing here.
But maybe you’re not a rib eater. Not to worry, Dinosaur has probably the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had. Just to be clear, I almost never order chicken out because it’s usually dry and boring. Not here. The BBQ Chicken is apple brined and pit smoked. It was moist, juicy, and melted in your mouth. The texture was like velvet.
We asked Scott what they do with any ribs that perhaps don’t make the cut for the manager’s approval. Like any restaurant, they put it to good use. Here, they make an incredibly delicious BBQ Fried Rice. You read that right. It was fabulous.
Even though we were bursting, Scott “forced” us to try two desserts. A smooth Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie, and the Blackjack Pie. I am not a big fan of peanut butter pies, but this was really good. My favorite was the Blackjack Pie. Who wouldn’t love a pie filled with bourbon, pecans, molasses, and chocolate? Decadent, yet surprisingly light.
There is a full bar with a large list of great cocktails, wines,and craft beers. They even put their smoking expertise to use here. Their winter beer is a Smoked Porter. The hops are smoked and then sent back to the brewer for finishing.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which is adjacent to the Prudential Center, will soon open an outside dining area. Inside, they’ve got seating for 200. In the future, they’ll open a private dining room for 60, and will even offer “whole hog.” Sign me up!
Three to six months before the opening, they put a sign out for “help wanted.” They were inundated with applicants. They hired all locals, some for whom this is a second chance. Management didn’t hire a Pastry Chef – they hired someone who needed a job and could be taught the recipes. Like the areas that the restaurants are in, it has more to do with the building than the location. They look for buildings with character. They use reclaimed furniture, the bar top is made from old beams. Seems to me they’ve got the right idea. By going into areas that are underdeveloped, they’re transforming more than just buildings.
224 Market St.
Open Monday-Thursday: 11:30am – 11:00pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:30am – Midnight
Sunday: 11:30am – 10:00pm
Disclosure: Food and beverages were provided to all media attendees free of charge. All opinions and ideas for this post are my own. No reviews or mentions are ever promised in exchange for invitations to media events.
Terry Krongold is a life-long passionate baker. In addition to a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry, Terry has been involved with food for many years, including co-ownership of a dessert catering company in the late eighties called I Love Cheesecake, specializing in fine cheesecake and unique desserts. Terry is the author of The Cook’s Tour, a blog focused on food, baking, and travel. When not working, writing, or baking, she spends time planning vacations around restaurants to visit. She can be reached at email@example.com.