It’s a lot, fat and often sweet at Black Smoke

Smoking is allowed again in the Van Nelle factory. No heavy shag, but spare ribs. The Netherlands’ most famous barbecue guru, Jord Althuizen, has settled in the former tobacco factory in Rotterdam.

Althuizen is the man who in recent years has been rolling onto the food festival grounds with an even bigger trailer (his latest acquisition is a trailer on which he can grill a whole cow on a spit on a spit). At Black Smoke he is not his bigger is better-principle deviated: the tent is huge. The entrance is a corridor of shipping containers, lit with a red neon pig behind a grid. There is a large terrace, a cocktail bar several meters long. The dining area is set around an impressive fire pit where the blistering heat beats off the glowing coals. The seats at the bar next to it are literally hot seats. All together, 200 people can easily eat at the same time.

Black Smoke Rotterdam is, after Antwerp, the second restaurant of Althuizen and the Antwerp catering tycoon Kasper Stuart, who has been launching one successful catering concept after another in Belgium and Germany for twenty years. Black Smoke is ‘stylized raw’ in terms of entourage: unprocessed wood and steel, fencing with logs behind it and thick leather aprons and upholstery. With details such as nine meat hooks in a row for decoration against a blank wall. It’s secretly a bit of a hip nightlife concept disguised as a barbecue tent, but hey, we come for the food, which is presented as “Serious BBQ”. Bring it on.

This is a good point to make a distinction between barbecue in the broad and the narrow sense of the word. When you ‘barbecue’ in the garden in the summer, you are usually grilling meat on a grid directly above the glowing coals. There is nothing wrong with that. The Argentines also do the same on the asado or parrilla. Or the South Africans on the braai. However, real barbecuing is a completely different art. American barbecue dishes are pieces of pot roast – ribs, shoulder, neck – that are cooked slowly at a low temperature in a pit barbecue. It could be anything – from an old oil drum to a brick-built ‘house’ – as long as it can be locked. The meat is never above the coals, but is cooked at a low temperature, indirectly due to the warm smoke. This has to be done very slowly and precisely, only then will you get that soft-smoked, filmy fat, juicy result.

Both schools are operated at Black Smoke, but the emphasis is on the Low and Slow BBQ Speciality Platters. If you want to taste everything, you can order a Barbecue Bonanza for two people, and then easily eat it with three.

Powerful pepper-salt crust

With the door in the house: the spare ribs are of unprecedented quality. No limp bite that falls off the bones as soon as you pick them up. But nice compact, soft and juicy meat. Immediately snappy crust, well seasoned, sweet, but not too much. The work of an expert pitmaster. Also the Texas Style brisket (beef breast) is well done: a nice and powerful pepper-salt crust, with a nice red one underneath smoke ring (discoloration due to smoke). Maybe just a touch dry at the thickest point.

The pulled pork (pulled pork neck) is made according to the Kansas City tradition. That means with lots of sweet barbecue sauce. In this case it is really a very sweet, soggy bite. The cheeks are sadly dry again. There is nothing wrong with the chicken thigh: juicy and beautiful pink. And the sausage is seasoned with coffee (nod to Van Nelle), beer and pieces of melted cheese – you have to love that (at our table, opinions remain divided).

Let’s be honest. American barbecue is delicious, but you shouldn’t eat it every day or you’ll look like an American. It’s a lot and fat and often sweet. That’s part of it. It begs for something sour on the sideto balance things out a bit. Opportunities are missed here. The pickles are sweet rather than sour. A more acidic apple variety could have been used for the cole slaw. The baba ganoush could have had more lemon too. In the baked beans contains more meat than beans and the corn is dripping fat from butter – nice on its own, but a bit all together too much.

It goes better with the prepared starters. The pork belly rib is again a perfectly cooked rib with a slightly sweet lacquer, supported by a nice smoked corn cream and a foamy sauce of Pauwel Kwak beer, which has a nice high acidity. Good balance. The same goes for the nicely pink cooked mackerel fillets, served with a salsa dosed with smoked feta. In both cases, the nod to the smoker is made very subtle. That keeps it fresh. The homemade bitterballen on the terrace also deserve a mention: a nice thin crust and a tasty ragout of smoked meat.

Finally, I must warn you about the bone marrow luge. This one is for the pros. What a gun: a pipe of bone marrow lacquered with Jack Daniel’s and a mountain on it pulled beef. It’s mega-fat and mighty and you’re full until Tuesday. But it’ll put a big smile on your face. If you want, the waitress will come and push a napkin into your collar, then you can put the empty marrow to your mouth and she pours a shot of Jack through it. That was a rather awkward situation for both me and the waitress. But damn tasty.