Barbecue can really be an unpredictable cuisine. Keeping a constant temperature and proper flow of wood smoke is not easy, nor is it easy to constantly have enough food ready coming hot out of the smoker when there are hundreds of hungry customers a day.
When I saw mixed reviews online about Dinosaur Barbecue in Harlem, NY (there are also Syracuse and Rochester locations), I thought to myself "maybe they have good days and bad days." Or, maybe some reviewers who don't know barbecue were more interested in sweet barbecue sauce rather than well smoked meat. Well, I still can't tell you if these are accurate assumptions, but I can tell you this... I went on a good day.
A group of us made reservations for a friend's bachelor party, which was smart due to how intensely busy Dinosaur BBQ became after 7pm. Being six of us, we decided to order one of the family-sized meals, which came with ribs, brisket, pork, chicken, cornbread, and sides... plus one more 1-2 person sized meal. In retrospect, with the addition of about four pitchers of heavy beer, we might have gone a little nuts.
Dinosaur's meats are generally served without sauce on them, or with sauce added post-cooking, which is the accepted way to do things in the world of barbecue.
Ribs were St. Louis style spares, a bit mild on spice and dry rub flavor, but with an intensely pronounced smoke ring. The end ribs were pink to the bone from smoke, which was insanely delicious. The chicken's skin, well spiced and lightly blackened, stuck well to the meat, and was juicy and full of charcoaly barbecuey flavor. Pulled pork was served on the side of the plate, rather than as sandwiches, and had a noticeable smoke flavor and a drizzling of their vinegary, spicy, tomato-based sauce. Dinosaur's crowning achievement very well may have been the brisket, which was smoked perfectly, cooked until moist, generously spiced, and any fat was literally melting away as we bit into it.
We were also phenomenally impressed by Dinosaur's side dishes. Macaroni and cheese had a real sharp cheddary bite to it, sprinkled with what seemed to be a dash of cayenne and some paprika. Our waitress recommended we try the salted potatoes, which were a huge hit at the table. She made a good choice. The beer selection was above average, including favorites such as Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale and local kolsch from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company.
So, to the reviewers out there who gave one or two stars to Dinosaur: I'm sorry to hear that your visit was not as good as mine. However, maybe those of you self-proclaimed aficionados who make statements about how "You need a good original sauce to start with if you're opening a BBQ restaurant" need to check your standards... because no, you absolutely don't know barbecue.