As much as it might look like Bark Barbecue skyrocketed to popularity overnight, pitmaster Ruben Santana’s labor of love was also one of research and development—and an innate knack for hospitality amplified by family growing up.
“My house was mainly just women. Aunts, cousins, my sister, grandmother. They always threw down in the kitchen,” he tells us. Santana came to cooking as an adult.
“I guess you can say it all started at home,” he says. “Every time we had cookouts or barbecues, I always was very attentive to people and the guests, taking care of people. And making sure they always had what they needed, and making sure my food was always good. That’s what you always want when you’re cooking for people.”
A fascination with live-fire cooking led Santana to barbecue in the pre-vaccine pandemic days of 2020. He’d begun studying Central Texas-style barbecue a little earlier while running his HVAC business. Heating and cooling was successful, but not a passion. A YouTube video helped accelerate Santana’s interest into practice.
“That method of cooking is something that really, really intrigued me and piqued my interest. Just because of the end result, how these big chunks of meat can be so tender, so juicy, just so moist,” he says. He bought a $100 smoker and naturally-seasoned wood that he split himself, and at last produced what he calls a “horrendous” brisket: stiff, dry, and ultimately motivating. Fire management, cut curation and careful calibration of cooking conditions led to better brisket (it was “like night and day”) and an encouraging reception at a backyard barbecue.
It was finally an overnight success, in the sense that on top of prep time, it took 12 hours to finish. That was the program each weekend on top of Santana’s day job: prep, cook low and slow with indirect heat, and sell from the backyard on Saturdays.
“With time, I started integrating the way that we would cook, being Dominican, the way we season everything, and our processes and people have been very receptive to that,” Santana says. “In our Dominican cooking, I guess you could say, we use adobo, achiote, imported oregano, our barbecue sauce has imported Dominican molasses, as well. Nothing to overpower the quality of meat.”
Bark rose to enviable popularity as a residential pandemic project in Queens before growing to pop-up opps in NYC and beyond. On Wednesday, November 16, it will open its first permanent outpost on Time Out Market New York’s fifth-floor rooftop in Brooklyn. Santana counts the space, plentiful seats, climate control and volume-friendliness as boons. Best-selling brisket and signature chicharrones, distinctively flavored with Bark’s near-sweet, mild and versatile white oak smoke will be on the menu, in addition to a few market exclusives.
“We’re gonna do a beef blend sausage and a Dominican-style sausage, which is called longaniza, so that’s a pork-blend sausage, but we’re gonna add a little bit of a twist in there, we’re gonna add fried cheese,” Santana says. “We’re really ecstatic about that, we feel like that’s gonna be another signature dish for us.”
“This is gonna be the first time we offer sausage anywhere.”
Bark’s sausage, brisket, chicharrones, ribs, pulled pork and an abundance of uniquely smoked meats will be available at Time Out Market New York from November 16.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.