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The Wandering Que, a kosher barbecue food truck and pop-up restaurant based in Hackensack, is featured in the new TV show Shmoozing and Cruising. Tripping on Kosher Americana.”
The show, available now on ChaiFlix, a streaming platform dedicated to Jewish content, explores innovative kosher restaurants across the U.S. and spotlights a different topic in each half-hour episode, including barbecue, donuts, pizza and Chinese food.
Wandering Que pitmaster Ari White, 44, got into the restaurant business by accident. The El Paso, Texas native came to New York College in 1998 after spending a year in Israel.
Later, after graduating and getting married, he lent a friend some money to open a small restaurant in Washington Heights. But shortly before opening, his friend decided not to move forward with the business, and White quit, “jumped behind the counter and never looked back.”
He then expanded the catering business and purchased a barbecue trailer to smoke meat over a wood fire and brought his Texas kosher barbecue to street fairs, music festivals and other events throughout the metropolitan area.
White was crowned “New York City Brisket King” at the 2016 New York City BBQ Masters competition.
“That’s when things really started to explode,” he said.
After three years of construction, just weeks before COVID hit in 2020, White opened his smokehouse at 75 Burlews Court in Hackensack with a small fleet of barbecue trucks and trailers.
The business quickly turned around during the pandemic, still delivering food but expanding its reach to Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, DC and Boston. Having a mobile kitchen that could travel anywhere allowed White to easily cater weddings and outdoor parties when many indoor venues were closed, he said.
Most of his direct delivery customers are kosher, but White says the customers he serves at concerts and festivals are a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish barbecue fans.
The meat is cooked “low and slow” on a 10,000-pound smoker. “There are no tricks or shortcuts in this smoking game,” he said. “We use woods like oak, maple and fruit woods and take a minimalist approach to the spices and let the smoke do all the work.”
White’s brisket is cooked for 14 to 20 hours. The results are “the juiciest, most delicious meat imaginable,” he said.
The Jewish barbecue tradition has deep roots, White said. “Heritage joints” like Katz’s Deli and Pastrami Queen have been serving smoked meats for decades.
“There used to be a million places in New York that smoked their brisket. But they mostly disappeared,” he said. “I came here and reintroduced the same techniques that my grandfather would have learned when he came to this country.”
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Next week, White will smoke more than 400 turkeys over 10 to 12 hours and transport them to more than a dozen states in time for Thanksgiving.
Then White would take his barbecue even further. He plans to take two trailers to Israel, where he will work with Grilling for the IDF, serving troops on the front lines and feeding thousands of people displaced by the war.
A 4-by-4-by-6-foot smoker in the back of each trailer can cook a tremendous amount of food at once.
“This will really allow them to serve two or three times as many people,” he said.
White, a father of five, plans to spend Hanukkah in Israel preparing and teaching people there to use the equipment before returning to his family in the US.
“There are mouths to feed all over the world,” he said. “But three weeks there will be great.”
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