Photo by Brent Herrig Photography
John Stage never set out to launch a barbecue empire. Thirty years ago, the biker turned pit master took a makeshift smoker/grill—made from a halved 55-gallon drum—on the road to motorcycle fairs and festivals, because he believed that bikers deserved a great plate of barbecue, too. You’ll still find Harleys lined up outside Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s original location in Syracuse, NY, but, travel to any of the other seven restaurants in the Northeast—including the standing-room-only crowded Harlem, New York branch, and you’ll see how far John’s food and fame have spread beyond the biker scene.
Whichever location, Dino’s menu is firmly rooted in traditional Southern barbecue—often with creative twists. Of course you’ll want to dig into a rack of John’s award-winning St. Louis ribs. The smoked chicken wings come with your choice of not one, not two, but six different sauces ranging from mild to incendiary. Some locations offer more offbeat dishes, like the Syracuse twist on that classic Quebec soul food poutine (French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy). Dino’s Poutine? A belt-loosening plate of hand-cut fries piled high with pimento cheese, pulled pork, and beef gravy.
I interviewed John recently to learn more about Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s philosophy and phenomenal success.
What is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s top-selling item and what makes it so popular?
Our St. Louis-style pork ribs are meatier than baby backs and we always strive for the proper balance of smoke, spice, sauce and that pure pork flavor. We smoke our ribs over pure hickory and cook them to an easy pull off the bone.
What are three ingredients you can’t live without?
Kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and, of course, smoldering hickory logs.
What is the biggest mistake you see home barbecuers make?
Too much fluctuation in fire and temperature. And too little patience. Great barbecue requires a consistent heat and a long cooking time.
Anything unexpected you learned over the years that has helped you up your barbecue game?
When it comes to barbecue (or anything in life for that matter), you can never stop learning or improving. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—that’s how you learn.
Any parting words of advice for our readers?
Start with the best meat you can find/afford and understand its nuances. Always make sure to season correctly, control your fire and, most importantly, be patient because it’s going to take a while!
See my posts about a few other amazing restaurants: