How a Marine Turned Pitmaster is Lighting the BBQ World on Fire
As I parked down the street on a brisk March morning this past winter, I could already smell the smoke. While it may have only been about 10 a.m., vans were lined up outside of Red, White & Cue Smokehouse in Kearny and slow smoked brisket upon brisket were being loaded into vans that would soon depart to serve some of New Jersey’s best BBQ to office building lunchrooms throughout North Jersey.
As the chaos subsided Dan and Katie Misuraca warmly greeted me, no shortage of smiles on an otherwise routine morning. I had heard all about Red, White & Cue’s story. Not only was it named NJ’s Best BBQ, but also they were doing things for their community that went above and beyond what most people do for their own families – we’ll get into that later.
Dan hopped around a few jobs after being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1996. It was at a Journey’s shoe store in the mall that he met his manager, Katie, and the two hit it off immediately. Dan’s a curious cat, and one day while he and Katie enjoyed some smoked meats in the romantic setting of a local rib joint, Dan, with very little cooking experience, thought he wanted to do some smoking of his own.
While they don’t like to admit it, the story of how Red, White & Cue Smokehouse gained TV worthy notoriety all started with a plug in electric smoker Katie bought Dan as a housewarming present when they bought their home in Little Ferry in 2014. Like Katie said, “Dude, you gotta start somewhere! You start with crappy equipment and crappy food, and you figure it out.”
Anyone who smokes meats will tell you that there’s no exact science, but a lot of patience and trial and error is required before you can truly call yourself a smoker. Unlike making a burger, where you go from rare to overcooked in 5 minutes, you might not find out you messed up your brisket for 20 hours. That’s a lot of time, and brisket ain’t cheap.
From there, smoking meats became not just their hobby, but the centerpiece of their social lives, as people were coming over, drinking beers and eating together.
“There was nothing like drinking beers, hanging with our friends and family, and having fun. That’s what we have here now,” said Dan.
In 5 short years, Red, White & Cue Smokehouse has become an institution in Kearny, and people are willing to travel up and down the Garden State Parkway just to get a taste. What started as a simple hobby has become a robust business.
“When we picked the spot, we needed a place where Dan and I could do everything ourselves,” Katie explained. “Everything needed to be close together so we could switch from one job to another. We didn’t know if it would work, but we knew that it was going to be us figuring everything out and doing everything in the beginning.”
For those who haven’t been (shame on you), Red, White & Cue is the truest definition of a hole in the wall. Dan found it on Craigslist. It measures about 15 feet wide, and it’s only about 10 feet from the front door to the counter. Picnic tables are set up so people can enjoy their meals communally. In all of its grit, it’s gorgeous.
From the get-go, Katie and Dan strived for perfection. Once they knew how their brisket should taste, it better not ever taste different.
“We are highly competitive people, and Dan’s a bit of a perfectionist,” Katie explained. “We wanted you to come in on Sunday and have brisket, then come Tuesday and have brisket and not know the difference. Every day we fight to be the best.”
With their quick success came life lessons as well. After being approached by a potential partner with an aggressive plan to bring Red, White & Cue storefronts across the state, it was easy for Katie and Dan to picture themselves laying on a bed of $100 bills. Unfortunately, the quality of multiple stores couldn’t rise to the standards they placed upon themselves so the partnership was dissolved and Red, White & Cue returned solely to its Kearny storefront in all of its glory.
“You live and you learn,” Dan said.
Nowadays though, Katie and Dan are back on their grind, and you can tell they’re happy right where they are.
The small joint that began with just the two of them has grown to have 15 employees, and it’s nonstop.
“The smokers are running 24/7,” Dan says. “Everyday things are happening here.”
On July 4, 2016, Fox News published a story about this Marine and his BBQ joint.
“We started getting calls from around the nation of people wanting to buy vets meals. We didn’t really know how to do it, but once we had that many people asking, we were going to figure it out,” Dan recalled.
Now, the “Buy a Veteran a Meal” pay-it-forward program has blown up, culminating in events every summer where Dan, Katie and their team roll up to a large park and give out free meals to those who have served in our military and their families. Other restaurants have piggybacked onto the program too – each year the number of people this small crew is able to feed grows.
Only a few years since getting that electric smoker, and Dan and Katie sit atop the burgeoning New Jersey BBQ movement. Each day, hundreds of pounds of smoked meats, whether it’s brisket, smoked chicken or ribs are served, along with tons of fresh, daily homemade sides.
Whether it’s the coldest days of January or the prime BBQ summer months, it’s rare to catch a moment where Dan and Katie aren’t smiling. They’re the first to admit it: they’re living the American Dream – one brisket at a time.
By Brandon Goldstein