When you call yourself the SmoKING of Meats, you better have the barbecue to back up the name. Over the last two years, Joe Musngi has been making a name for himself in New York and New Jersey with pop ups and as a vendor at the new Jersey City Smorgasburg location. He’ll be bringing his Filipino and Italian influenced brisket to Brisket King this April, but in the meantime you can order takeout or delivery from his Belleville, NJ kitchen.
Food Karma: What’s your culinary background?
Joe Musngi: The background of culinary isn’t too long. I’ve been in it for about two years this August. What I’ll say is I come from a family of home cooks so I grew up in the kitchen with my father, grandmother, things like that. It really didn’t become a passion of mine though until covid hit. That’s when I kind of pivoted my entire life existence because now it’s all things barbecue. It went from everything else but barbecue to all things barbecue.
FK: Are you doing this full time now?
JM: Yes and no. I still am at my full time position with my prior job but I am running a kitchen as well, so it is long days and nights right now.
FK: How did you know that your food was good enough to sell?
JM: It was always family telling you that. Then friends at barbecues letting me know that as well. Then a buddy of mine kind of incepted my mind saying I should try it out at a farmers market or something like that. I did, and the rest was kind of history.
FK: Did you just show up to the market or did you have to get a lot of authorization?
JM: I had to get authorization in order to take part in the farmers market. The timing pretty much comes down to Fathers’ Day 2020. I smoked my first brisket in July 2020. I got my first catering order from a non-family member, and then it was trying to get the name out there. As I said, my friend thought of a farmers market. There happened to be a nice one in the town I grew up in in Rockland. I applied. He didn’t have any food vendors. It was like one of those match made in heaven kind of things. I started there in August, so it all happened really quick.
FK: How did you pick the name?
JM: I don’t know how I came up with it. It was just one of those things that kind of hit me. The umbrella company, the LLC that I’m part of, is called Par-T-Q. That derives more so from party and barbecue and family culture. My family does two things: music or food. The slogan of my uncle, corny as it is, he would come into family parties just saying “Parteee,” so that was kind of the thing that the family did. Unfortunately, he passed away during covid, so that thing hit me: the whole party, that makes sense.
FK: Is Par-T-Q just you and your barbecue or is there more to it?
JM: So right now it is Par-T-Q and SmoKING of Meats is kind of the brand I’m trying to pick up myself. Under the Par-T-Q banner would be my cousin who is in entertainment and my wife who is a cake artist. Those two provided inspiration behind this. I wanted to fuse our things together while still have our separate entities, being that one stop shop for entertainment and party needs if somebody needed it.
FK: Did you start your cooking with the brisket?
JM: It really goes back to Memorial Day 2020. My aunt bought a smoker and asked me to build it. When I built it I had never smoked anything before. I knew a lot of people smoke brisket so I wanted to try that. Mind you, I never really had smoked brisket a lot beforehand. My extent of American barbecue really would probably just be ribs. I love American barbecue now, but I’d say it wasn’t on the high end of the totem pole as far as food choices that I went with throughout life. So Memorial Day built the smoker, Fathers’ Day 2020 smoked my first brisket. That was just the first of hundreds at this point, if not thousands.
FK: How did you develop your menu?
JM: I sat down and really pinpointed what I liked with barbecue, which region that I thought personally did best. So you have your central Texas style brisket. From there, I like St. Louis style ribs over spare ribs, so I have St. Louis candied ribs. North Carolina I thought was the best when it comes down to pulled pork. That’s where I have my pulled pork inspired from. I’m half Filipino, half Italian and I just kind of want to drive home that fusion. I’m using American barbecue as a vessel to showcase Filipino flavors.
FK: What was the response like from the start and through your debut at Smorgasburg?
JM: The response right away from the catering order was great. That’s why I wanted to see how the public liked it. That first weekend that I was at the farmers market I sold out. There’s high volume traffic at that farmers market and there were never any food vendors, so I equated it to somebody brand new and novel. But then it kept happening and happening. I had my regulars keep telling me it was great, giving me a bigger ego than what I should have, just letting me know the food is great. There’s only so many times you can hear, “This is the best piece of brisket that I’ve literally ever had and I’ve been all around the country to try barbecue.” When you hear that a few times, you think you might be on to something, people aren’t just being polite. It was really the feedback from that crowd.
I did that all of fall of 2020. Took a break because at that point I was still juggling two jobs and I didn’t really know how to manage a food business. I burned out a little bit and I stopped from January to April. I was ready to kick things back up and try to get into pop ups. I got myself into a couple breweries in the New Jersey area. From the breweries I had a little bit of traction there in the New York and New Jersey region.
I’m in a group chat with a bunch of friends. Smorgasburg puts on their Instagram page on a Monday that they were going live in Jersey City and looking for vendors. My buddy threw the snapshot in the group chat. He said I should really apply. I thought, “What do I have to lose?” I applied that Tuesday, got a call from the founder on Wednesday asking me to go for a food interview that very Friday. It was all very quick. Mind you, I didn’t have a restaurant so I had to go prep all this food. I called off work and did what I had to do. He told me I could do it another week, but I didn’t want to let a week go by when I could do it then.
He told me he’d let me know in a week, but just through the conversation and seeing the way they were eating, I kind of just knew that I was going to get a call and was going to be very disappointed if I didn’t. I got the call, and it’s kind of been, I’m not going to say life changing but it has changed my life in the sense that it put me on the trajectory to where I am now. It sped up the business.
When I forecasted where I thought the business was going to be, I’m probably around year four where I’m really just in year two. It just helped jump leaps and bounds. At the end of the day, the platform that they have, you can’t really ask for a better one or food market to be around. When you’re in this area and in the food world, people know Smorgasburg. It helps, and because of that name being known, as a vendor there I’ve gotten calls from breweries, catering opportunities, wedding opportunities that I never thought I’d be able to get into. It’s been great, it’s really been great.
FK: Have you gotten to do any barbecue tourism yet or mostly online research because of the pandemic?
JM: It’s really been a lot of online research. I am self taught. Everything that you will have from my menu is all self taught. It’s me knowing meat, being fascinated by the science behind carving a brisket, how to have wood management, fire consumption, when to smoke something. It just became an infatuation. Everything you see or will ever taste from me is all self taught, obviously inspired by the abundant talent that there is in this country. New York and New Jersey will never have that upper echelon notoriety of barbecue when you compare it to the south, but I like to think that we have some of the best up here. But I haven’t done my due diligence. I haven’t been around town to really say that, but I know good food when I taste it and I know a lot of people around here that are putting out some good stuff.
FK: Is your family sick of barbecue yet?
JM: I’m sick of barbecue! Even if it wasn’t just barbecue, I feel like a lot of people do. When you cook yourself a meal, that meal just does not taste the same, at least for me. At this point, I am literally just having my barbecue for quality control. Once a month I’ll actually sit down and have myself a plate of it and be like, “Ooh, this is good.” For the most part, I am so sick of it.
My family is not. My kids live off my mac and cheese. My wife likes a different meat every other time. I’m around it every day so it’s different, but it does put a smile on my face whenever my family, including extended family, enjoy my cooking.
FK: So you’re opening up a takeout spot?
JM: As of November I’ve been in Belleville doing a delivery and takeout kitchen. It’s a cloud kitchen. It’s a facility of about 15-20 other kitchens that are all doing the same kind of thing. You can’t really eat or sit down there. I think this is where I need to be at this phase of the business. We’re hoping by the end of Q3 beginning of Q4 the storefront in either Bergen or Rockland County comes to fruition, so things are moving quickly.
FK: When you have a storefront, will you move away from the ghost kitchen?
JM: I have no idea yet what that will entail. If I’m able to manage both, I would love to have that as a distribution center where we’re just pumping out food and serving delivery and takeout to the masses, even if the central location is at Par-T-Q central. That would be a very realistic goal of mine.
FK: Anything else you want to share?
JM: I do plan to open up that facility. When we get that storefront we go under the Par-T-Q banner. I want a huge smokehouse, a beer garden, a place for people to come and play games, that type of vibe with smokers out in the back for people to actually see.
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