If you’re like us and you take food at WAY more than face value, then you probably consider it as much a part of Christmas as the gift-giving, song-singing, and general good time-having. If you’re also a serial host or hostess, it’s only natural to want to try something new and exciting, buck tradition, and throw a wrench in the “done” and “done some more” holiday menus of yore.

You could go Italian, sure, and try a Feast of The Seven Fishes, but good luck getting that smell out of the drapes. There’s Asian, which would be a hit no doubt, but Chinese food on Christmas feels like it already belongs to those who don’t celebrate. And I guess you could throw a Moroccan Christmas, a la Michael Scott, but if yours turns out anything like his, you’ll be the talk of the fam for all the wrong reasons.

So what’s left? How about a food style that’s long on feel-good vibes but short on formalities, has the ability – all on its own – to raise the collective spirit of an affair, AND is considered one of the only true American culinary traditions? It’s BBQ, of course!

Pig Bleecker Chef Matt Abdoo

Yes, a BBQ Christmas is just the thing to ignite the magic of an aged Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner routine—but you’re not about to half-ass this, and just because you’re going, pardon the pun, “whole hog” doesn’t mean you don’t want it to feel like Christmas too. We asked for help from BBQ fusion master Matt Abdoo, who heads New York’s Pig Bleecker (Manhattan) and Pig Beach (Brooklyn) and re-envisioning BBQ with globally-inspired offerings, like truffled brisket ravioli and Vietnamese BBQ pork belly buns, on a menu that respects tradition but showcases imagination.

Abdoo, former chef de cuisine at powerhouse Italian outpost Del Posto, seems able to BBQ-ify just about anything. Below are a few of his tangiest, smokiest and stickiest ideas on how to spin holiday classics with a BBQ bent.

Satisfying Starters:

Deviled Eggs at Pig Bleecker

BBQ mixed nuts or popcorn are a great salty snack to have out when guests arrive. Make (or buy) your favorite BBQ rub and toss with freshly cooked popcorn or toasted nuts for a fun, easy, munchable snack with a smoky flavor.

Deviled eggs are an unexpected crowd-pleaser. For a special occasion, like Christmas, Abdoo elevates his deviled eggs by topping each with a dollop of smoked trout roe or caviar and a drizzle of black truffle honey.

Smoked sausage, cut up and served on toothpicks with a little BBQ mustard, is a fun passed appetizer. Go for something like the smoked Yankee red hot, served ar both Pig Bleecker & Pig Beach, made with provolone and cherry peppers, but “any good cheddar and jalapeño sausage” will get the job done.

Live-fire grilled or smoked mushrooms are a delicious option to make as a holiday side, or chop and serve as a vegetarian crostini with whipped goat cheese.

Smoking’s Cool Again:

Smoking the main course is no-brainer for imparting instant and undeniable BBQ flavor into Christmas dinner. “I love smoking a whole turkey or prime rib roast for a crowd,” says Abdoo; “the flavor added from the smoker alone will totally wow guests.” Bonus: cooking your main in a smoker frees up the rest of the oven for pies, sides, and whatever else you need it for.

For a turkey, Abdoo makes a rub of salt, pepper, granulated garlic, granulated onion, thyme, and a little ground hatch chili powder and stuffs the cavity with some fresh garlic cloves, bay leaves, and fresh thyme.   

As for prime rib, “always opt for bone-in, when entertaining, because it’s just so visually beautiful.”  Abdoo preps his roast with a wet rub of a beef based paste, yellow mustard, brown sugar, chili flakes, fresh rosemary, and black pepper, then smears it over the outside before smoking.

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A Beautiful Brisket:

Another way to go is a Texas-style brisket for your holiday main course. Briskets can be tricky, Abdoo warns, but if you follow his basic tips, you and your brisket should be in good (and tender) shape.

  1. Use only prime quality meat (or better).
  2. Smear with yellow mustard and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook at 250 degrees for about an hour per pound until the internal temp reaches 198-200 degrees.
  4. Wrap in butcher paper and allow it to rest in a warm place for at least an hour before slicing, or until the internal temp drops to 150 degrees.

*Use a high-tech, wireless meat thermometer like The MEATER.

Choosing Sides:

Chowhound

Pecan-topped candied yams. You can never go wrong with yams around the holidays, but Abdoo suggests topping them with some BBQ spiced pecans for “texture and a very familiar holiday flavor that pairs well with the yams. Take crushed pecan pieces and toss them in a little egg white with some clove, nutmeg, allspice, and cayenne and place in your smoker for about 35-40 minutes at 250 to create the perfect BBQ holiday spiced nut that’s not only great on candied yams but salads or chopped and added to your next graham cracker-based pie crust!

Try baby carrots seasoned with za’atar (a middle eastern spice), either grilled or cooked in the smoker and topped with dollops of labne or Greek yogurt that’s been seasoned with microplaned garlic, good olive oil, and fresh lemon juice.

Mac and cheese is always a hit and great because you can make it the day before and simply reheat the day of. Abdoo suggests mixing in some fire-roasted tomatoes or diced smoked bacon for a fun twist on the classic. At his restaurants, chef tops the mac with goldfish crackers—something whimsical and memorable!

Grand Marnier cocktail

Large Batch Southern Cocktail:

You’re certainly not getting away with BBQ Christmas without delivering a fabulous bourbon cocktail. The Holiday Kiss is easy and perfect for making in large batches. Then all you have to do is pour over ice for guests as they arrive, and leave in a pitcher or spouted jug for refills (they’ll want refills). The recipe, courtesy of Everett Taylor, Bar Manager at Pig Bleecker, goes as follows.

  • 1.5 ounces good bourbon
  • .75 ounce spiced pear liqueur
  • .50 ounce apple brandy
  • .50 ounce lemon juice
  • .50 ounce simple syrup

Stir all ingredients and serve individually over ice with lemon wheels for garnish.

That should be all you need to get started on your first (of many) holiday BBQ bash. And hey, if you feel like phoning it in this year (and honestly, who could blame you?), Abdoo’s team is taking holiday feast orders.

Related Video: The Best BBQ in Every State

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Header image courtesy of Pig Bleecker

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