Home > Arts/Culture/Entertainment > Meat Moot smokes low and slow, and its cleaver-flipping ‘butchers’ steal the show

Meat Moot smokes low and slow, and its cleaver-flipping ‘butchers’ steal the show

Fedora’d men in butchers aprons hoist hunks of wobbling flesh aloft like sacrificial offerings. Stationed before a bank of smokers—meat vaults loaded with parchment-and-tinfoil-swaddled briskets, beef ribs, and lamb shoulders—they slowly tug glistening bones from steaming muscle, smiling as it collapses. The meat smacks against wooden cutting boards, quivering under downpours of salt and spice and ropes of cascading honey.

You approach the counter with your phone held high. A meatman casually flips his gleaming cleaver into the air, snatching it as it tumbles down, and guides the blade toward its first cut. Suddenly a forkful rises over the glass partition toward your gaping gob. If you approve of this smoky lagniappe, you’ll order it by the pound, take a seat, and wait for the feast to arrive.

This is how you dance when you walk through the glass doors of this strip mall storefront in south suburban Burbank. It’s the first U.S. branch of Meat Moot, an Istanbul-based barbecue chain with 17 locations all over the Middle East.

Even if that sounds unusual, there are a few things about this experience that might seem familiar. By barbecue, I don’t mean Turkish or Arabic-style barbecue, typified by kebabs or thinly sliced shawarma, cooked by direct heat. The meat is zabiha halal, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic dietary law, and no pork is served. It’s strictly lamb and beef—brisket and ribs in particular—and that’s only one of the ways it resembles Texas-style barbecue.

Meat Moot’s performative carnivorism also might ring a bell if you’re acquainted with the Insta-antics of Salt Bae, and to a lesser extent Cumali Adigüzel, aka “Knife Man,” both erstwhile Turkish butchers turned steakhouse clowns.

Clayton Hauck for Chicago Reader

But it all probably goes back to chef Eyad Abu Al-Hasan, a Palestinian butcher from the hilltop Arab city of Kafr Qasim about 12 miles east of Tel Aviv. Chef Eyad studied the art of low and slow barbecue in Texas before returning home and opening his first restaurant, applying Middle Eastern marinades and seasonings to meat and cooking it over hardwood lump charcoal for up to 16 hours in his own proprietary smokers.  

He also probably pioneered the spectacle. His chefs—the Levantine analogue to Fogo de Chão’s knife-wielding Brazilian gauchos—dance the dabkeh and offer their guests “meat kisses” amid blazing propane pyrotechnics.

“Now everyone’s copying him,” says the amateur meat smoker behind the YouTube channel Halal Digest. “Middle Eastern people love hosting and treating their guests so well and generously, based on our beliefs and duties in Islam—to treat them the best we can. But, yeah, they took it to another level.”

Eyad, known as the “King of Smoked Meat,” has branched out to more than 15 locations around the Middle East and operates a restaurant management and franchise consultancy out of Dubai called Smoked Meat World, helping others do the same.

Clayton Hauck for Chicago Reader

Meat Moot was launched by a somewhat lesser-known but still significant social media influencer named Seka Abdullah, a suave, smiling Palestinian restaurateur who opened his first location in the summer of 2021 in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. He hasn’t stopped since. When he isn’t giving glory to God for his good fortune over the hood of his candy-apple-red Rolls, he’s posing with celebrities at glitzy grand openings, one after another, all over the Levant. Lately he’s been posting more somber reels from earthquake-torn Turkey and Syria, but that didn’t keep him from strolling the red carpet at the grand opening of the Abu Dhabi branch last Saturday—the 18th in the Meat Moot empire.

So how did Abdullah learn his craft? “That’s the secret to the business, man,” says Hassan Musleh, a car dealer who franchised the Burbank location, his first foray into the restaurant business. “You know, there is always a secret, like the seasoning. Nobody knows how to make the seasoning.”

Musleh says he first met Abdullah “back home” in Jordan, six or seven years ago, but he’s resolutely mum on how the CEO carved out a Middle Eastern barbecue empire in a year and half. (Emails sent to Meat Moot’s Istanbul HQ remain unanswered.)

There’s already a notable American halal barbecue movement afoot in the U.S., among both amateur smokers and professionals. Many cities have one or more halal barbecue restaurants in operation. Bones N’ Chefs, which opened in Lombard last September, beat Meat Moot by a month and a half.

But not many offer the same spectacle—like flair bartending for carnivores. Meat Moot’s Harlem Avenue location is less opulent than the swank digs of its Istanbul or Qatar branches. But, according to Musleh, its chefs—all locals decked out Eyad-butcher-style—went through a 45-day to two-month training period in Istanbul. The marinades and secret seasonings that rain down upon each chunk of meat are consistent from branch to branch, as is the practice of offering unlimited amounts of rice, soft drinks (no alcohol), side salads (seven), and sauces—14 of them in all, from chimichurri to honey mustard to tahini.  

Meat Moot
7909 S. Harlem, Burbank, Illinois

“Moot” is an Arabic slang term, something along the lines of “to die for.” Yet, all the variety might help to obscure the fact that the flavor profile across the menu’s seven cuts of meat is a bit repetitive, and absent any hint of wood smoke, though Musleh says they smoke with a variety of fruit woods in addition to hardwood lump charcoal.

The meat is masterfully cooked though, particularly the fattier cuts like lamb neck, shoulder, and ribs, which hold up better on the board than the top seller—brisket, which can dry out.

I didn’t get to try the other most popular cut—beef ribs—because it sold out before I’d arrived. And that’s the gamble one takes on a visit to Meat Moot. They don’t take reservations, and cuts often sell out before closing. I made two long journeys to Burbank before I successfully got dinner and a show.

It might get easier for some folks, though, as Empire Meat Moot continues to spread. Musleh says they’re working on opening a Michigan branch, and though the dashing CEO Abdullah didn’t make it here for the grand opening, “We are bringing him very soon.”

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