Billy Durney, the pitmaster at Brooklyn’s Hometown BBQ restaurant, can’t talk much about his old job. He can tell you what he did – work as a bodyguard for celebrities – but disclosing any particulars would amount to a breach of trust. Suffice to say that Billy could drop a cord of names if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. After a decade keeping tabs on stars, he’s finally looking after his own best interests.
“You‘re living someone else’s life all day long,” Durney says of being a bodyguard. “You then go home to your life, which is more what you want it to be.”
Providing protection was something of a family tradition. Durney’s father was a security expert and his brother is a cop. He says he decided to pursue private gigs because “protecting and nurturing people” has always been part of his nature. But keeping bad guys at bay isn’t the only skill the Durney family has passed down from generation to generation. Billy’s earliest memories are of smoking meats with his grandmother at his grandparents’ cabin in rural Pennsylvania. He loved the smell and never forgot it.
“I learned how to cook with wood when I got older,” Durney explains. “It became a hobby and then a little more serious as time went on. It became really important to me when I started traveling in my protection career.”
Not a man to half-ass anything, Durney sought out “The Legend,” a pit master named Mike Mills who runs 17th Street Bar and Grill, one of the best rib joints in America and began a sort of haphazard apprenticeship. He learned how to keep coals at a proper heat, how to select better meats, how to draw flavor out of the smoke, and how to create a friendly welcoming environment. Taking his cues from Miller and Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller, a Texas joint with an ambience similar to what he wanted to achieve, Durney returned to Brooklyn and set up Hometown in Red Hook, the waterfront neighborhood where both of his grandmothers lived after immigrating to the U.S.
One way the BBQ business is similar to the body guarding game is that word of mouth matters. As ever, Durney loyalists have been talking him up to their friends. That’s why Hometown, which has an indoor pit and an outdoor open pit, stays busy with a crowd of happy Brooklyners crunching their way through fresh pork rinds and diving into piles of meat. Ribs and brisket aside, Hometown sells a spicy jerk chicken that goes over well with the local Caribbean community and, courtesy of the local Vietnamese grocers, a remarkable lamb belly banh mi. Immigrants and locals of all sorts come through Hometown’s doors. Inside, everyone seems to get along with each other and with Durney, who works the room. The smell of smoke is pleasant and unavoidable; the meat falls off the bone.
“I hit every single table every night,” says Durney. “I appreciate them coming here. That’s the reason I work 60 hours a week.”
He wants to make sure everyone is ok. He’s still focussed on that.