Get your meat on: Big Apple Barbecue is almost here
It’s almost summer and that can only mean one thing: time to barbecue.
Luckily, the 11th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (bigapplebbq.org) is on June 8 and 9. Pitmasters from as far away as Texas and as close to home as 26th Street will converge on Madison Square Park for a weekend of smoked meats, live music, barbecue seminars, camaraderie and a little friendly competition.
The event was founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer and local barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke. It’s free, and food and drinks are sold by the plate. (Some VIP FastPasses are available for Sunday.) All profits support the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
In past years, the event has drawn more than 125,000 barbecue aficionados, who line up to sample whole hog, pulled pork, brisket and ribs from 18 of the nation’s top pitmasters, hailing from 10 different states.
It’s a unique opportunity to sample some of the regional variations of barbecue and meet some larger-than-life personalities. Here are a few:
BBQ joint: Big Bob Gibson BBQ, Decatur, Ala.
“Barbecue is all about improving and making do with what you got,” states Chris Lilly, TV personality, author and one of the most decorated pitmasters in BBQ competition.
The focus here is pork shoulder, a relatively cheap cut that Lilly smokes for hours until it is tender and flavorful.
His lines can be long and the pork has been known to sell out, so get there as early as possible.
BBQ joint: The Pitmaster, Raleigh, N.C.
When Ed Mitchell isn’t rearing hogs specifically bred for barbecue, he’s cooking them whole and serving them up North Carolina style — chopped, mixed with vinegar and red pepper, and served on a bun with coleslaw. This is another very popular pit, with lines as long as an hour. Even using whole hogs, the pork can sell out.
Mitchell is a larger-than-life character who entertains the crowd while breaking down whole hogs using only his hands — that’s how tender his low-smoked meat becomes.
BBQ joint: Blue Smoke, New York City
Kenny Callahan is not only the acclaimed pitmaster at Blue Smoke right here in NYC, he is also the co-founder of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.
While his restaurant is only a few blocks away, Blue Smoke will serve special barbecue cuts that are not featured on its regular menu. Last year, Blue Smoke mastered its slow-smoked ribs by basting them in sauce and finishing them on the grill, adding a delicious caramelized crunch.
BBQ Survival Guide
Map: A map of the vendors will be available at the event, but it’s better to download it and plan ahead: bigapplebbq.org
Cash: The event is cash only. Barbecue costs $9 per plate, which includes a portion of smoked meat and a side or two. Dessert and beverages range from $3 to $9.
ID: Alcohol is available in specified areas; you must show proof of age to gain access.
Water: It can be hot and humid in line, so always remember to hydrate.
Wet Naps: Your hands will get sticky and covered in delicious BBQ sauce, and while there are napkins available, a wet wipe is much better.
A Good Attitude: Lines can be long, sometimes as long as 40 minutes to an hour for the more popular pits, so make the most of it by getting to know your neighbors in line — they probably love barbecue just as much as you do! You might make some new friends.
The DO NOT MISS List
Pappy’s Smokehouse, St. Louis, Mo.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, Ala.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nashville, Tenn.
Ed Mitchell, The Pitmaster, Raleigh, N.C.
Hill Country, New York, N.Y.