Summer in New York City can be both the best and the worst. There is an event almost every day that draws a crowd. On any given night, you could be watching a free film in one of several major parks, trying a new restaurant, or hearing some great new band. It can also be humid enough to need three showers a day or, debatably better, thunderstorming. This weekend it seemed that the entire population of the city was in Madison Square Park, enjoying the tastes of the south at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Started in 2003 by Danny Meyer and Kenny Callaghan, their aim was “to promote the cultural value of American Barbecue and launch a New York Barbecue tradition.” While it has grown significantly since that first year, the core remains the same: BBQ, beer, live music and friends, and hopefully some sun. The 125,000 attendees got luckier this year than in the past, given the beautiful weather on both days, which made for prime day-drinking atmosphere. As always, the block party featured some of the best pit masters from several different states…This year eight were represented. They drove from their hometowns with their pit crews, giant smokers, and as much as 4,000 lbs of meat each, and came from as far away as Texas and as close as Meyer and Callaghan’s Blue Smoke BBQ, right around the corner from the event.
It takes a true barbecue enthusiast to tackle those crowds. One could find themselves waiting for an hour for Big Bob Gibson’s pulled pork sandwiches or baby back ribs, which were brought up from Memphis. I, on the other hand, was fortunate enough to be invited into the VIP enclosure provided for family and friends of the Blue Smoke community. While enjoying Blue Smoke’s brisket and Louisiana Andouille sausage, it was hard not to feel guilty seeing masses of people waiting on line right outside the exclusive area I was in. While each pit master offered only one or two items for sale, the chefs within the restricted Blue Smoke enclosure were knocking out plates of additional treats like their fried oysters cooked in chipotle butter, and watermelon slushie shots with white bourbon. The bar was hopping with free-flowing kegs of Blue Smoke IPA and refreshing white wines, among other things.
Most dishes were on sale for $9 and came with a side or two. Those really hardcore fanatics purchased a Fast Pass for $125 or a BigPiggin’ VIP Pass for $265 in advance of the weekend, with $100 worth of food credit on each card…Think Disneyland, except instead of skipping the long line to Splash Mountain, you have access to shorter lines to the food, plus more benches and private shaded areas to enjoy it in. An important fact many do not realize is that the event itself is a charity fundraiser benefiting the Madison Square Park Conservancy, and not just a couple of days to totally pig out (excuse the pun). An additional $25 from each Fast Pass and BigPiggin’ pass goes directly to the organization that helps keep the park clean and beautiful.
By 6pm, everything was starting to close down and we had to roll down the street, full of beer and meat (imagine Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), eagerly awaiting the return of the pit masters in 2015.
- Ed Mitchell Que (Durham, NC)—Whole Hog and All Natural Whole Turkey
- Mike Mills: 17th Street Bar & Grill (Murphysboro, IL)—Baby Back Ribs
- Chris Lilly: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Decatur, AL)—Pulled Pork Shoulder
- Jean-Paul Bourgeois: Blue Smoke (New York, NY)— Louisiana Andouille and Chow Chow
- Charles Grund, Jr: Hill Country (New York, NY)—Beef Brisket
- Joe Duncan: Baker’s Ribs (Dallas, TX)—St. Louis Style Ribs
- Mike Emerson: Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis, MO)—Baby Back Ribs
- Jimmy Hagood: BlackJack Barbecue (Charleston, SC)—Pulled Pork Shoulder
- Patrick Martin: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Nashville, TN)— Western Tennessee-Style Whole Hog
- Garry Roark: Ubon’s Barbeque of Yazoo (Yazoo City, MS)—Pulled Pork Shoulder
- Scott Roberts: The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que (Driftwood, TX)—Beef Brisket and Sausage
- John Stage: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (New York, NY)—Beef Brisket
- John Wheeler: Memphis Barbecue Co. (Horn Lake, MS)—Baby Back Ribs
- Rodney Scott: Scott’s Bar-B-Que (Hemingway, SC)—Whole Hog
- Sam Jones: Skylight Inn (Ayden, NC)—Whole Hog