The 5 Best Things at This Year's Big Apple Barbecue Block Party
Pork pulled from the whole hog from Ed Mitchell's, Wilson and Raleigh, NC. Put the slaw on the sandwich!
We have many things to thank the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party for, now in its 10th year. A decade ago, it got the ball rolling for barbecue in NYC, and is partly responsible for our fair city becoming one of the true barbecue capitals of the country. And the festival has introduced us to many farflung establishments that we might not have otherwise visited. Even though the relation of the barbecue produced at, say, a country crossroads shack somewhere in the Carolinas will always be of uncertain relation to that produced in the middle of Madison Square from a gleaming truck using volunteer labor and the work of unfamiliar butchers.
Nevertheless, a good time was had by all this year, even if the Fast Pass lines sometimes ran longer than the plebian ones, and you ended up waiting 30 minutes for what turned out to be some inferior 'cue. Another heartbreaking feature was the emphasis on sauce at many places, and the consequent indifferent smokiness of the meat. And there's too much pulled pork! And not enough brisket, sausage, lamb, and chicken. And no barbecues from places like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas City, or Ownesboro, KY. That said, here are the things I liked most this year.
Chopping the meat in a cloud of smoke at Ed Mitchell's
5. Pulled Pork at Ed Mitchell's, Raleigh, NC - This is the irreducible product of the antique whole-pig approach originated in North Carolina: glove-soft pig flesh with a delicate flavor and only mildly smoky. The slaw on the side is its co-equal as partner in the pulled pork sandwich. This is barbecue of unswerving honesty.
Ed is set up to travel.
Pappy's ribs from St. Louis
4. Baby Back Ribs at Pappy's Smokehouse, St. Louis, MO - Pappy uses a weird-ass spice rub, leaving the ribs midway between the dry and wet styles. You can pick a phantasmagoria of flavors out of it, and ditto with the dark, notably unsweet sauce, which is not loathsome. Whatever the arcane ideas embodied here - not doctrinaire St. Louis, decidedly - there's no denying these ribs are bone-licking good.
The Pappy's Smokehouse Booth was on West 26th on the north end of Madison Square.
This year there were more strollers than ever before -- proving barbecue fanatics have learned how to reproduce.
Big Bob's pulled shoulder is my-t-fine, but for god's sake skip the sauce.
3. Pulled Pork Shoulder at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que, Decatur, AL - This was the most popular of the 17 establishments presented this year at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. The shredded meat is quite smoky, especially for this style of barbecue. The little wads of "Mr. Brown" are a boon, too. But this 'cue comes with a giant caveat. Leave off the sauce! Or rather sauces, which are all over the map, flavorwise and completely overwhelm the pig. And just look at the ingredients on the label. You really want your meat swimming in soda-pop?
Click on image to enlarge, then read the ingredients in Big Bob's sauce. Do you really want to put that on your barbecue?
The sauce comes in many flavors.
2. Pulled Pork at Scott's Bar-B-Que, Hemingway, SC - Despite being first-time attendee, Rodney Scott pulled it off, producing a way-smoky pulled product from the whole pig, and presenting the deep-fried skin swatches on the side. Double trouble! More than any other, his barbecue reflects the terroir of the northeastern South Carolina seaside farming region he comes from. What a treat to have him in NYC!
Pitmaster Rodney Scott makes a new fan
Scott apparently brought this crazy homemade smoker from SC.
1. Beef Brisket at Hill Country, NYC - "This place has the home court advantage," noted a friend as we munched one of the moistest, smokiest briskets ever, delivered in a generous portion and sided with hipster pickles. No sauce needed. The 'cue was dragged from pits only a few blocks away, having been smoked in real hardwood, while most of the 'cue at the festival is spawned using inferior charcoal brickets.
Odd to be eating brisket from a booth, when the actual barbecue is just three blocks away.
View up Madison Avenue from 23rd Street, 2pm on the second day
Follow me on Twitter -- @robertsietsema
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.