The Grill Next Door

This summer, head to one of the city’s 68 public grilling areas for a delicious lesson in what makes New York great.


Chef Trigg Brown's Australian shepherd, Ophelia, waits for a treat at the Brooklyn Bridge Park grilling area
Chef Trigg Brown's Australian shepherd, Ophelia, waits for a treat at the Brooklyn Bridge Park grilling area

On a recent Sunday evening, the grilling area at Brooklyn Bridge Park felt like a United Nations tailgate party, a snapshot of 21st-century New York with Manhattan’s skyline as the backdrop. At one end, Louis Morales, a DJ from the Bronx, was chatting with Jessica Honeywell, from Cobble Hill, who called him “a good neighbor” for sharing both the grill — which he’d claimed at 10:30 a.m. — and his cooking tips. Close by, newlyweds Ashley and Daniel Porter-Gonzalez, from Fort Lee, New Jersey, were grilling turkey burgers stuffed with goat cheese while a group of Brooklyn Law School students went to work on six and a half pounds of steak. There was a birthday party grilling chicken next to a graduation party cooking burgers and dogs. In the middle of it all, the Khatana family, from Pakistan, broke their Ramadan fast with chicken tikka and tandoori chicken on one grill, while nearby Avi Wag grilled chicken and sausages on a standard Weber grill set atop one of the park’s own. “It’s not the food that’s different,” said Wag. “It’s the grill — this one is kosher!”

In one way or another, every culture grills; it’s about as primal as sex or violence. Harvard paleobiologist Richard Wrangham theorizes that — from an evolutionary perspective — cooking over fire is what makes us human, and the scene at Brooklyn Bridge Park seems to support the claim. New York City has 68 different official public grilling areas across the five boroughs, and, collectively, they provide us with a means of coming together across social, economic, and cultural divides, like the subway but with better smells. “It’s amazing to see the incredible feasts people cook for their family and friends,” says Sarah Krauss, BBP’s vice president of public affairs, of the park’s Pier Five Picnic Peninsula. “We’ve seen just about everything prepared on the grills: pork shoulders, pigs’ tails, squid, chicken, kebabs, ribs, and more.”

Last week, the Voice headed to Pier Five with Trigg Brown and Josh Ku of North Brooklyn hotspot Win Son to get a lesson in cooking over fire (click here for recipes). “It’s a pretty big commitment to gather all your supplies, including charcoal, and haul it to a park and hope for an open grill,” notes Brown, who tends to favor setting up in the backyard or grilling in Cooper Park in East Williamsburg. As he prepared pork porterhouses, slow-cooked chicken, grilled vegetables, and garlic cucumbers, Brown schooled us in proper grilling technique, his favorite ingredients, and how to become a grill master in a city where outdoor space is at a premium. “My grill operations are usually illegal,” he notes. “So I’m totally in support of the park deal: grilling for the people, with the people, like the people. Legally.”

— With additional reporting by Alan Chin