Mon Jun 9, 2008
Forget Christmas, New Year's, or Thanksgiving, the most magical and anticipated time of the year for me is the weekend when the Big Apple BBQ Block Party takes over Madison Square Park. I count down the days until pitmasters from across the nation amass in this Manhattan square to smoke up some of the best 'cue this country has to offer. As I write this, the 2008 BABBP has come to a close and the countdown to next year has already begun, but my stomach and mind are still full with the remnants of all the sweet, smoky meats that were consumed and I need to share a bit of the joy they brought me with you.
Although I profess my unconditional love for the Barbecue Block Party, it's a relationship that requires some work to stay healthy. With the event only occuring one weekend a year in a city of 8 million, it took some clever planning to conquer the crowds and make the day manageable. First and most importantly, I got a Fast Pass. This handy prepaid card lets me into the much shorter "behind-the-tent" lines and has been the backbone of my strategy each year since its been offered (it once had the more appropriate name "The Bubba Fast Pass"). Unfortunately, as the years go on, the Fast Pass has become more and more popular, and it's not uncommon to see a 30+ min "Fast Pass" line, so some additional scheming was required.
The second part of my plan was to get friends, and a lot of them. There is no better way to enjoy the BABBP then sitting around in the lawn with my close friends, chomping down 'cue, but they also played an integral part in making the weekend a success. With a group of buddies, I could hand the Fast Pass off constantly, enabling us to get to many different pitmasters in a minimal amount of time.
The final detail of my plan was to arrive early. Crowds build during the day as 'cue runs short, getting there at opening time or before avoided any disappointment and ensured we were spending more time eating and less time standing around. So with my plan in place, it was time for some eating.
As I arrived at the park around 11:50am, I headed straight to Mike Mill's 17th Street Bar & Gri;l, which smokes up the best baby back ribs I've ever tasted. I waited near the front of the line until noon, when the first plates of ribs left the table and went into the publics' hands. These ribs are everything I'd want a rib to be: smoky, sweet, spicy, tender. I don't know how he does it, but his ribs are pink the entire way through (I can only achieve a "smoke ring"), the tell tale sign that they were cooked with smoke. Although one of my BABBP favorites, it's also one smallest portions, 3 baby backs a small side of beans (the beans are just about as good as ribs), but that's alright with me, because it leaves room for a lot more eating.
Second up was Ed Mitchell's whole hog sandwich. Ed Mitchell's set-up is by far the most entertaining to watch, with whole hogs continually coming out of the rows of smokers and then chopped. It also seems as if Ed is never too busy for a quick chat. The best part is the meat totally outdoes the spectacle. The sandwich, which is spiced up with a vinegar sauce, has cuts of meat from all over the pig, including the absolute best part, the skin. This creamy, crunchy, spicy creation is unlike anything else at the party, and also unlike anything else I've found in any restaurant to date.
Next was a journey deep into the heart of Texas at the Salt Lick. Texas brisket and sausage have come to be my barbecue favorites, so there was no way I was going to pass this up. Unfortunately my absolute favorite, Southside Market, was not back this year, but it's not like going to the Salt Lick was "settling" on anything. Their brisket is perfectly moist and the sausage is creation handed down from the gods. I could never have enough of either and I would have ventured to BABBP brisket newcomers Wilson's Barbeque, but I have a forthcoming trip to Austin, where I'm destined to eat Texas barbecue to my hearts content (or failure).
Keeping the meat coming, our next stop was Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, where pitmaster Chris Lilly smokes up pork shoulders. Now I pride myself on my pulled pork, preferring it to anything I've gotten within city limits, but one taste of Lily's sandwich reminds me how much I still have to learn. How he coaxes so much flavor out of the pork shoulder is beyond my comprehension, and the icing on the cake is that he has some of the best sauces to top it off.
There's no doubt that I could have stayed and kept eating, but after 4 1/2 hours, the collision of heatwave and Meatwave forced an early retreat to a cooler setting. Although in an ideal world the Block Party would never end, I'm happy with my eating accomplishments, hitting up all of my favorite 'cue and leaving completely satisfied. To be honest, I usually make this a two day affair to maximize my meat intake, and although I was only able to do one this year I'm still content knowing that there is only 362 days until it all starts again.
Sights from the Big Apple BBQ Block Party 2008
Pitmaster Ed Mitchell
Pitmaster Chris Lilly pulling pork shoulder.
Pulling ribs off the grill at Blue Smoke.
Beef ribs at Mr. Cecil's California Ribs
Slicing brisket at Wilson's Pit Barbeque
Pitmaster John Stage working a pork shoulder.
Finishing ribs at Rack & Soul
More sights from the BABBP >>