You'd think Memorial Day would be my time to shine, but if you take a look back in Meatwave history, you'll see it's actually rare that I host a barbecue on this unofficial start of the grilling season. I'll grill any day of the week, any time of the year, but for most New York City based folks, that's not happening. I've found on Memorial Day though, my fellow city dwellers become industrious and find one way or another to take up the flames to fulfill their desire to grill on this holiday. Part of the original idea of the Meatwave was to influence others in NYC (and all over) to get their grill on, so if it takes a major holiday for my friends to do that, I want to do everything to encourage their grilling and not host a competing cookout.
This year though, I got no sign any friend was going to be hosting a barbecue, and I certainly didn't myself or my friends to have a Memorial Day pass without eating something cooked over a live fire. So I decided it was my duty to fire up the grills and smokers and invite everyone I know out, and that call answered and then some. This was the biggest, and most challenging, Meatwave ever, but man, it was truly fantastic.
I can't think of anything I'd want more on Memorial Day than ribs. Nothing says quality cookout quit like beautiful racks of slow smoked pork ribs, so to feed the hoard of guests that I had coming, I picked up nine racks of spares and trimmed them down to St. Louis cuts at home.
For four of the racks, I experimented with Memphis dry rub ribs. I've yet to get down to Memphis, but after talking to the knowledgeable Carey Bringle about how he makes his outstanding dry ribs at Peg Leg Porker in Nashville, I realized my previous attempts were all wrong.
Before I would call any ribs I didn't sauce "dry," but in reality, true Memphis dry ribs should be started out naked over charcoal, brushed with a vinegar and rub mob every 15-30 minutes, and then finished with a layer of dry rub. This method produced some really outstanding racks where the flavor of the dry rub was so much more pronounced than it would have been if it had been applied before cooking.
The other five of the racks were slow smoked into these apricot-glazed ribs. At the last Meatwave, I did an apricot-glazed kebab whose flavor I loved so much that I wanted to try it out in rib form. It held up just as well here as a spicy rub was paired with a sweet and smoky apricot barbecue sauce to create a balanced and fruity flavored rib.
I've done my fair share of smoked chicken, but I've never once turned them into pulled barbecue chicken until now. Wanting to find the right balance between meat, smoke, and sauce, I tried out a couple different cooking methods and found a path to truly smoky, super moist pulled chicken that was great on its own, but even better on a bun with a helping of coleslaw resting on top.
Although ribs are my first choice for a special barbecue, I feel like a traditional cookout isn't complete without burgers and/or hot dogs. I went the burger route this time, choosing to grind ten pounds of fatty chuck at home, then forming the beef into patties, and finally grilling them off six at a time. With so many ribs and chicken, I wasn't sure these would all go, but by the end of the day, just about all of the 30 burgers I had grilled up were completely gone.
Moving on to side dish territory, I went with some classics to accompany all those meats. First up were barbecue beans. I actually ended up testing three different recipes to come up with one that I felt embodied the sweet, saucy, and lightly spicy flavor I think makes the best beans. Meatwavers seemed to agree that these were awesome, since they disappeared faster than I was expecting.
I had also prepped enough coleslaw to feed an army, and five different dressings to have a bit of variety. As I ran around all day working to keep everyone well fed, my slaws got neglected and I only ended up finishing three of five I meant to serve, which were: Lexington-style red slaw, mustard slaw, and tangy apple slaw. Still sitting in my fridge are a vinegar slaw and spicy jalapeño slaw.
As if that weren't enough food, I also churned up two batches of homemade ice cream. There were some grumblings heard at the last Meatwave about the absence of the ice cream I've also become known for. I didn't want to leave any room for disappointment this time around, so I made one tub of cookies and cream and another of chocolate with mint chips, both welcome treats to cool us down after a long day of hot meats.
Kristen and Tyson also helped on the dessert front by bringing this amazing strawberry-rhubarb pie. It was so beautiful that I think Meatwavers were scared to slice into it, but once we got it going, it went fast. Luckily I got to sneak a piece to save for myself as treat for later.
When I said this Meatwave was big, I wasn't joking. We usually clock in at a comfortable 15-20 people at an average cookout, but this time around, there were 44 hungry stomaches! For anyone familiar with small NYC spaces, this is quite the crowd to try to fit in a relatively small backyard. Since there were so many attendees, I'm not going to go through every single person that was there, as I sometimes like to do, but I do still want to pay honor to some of the greatest friends a guy can have.
The presence of Helen and Kui was bittersweet. Helen was the designer extraordinaire who I had the pleasure of working with at my day at the Bronx Zoo. She and Kui are are sadly leaving us for San Fran though, but it was awesome that they made their first Meatwave appearance just days before moving. Even more awesome was that they brought Henry, their Boston Terrier I've heard so much about and finally got to meet.
Next we have Adam, Claire, and Margot. Our closest neighbors in Astoria, running into on the street them is always a pleasure, but getting some more time spend with them at the Meatwave is even better. They brought along some excellent cheese dip, and we caught up a bit on Adam's latest pizza project, Margot's Pizza, where he's slinging bar pies at a pop-up in Brooklyn.
With not one, but two babies, the once Meatwave king, Mike, has found it more difficult to hold onto that title. Still, he makes a valiant effort, and he brought out the whole family to partake in the meat this Memorial Day. He said he was bringing barbecue babies, and as you can see here, they were delicious.
Jonny and Pete share a tender moment as these two men of crazy work schedules reunite after a long time apart.
Reggie gets between Karla and Craig, who made our meal better by bringing a tub of pimento cheese to make us just that much fatter.
If you've ever wondered how to survive a Meatwave while having food poisoning, ask Chuck. He was such a trooper to be around such a vast amount of food while ill—that's either extreme dedication or my sister making him drive her over, either way, he gets bonus points. Their good friends Tyson and Kristen also made it out for the first time this season, and we hope to see them again as the Meatwave rolls on.
Marissa is proudly showing off the only koozie I've loved so much that I paid for it—Mr. T Be Somebody. Next to her is Treyci, who was sadly koozie-less.
A new set of Meatwavers, my co-worker Noah made the trek all the way from Windsor Terrace with his wife Allison and son Max. Noah gets extra credit for helping me pull the chickens that came off the smoker to make that pulled chicken pictured above.
Last, but not least, is James, Veronica, and Jeff. James has been my partner in barbecue crime over at Serious Eats, but with changes at hand over there and our busy work schedules, collaborations have become more rare, so it was great to have him out and catch up in the little time I had for conversation.
Finally there's more ribs. But this photo isn't so much about those tasty, tasty apricot-glazed beauties, but the board that they lay on. That personalized cutting board came courtesy of die-hard Meatwave fans Matt and Erin, who left us last summer for Chicago. It feels like something is missing not having them around this year, but they will always be here in spirit.
Whew, that was on hell of a Meatwave. I don't think I've ever worked so hard at cooking my entire life. When people often ask why I don't consider opening a restaurant, I always reply that those 18-hour days spent working from sun up until way past sun down aren't for me. At the end of this weekend, I realized I spent three almost 18 hour days on this Meatwave. Sure, I was exhausted by the end of it, but the gratification I got from all my guests made me feel like I could wake up and do again the next day. So maybe I'm not as opposed to the work as I make myself out to be in my head, it's certainly incredibly rewarding to make so many people happy and be able to meet friends old and new over great barbecue, which is what this is all about in the end.
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Adam Thanks for having us over. It was a blast, and I had been looking forward to it for weeks. The anticipation didn't diminish the reality, though. The reality was kick-ass as always, and even more so this time. You really outdid yourself. What a great way to start the summer.