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One of the great New York — neigh, American — events of the year is about to be upon us. A gathering of some of the biggest names in barbecue will descend on Madison Square Park on June 12-13 for the 2010 Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, where they’ll cook until every mouth has been fed and every tummy has been sated.
The pitmasters will begin slinging their creations at 11 AM each day, as 100,000 visitors queue up to sample some of the country’s best barbecue for $8 a plate — beef brisket, whole hog, pulled pork shoulder, ribs, smoked sausage — you name it.
Not only will there be an unprecedented eighteen (eighteen!) barbecue icons on hand preparing delectable meats and sides, but there will be free live music, an outdoor beer garden and several free educational panel discussions and cooking demonstrations.
But with 18 barbecue joints, which to try? Below are my top can’t-miss recommendations.
IF YOU’RE ONLY HUNGRY ENOUGH FOR TWO PLATES:
1) Get a pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, from Decatur, Alabama. Pit master Chris Lilly’s pork is chock full of nuanced smoky flavor and signature spices, while remaining moist and tender. Of all the pulled pork sandwiches I’ve had in my life (and I’ve had dozens), Lilly’s have been the most consistent and delicious I’ve come accross. You can try one of Big Bob’s several signature BBQ sauces, if you dare, but this meat needs no adornment.
2) Gobble down a plate of brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick, of Driftwood, Texas. Michael Rodriguez and crew are no longer the winners of the “longest distance traveled” award, but they are still the BBQ beef kings. They turn out pink smoke laden beef and juicy, spicy sausage that bests the competition when in the Big Apple. Be sure to ask for a bit of the “moist” end of the brisket — you won’t be disappointed.
IF YOU’RE HUNGRY ENOUGH FOR FOUR PLATES:
3) Grab a whole hog sandwich from Mitchell’s BBQ, of Wilson, North Carolina. For those unfamiliar to whole hog cooking, it involves slicing an entire pig right down the middle, seasoning the insides with spices and marinades and then smoking the whole thing on a huge grill. The meat, fortunately, more than makes up for the effort it takes to prepare it. Juicier than the traditional pulled pork sandwich, Mitchell’s whole hog is replete with a vinegar-based sauce that gives it a kick not found in some of the other sandwiches on offer. The meat is rich and incredibly flavorful (though it lacks a bit of the complexity from smoke penetration that many people expect in their pork).
4) Chow down on a plate of ribs from the 17th Street Bar & Grill of Murphysboro, Illinois. These are traditional Memphis style baby back ribs which are dry rubbed to let the succulent meat shine. Lovers of BBQ baked beans should make it a particular point to stop by the 17th Street stand, as their version (which accompanies the two or three ribs you’ll get) is quite simply the finest I’ve ever tasted.
IF YOU’RE THE REAL DEAL AND YOU’RE READY TO EAT ON:
5) New this year: Chomp on some burgoo and BBQ mutton from Ken Bosley’s Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky, lauded everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Gourmet magazine (R.I.P.). Mr. Bosley’s mutton — meat from a lamb that’s at least a year old is called mutton — is cooked over hickory logs to give it its unique flavor. For food lovers, this is a unique opportunity to try a beloved regional classic that rarely gets much play outside of the Bluegrass State. Burgoo is a hearty soup made from mutton, chicken, and a variety of vegetables. Apparently, no two cooks prepare it the same way, so you know this will be a singular side.
6) Saddle up to a plate of Pappy’s Smokehouse‘s St. Louis-style ribs. Pappy’s is a newcomer to the national scene, having only opened its doors in 2008. Call them precocious, but in their first two years of existence, they were voted the best in St. Louis by the River Front Times. These ribs, which are cooked for up to 18 hours over apple and cherry wood, are dry rubbed and only served fresh off the smoker, per their owner’s demand (he apparently doesn’t believe in re-heating). As their menu states, “Sauce is on the side ’cause there’s nothing to hide.” Tear into the tender meat and you’ll see where all that time and energy went.
Whether you try one plate or eight, I assure you that you will not be disappointed!
If you’re in from out of town and want to stay as close to the festival as possible, book a room nearby at the The MAve, Gershwin Hotel, Hotel Giraffe, or Wyndham Garden Hotel Manhattan, Chelsea West.
— Marc Smith of Edacious
[Photos courtesy of Marc Smith]