If any of you were in Manhattan last weekend and managed to wander by Madison Square Park, you wouldn’t have been able to resist the tempting, smoky aromas of brisket, pulled pork and ribs wafting from all the different barbecue stands. What was going on you ask? Well this weekend was the 11th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block party and boy was it delicious! If you don’t know what this block party is, let me enlighten you. It began over a decade ago to introduce New Yorkers to the real deal that is barbecue. Each serving is $9 with beverages at $3 and desserts at $5. There are multiple barbecue stalls sprawled across Madison avenue from 23rd street to 27th, surrounding Madison Square Park with a beer garden right in the center.
This year it featured 17 of the country’s all-star pit masters representing 10 different states. During the event, you can sample different plates of whole hog, pulled pork shoulder, baby back ribs, beef brisket, beef ribs, smoked sausage, or St. Louis style ribs from 17 different barbecue stands. Lined along Madison Avenue is Scott’s Bar-B-Que, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Blackjack Barbecue, Checkered Pig, 17th street Bar and Grill Memphis Championship Barbeque, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Blue Smoke, Original Fried Pie Company, Baker’s Ribs, Hill Country and Skylight Inn. Across 26th street, the stands include Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Que, Ubon’s Barbeque of Yazoo, Pappy’s Smoke House, Memphis Barbecue Co, The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que and The Pit Master Ed Mitchell. Each of these stands, representing their own pit masters, offered their own irresistible signature specialties all weekend.
Along with the barbecue, there were a series of fun events throughout the day where our editor in chief, Skyler Bouchard, interviewed chef, James Beard Award nominee, and best-selling cookbook author Jamie Purviance. You can check out her interview where Purviance gives his best grilling tips and discusses his best seller, New Real Grilling, here. If you’re a barbecue fan, then this was definitely the event for you.
The first thing that I tried was the pulled pork shoulder. Now there were three places where you can satisfy your craving for a pulled pork sandwich: Blackjack Barbecue, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and Ubon’s Barbecue of Yazoo. I settled for Ubon’s and it was absolutely delicious. They served the sandwich without any fixens, in other words, barbecue sauce. So that one could choose how much to put on at a time. Ubon’s special sauce was a bit too sweet for me, so I ended up filching some barbecue sauce from another stand. The sauce was sweet with a bit of a sour tang that wasn’t quite working for me, but the pulled pork shoulder sandwich was cooked to perfection. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a slight smoky hint that instead of overpowering the meat created depth. While it was delicious on it’s own, I did welcome the barbecue sauce which created another dimension to the flavor.
Next was the beef brisket. There were a few places to get brisket, but we chose Hill Country. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the brisket, but it was pretty darn good. It came accompanied with a cucumber salad, which was totally refreshing in the heat and the brisket slices smothered in barbecue sauce, with a hint of honeyed sweetness, was delicious. The meat was tender and had a perfectly seared crust that added a slight contrast to the soft meat underneath. However, if you prefer leaner meats, you may find that the brisket is a tad too fatty for your taste.
There were several stands that offered the whole hog or ribs and I ended up trying a little bit of the whole hog from Skylight Inn. Whole hog is a hodge podge of different meats from the entire hog, cut by two pounding cleavers to break up the pieces and mixed together. In the sense of texture, it resembled pulled pork, but it was obviously quite different seeing as it incorporates all parts of the hog and not just the shoulder.
Since I had a hankering for something sweet to wash it all down, I decided on a fried fruit pie from Original Fried Pie Company. This stand probably had the longest line, being the only dessert stand, but it was totally worth it. When I got there, I was given a choice of blackberry or cherry (my friend said that they had apple, peach, and cherry the day before, but I assume they ran out?). I settled on the blackberry pie. The pie was piping hot when I got it and delicious to boot. While it was obvious that they weren’t frying it right on the spot, the crust was still crunchy and yielded a sweet, gooey filling. Despite being fried, the crust didn’t feel oily or heavy and it was such nice contrast to the smooth jam-like filling within. It was definitely worth a try!
Sad that you missed the Barbecue Block Party? Don’t be! Luckily three of the pit masters are located right in New York City, where you can go to taste their barbecued specialties whenever you want.
Kenny Callaghan, along with being the co-founder of Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, is the executive chef and pit master of NYC’s Blue Smoke, a barbecue restaurant that serves up mouthwatering, authentic barbecue whose menu encompasses a number of regional barbecue styles from St. Louis to Texas.
Flatiron District: 116 E 27th street (between Park and Lex)
Battery Park City: 255 Vesey Street
Charles Grund Junior, a former chef at Nero and the Russian Tea Room, is another pit master and chef at Hill Country, whose menu boasts Texas style, dry rub barbecue made fresh daily and served on butcher paper, counter style as it is in central Texas.
30 West 26th Street
John Stage is the co-owner and pit boss of Dinosaur Bar-B-Q where they boast fresh, home-made and high-quality barbeque. Stage’s barbeque career began on the road in 1983 when he sawed a 55 gallon drum in half and began selling barbeque at biker meets, fairs and festivals. His barbeque was also named the country’s best barbecue on Good Morning America.
Harlem: 700 W 125th street at 12th
Brooklyn (opening June 19): 604 Union Street