For one weekend in the New York City summer, the population density of pigs rises dramatically. No, there is no swine convention where the trotters stand on their hind legs and discuss the pig state of the union, like a modern scene from Animal Farm. Rather, the best pit masters from around the country circle Madison Square Park for the annual Big Apple Barbecue.

Each year, my father and I make the trek from our home in Brooklyn into the city to fulfill our carnivorous needs. But a life living from pork hock to pork hock did not start there, it started in a dimly lit barbecue restaurant called Blue Smoke, where I first tried red meat.

Big Apple Barbecue

PaulSteinJC on Flickr

But first, some background. My mother, a longtime pescatarian, pushed a red meatless diet on me. So for the first few years of my life, I suffered through meal after meal without the artery-clogging goodness of pork, beef, and lamb. Have you ever been to a dinner party where the conversation is about something you don't really know about? Then, someone turns to you and asks, "so, what do you think about ____?", and you stare blankly, trying the best you can to muster a semi-coherent answer. That's how I felt when I hadn't tried red meat: ignorant. 

For years, I felt left out. When my friends ran to the hotdog vendor after baseball games, I begrudgingly reached into my lunch box and pulled out my turkey-baloney wrap. If you have never tried turkey-baloney, consider yourself lucky, its nauseating taste made the cart-water soaked New York City franks seem like delicacies.

I was the kid reaching for the cookie jar on the top shelf. If I gathered the strength to jump and grab that cookie jar, all I found was turkey bacon. By the way, turkey bacon, what an awful invention! Of all of the imitation foods, turkey bacon has to be worst. Beyond its infuriating popularity, I would argue that there is no larger disparity between imitation foods than there is between turkey bacon and the real thing. If bacon is a Gatsby-esqe mansion, turkey bacon is a tent with holes in it. Sure, they are both places to live, but they are certainly not equal.

Now, I have nothing against chicken or fish; in fact, I do enjoy a good drumstick like most of us, but imagine living a life of second bests. Eating white meat and fish was like climbing the second highest mountain, losing in the championship, and watching standard definition television rolled into one: satisfactory, even pleasurable, but not the panacea. One evening, everything changed.

Blue Smoke BBQ Restaurant

nakashi on Flickr

At Blue Smoke, the music reflected the tint of the lights, bluesy. My parents and I sat in a booth with one of my father’s friends. I’m sure a myriad of dishes covered the table, but the same way a spotlight shines upon a beautiful girl in a romantic comedy, all I could see was a bucket of riblets.

Yes, they are exactly what they sound like: bite-sized ribs. The consumer of these could experience the same carnal feeling that accompanies eating meat, while feeling like a giant, with the petit riblets in hand. My mouth opened in a cartoonish manner, salivating over the cholesterol-filled unknown. My mother gave me permission, and it was all over.

I began a life of living bacon strip to bacon strip. My father and I undertake many crawls to find the best red meat: whether it be barbecue, pastrami sandwich, or burger. It is familial bonding as well as a favorite topic of conversation. At the same time, red meat is a double-edged sword. I can't eat too much of it if I want to remain slim, so right now I treat it as a delicacy, saving it for special occasions. 

There are two red meat eating experiences that I hold on top of my list: the axe handle at St. Anselm, and pig picking. St. Anselm is a restaurant in Williamsburg, which prepares most of its food on the grill. They prepare a steak which ranges from 3-4 pounds for multiple people called the axe handle. Every time I go there, I wait until everyone else is done with the steak, and without shame, pick it up and devour while holding onto the bone. Okay, maybe it's a little gross, but it is so enjoyable that I throw appearance out the window

The second way is pig picking. After smoking an entire pig for the better part of a day, the meat is succulent enough that you can just pick at it with your hands, no utensils needed. I have only done this a few times, but each occasion, I remember vividly.

At the risk of sounding morbid, I don’t know how long I’m going to last on this earth, but I do know one thing, when I go, it will be with arteries clogged and a half-eaten pastrami sandwich on my plate, with another one on the way.