|FIRED UP: A crew member from Union Square Hospitality Group's Blue Smoke BBQ concept flips some ribs.|
FAN THE FLAMES: Unseasonably cool and windy weather didn't deter throngs of BBQ-starved New Yorkers from attending this year's Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.
Union Square Hospitality Group head and multiple James Beard Award winner Danny Meyer was the hands-on host. And Blue Hill's Dan Barber, chosen as the 2006 Best Chef—New York City by the Beard Foundation, was there handing out advice on how to cook pork. But those weren't the food world stars attendees at this year's Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City really wanted to meet.
Instead it was the dozen pitmasters from throughout America—mostly the American South—who gathered in Manhattan's Madison Square Park last month to dispense authentic barbecue to a ravenous throng of New Yorkers.
This was the fourth edition of the event. It was begun by Meyer as a modest street fair whose proceeds would help fund the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Originally, it showcased the barbecue offerings of USHG's Blue Smoke, located a block away from the park.
But Big Apple Barbecue has grown exponentially since that first year, now spilling out into three streets that surround the park proper. It's a tribute to Meyer's stature in New York that he can wrangle a two-day permit for an event this size.
This gathering isn't a contest or cookoff, like most high-profile barbecue affairs. Instead, it's a mass feeding frenzy for barbecue-starved New Yorkers. If you're wondering if some urban markets are underserved by authentic barbecue restaurants, you want to attend this event. But if you go, be sure to buy a $125 Bubba FastPass, which enables its bearer to bypass the staggeringly lengthy lines of hungry patrons who get in for free and patiently wait to pay $7 for a hefty sample from each purveyor.
This year's pitmasters included barbecue world living legends Ed Mitchell from Mitchell's BBQ, Wilson NC; Garry Roark, Ubon's "
Champion's Choice," Yazoo, MS; Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market & BBQ, Elgin, TX; Mike Mills, 17th Street Bar & Grill, Murphysboro, IL; and Chris Lilly, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, AL. Blue Smoke's Ken Callaghan and RUB's Paul Kirk comprised the New York City delegation.
Primary sponsors of this year's Big Apple Barbecue Block Party included American Express, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Texas Pete Hot Sauce. The proceeds fund the work of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which oversees a park that sits on the site of the original Madison Square Garden arena.