Big Apple BBQ – The Best Smelling and Tasting Weekend of the Year

Big Apple BBQ
Madison Square Park
New York, NY

This past weekend in NYC was the infamous Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Held once a year in New York City’s Madison Square Park, the event hosts BBQ pitmasters from around the country serving up their specialties. For the 2010 event, 18 restaurants were booked to be on deck serving up BBQ delicacies to the NYC hungry public.

Unfortunately the favored Salt Lick from Driftwood, TX had to pull out last minute due to an “injury in their ‘cue family.” From all of us at Burger Conquest, we send our best wishes and condolences. Long live the Salt Lick.

The event kicks off at 11 am where lines form early and great smells start even earlier. With a beer garden in the park run by the Heartland Brewery, even if you fill up quickly or need a break between ribs, you can still hang out and smell the rich, meaty, smoked happiness in the air. In fact, I would go as far as to say the Big Apple BBQ Block Party is the best smelling weekend of the year in New York City!

Block off the whole day as you are going to want to try as many places as possible. Lines can be as long as 90 minutes for each restaurant! If you don’t want to wait in line, there is the option to buy a fast pass for $125. They include $100 worth of food purchases and allow you to wait in a separate VIP / press line. As you’ll see below, that still could mean up to a 30 minute wait. Don’t want to shell out the big bucks or don’t think you will eat that much? Start up a food blog about Burgers or Steak, write all the time and maybe, just maybe the lovely folks at the Union Square Hospitality Group will grant you a media pass!

Look at it this way, the longer you wait in line, the longer your hunger has to come back. Plus you get to smell this the whole time…Charles Grund Jr.’s Hill Country and Ed Mitchell’s “The Pit” cooking and smoking on 26th Street.

If you’re a New Yorker or live near the city, you can save time by skipping any of the NYC based BBQ spots like Blue Smoke. Don’t get me wrong, they sling some great ‘Q but you can get it any time you like, just be sure that you do! I will say this, their stand definitely got a gold star in the “best smells” award category I made up for the sake of this post.


Nashville, TN

Checking in with the Twitterverse, Foursquaresphere and Facebookland, it seemed that early excited was on Martin’s Bar-B-Cue Joint. Pitmaster Patrick Martin was serving up a Western Tennessee-Style Whole Hog. That means, they smoke
the entire pig for hours and then pull the meat to serve on squishy roll. For those keeping track, Martin’s did the right thing and served this tasty little number on a potato roll It’s topped with pickles, coleslaw and Martin’s homemade BBQ sauce.

Martin’s is widely known as the home of delicious BBQ but their sauce also receives high praise. The Martin’s employees were treating VIP attendees to free squirts while they got a tour of their ginormous smoker. They even took a chocolate fountain and filled it with sauce for dipping. AMAZING!

The sandwich was better than most. The sauce was applied ever so slightly so as not to attract attention from the succulent smoked pork. Personally, I removed the slaw and pickles, as they’re just not my thing but I did give a little squirt of the hot sauce on top. No one flavor dominated the sandwich and in fact, the pork, the sauce, the bun, the smoke and the spices all did a tasty little hoe-down to make a top notch pulled pork sandwich. It was a damn fine way to start of a day full of delicious ‘Q!

Pitmaster – SKIP STEELE
St. Louis, MO

The time was 2 pm, the block party had been going for 3 hours with 4 more to go. Thus far I had only shared a pulled pork sandwich and I was still hungry enough to eat, well, EVERYTHING. We set out sites on Ed Mitchell’s The Pit which had already run out of their Whole Hog. We re-routed to Myron Mixon’s Jack’s Old South for brisket. They had run out as well. Apparently they had underestimated NYC’s hunger for southern BBQ. We re-routed to Pappy’s Smokehouse for St. Louis-Style Ribs.

I climbed back into the VIP area and made my way over to Pappy’s. The VIP line took up half the block!! Either these ribs were amazing or everyone else had run out of food as well. 35 minutes later I had the answer….THESE RIBS WERE AMAZING! The meat was tender and juicy. The sauce was sweet and spicy with heavy tastes of molasses and crushed black pepper. They were delectable but not over sauced, allowing for the flavor of the rib to shine through. I’m 36, my Mom is from Tennessee and I’ve eaten a lot of meat in my life. There’s been no shortage of ribs that have passed across my lips and I am telling you, these are the best god damn short ribs I have ever eaten. From the sauce to the smoke to the meat, these ribs can not be beaten! Amen to Skip Steele and his original smoker built from an ammonia tank. YOU WIN!

Birmingham, AL

After completely sucking my fingers dry from Pappy’s ribs, we wandered around wondering if it was even worth getting something else from the Big Apple BBQ. Then we passed by Drew Robinson’s Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q and stopped dead in our tracks. First my nose filled up with the most wonderfully distinct smell of smoked homemade sausage links. It was as if the cartoon olfactory ghost reached right out of the smok
er with a vapor like finger and waved my attention over. There I saw 4 men slaving over 2 ridiculously large, wood-fried grills cooking a ton of sausages. The 3 of us looked at each other and all at the same time proclaimed “I WANT SAUSAGE!”

When I walked back into the media area, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only person that had fallen to the smell of smoked pork. I got in line and waited to get smoked sausages with pimento cheese, saltines and jalapenos. Served piping hot and with a little sauce spread on the top, this link was not to be messed with. Drew Robinson’s recipe calls for 7 different seasonings and 3 kinds of peppers, which creates one smokey and tasty sausage. With one bite, I could see why the restaurant has grown to 29 locations in 7 different states.

Pitmaster – JOHN WHEELER
New York, NY

Before my brain was able to trigger the Leptin, (the chemical that tells you you’re full), I ran over to Rack & Soul to get some of John Wheeler’s delicious ribs. This in effect, caused us to break our own guideline about not eating NYC based BBQ at the Block Party. However, these ribs were the favorite from last year’s Big Apple BBQ and we just had to have one little order before leaving.

I don’t know what Rack & Soul does to their baby back’s but it’s pure BBQ bliss. The ribs are meaty and I mean really meaty, not only in size but also in taste. You will instantly taste the full bodied flavor of pork with these bad boys and the sauce…OH THE SAUCE! I couldn’t pin point the flavor if I tried but the sauce has a candy like taste to it that is like none other. You could try watching this video of John Wheeler making his ribs but I highly doubt you could re-create his fantastic results.

Tasty thanks to Serious Eats Beef Aficionado Nick Solares for treating us to Martin’s. Special thanks to Marisa, Theresa and Leah for the media pass! BIG thanks to my saucy wife Cara and BBQ junkie Chuck for helping to enjoy using it! Additional thanks to the 316 people that checked into the venue on Foursquare before me, I finally got the Super Swarm badge!!

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