For sheer barbecue goodness and access to a variety of styles, you can't beat the Big Apple BBQ Block Party held each June in Madison Square Park in te Flatiron District of Manhattan. This year's iteration will be held June 8-9 and will feature a veritable who's who of barbecue talent.
Our own Pat Martin will drag his 40-foot Hogzilla smoker all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and through the Lincoln Tunnel so he can prepare six whole pigs and 30 shoulders at a time for long lines of hungry New Yorkers who devour it and embrace it like a life-changing experience. Last year, I can't count the number of times I saw eyes rolling back in heads with moans of ecstasy as city folk discovered what we country mice have been hiding all these years while they have been eating reheated radioactive orange frozen Hormel shredded pork and calling it barbecue. Please!
Martin will be joined by some of my absolute favorite pitmasters, and frankly favorite people, in the barbecue biz. Sam Jones will be there from Skylight Inn in Ayden, N.C., cooking whole hog alongside his friend and neighbor to the south, Rodney Scott from Scott's Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, S.C. Both Jones and Scott are members of the Fatback Collective barbecue supergroup with Pat Martin along with other luminaries like James Beard winners Sean Brock, John Currence, Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski.
If I was able to attend this year, I could be happy just spending my time among the piggy law firm of Martin, Scott and Jones, but then I would miss out on so much other great barbecue. Nationally acclaimed pitmasters like Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson's, Scott Roberts of The Salt Lick, Mike Mills of 17th Street Bar and Grill, Kenny Callaghan of Blue Smoke, John Stage from Dinosaur Bar-B-Q and Ed Mitchell will join several other talented cooks to prepare their specialties. Drew Robinson runs the Jim 'N Nick's tent, where they serve a very simple appetizer of the same smoked sausage, pimiento cheese and saltine cracker app that you can find on the JNN menu, but lawdy, you should watch those Yankees line up around the block for a taste of South in their mouth.
True, the lines can get a little intimidating, but the event is very well organized. Volunteers hold up tall flags with colors that correspond to the flags above each pitmaster's rig so you know you are in the proper line and won't be disappointed if you thought you were waiting for one of Pat's amazing whole-hog sandwiches served with cole slaw and some Wickles pickles. Woe be to the Manhattanite who requests a sandwich without slaw within earshot of Mr. Martin ...
If you really want to avoid the lines, I strongly suggest purchasing a FastPass for Sunday, since Saturday has already sold out. For $125, two people can use the pass to use a separate set of much, much shorter lines on the inside of the park rather than waiting with the teeming masses. The pass is charged with $100 worth of credit that you can use for food and drink at any booth or to buy souvenirs from the festival tent. Each pitmaster brings plenty of their restaurant's swag, so it's an opportune time to add to your T-shirt collection.
Like I said, I can't make it up this year, but this event will always be on my travel agenda any year that I can squeeze it into my calendar. I'm hoping at least a few Bitesters can attend so I can live vicariously through them. Bring me back some of Rodney Scott's kettle-fried pigs skins, please. Those things are outrageous!