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Big Apple Barbecue Block Party 2009


Fat Guy
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I can't speak to the specifics of any given place, but when I used to be more involved in the event there were always people saying "Such and such a place can definitely handle that kind of scale." Then the organizers would reach out to the owners, who would say "Oh, no, we can't do that all the way in New York City. No way." There's a big difference between doing a big barbecue festival down South with thousands of attendees and doing one a thousand miles away from home base with tens of thousands of attendees. There were also always a fair share of people who couldn't come on account of conflicts. Like those sausage guys from Elgin, they were great, they could handle the scale, but there's some big event that they need to do closer to home that has started to fall on the BABBP weekend -- so they're out of the rotation even though they were one of the best participants ever.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The more I read eGullet's BABBP thread each year -- which is how I discovered both eGullet and the guerrilla-warfare tricks for working the fair's booths -- the more I'm struck by the range of quality that each booth can offer. Sausage can be dry or juicy, pulled pork mushy/bland or stringy/savory, ribs tender or tough depending on the random time of day. I learn so much about which vendors to try and which ones to avoid, and the differences between objective and subjective BBQ appreciation.

Who works AT the booths besides the cooks, by the way? Are they local volunteers or employees, maybe with the Madison Square Park Conservancy? Or do they come in with the pitmasters' crews? Could it be worth becoming a carnie at this carnivorous fair?

In 2004, there was a bit of speculation about the servers:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=66105&st=120

Bux: "I wonder where all those pit workers came from. It doesn't seem likely that most of the servers were brought up and housed overnight. Pit crews and family were obviously imported. Some of the service seemed assembly line disinterested. At some tents however, it was particularly friendly down home service. . . . I wonder about the economics of participation in such an event and compensation to the participants. I look at the long line at Ed Mitchell's and then I look at the pits he brought up and the spectacular gigantic rig parked on East 25th or 26th Street and have to wonder if he could recoup the cost at $7 a head. In addition to the free 'cue to pass holders on Saturday and the feeding of security personnel, I noticed worker's accepting credits from other tents, especially late on Sunday when some pits were sold out. It just doesn't seem as if profit was a major motive. I figure they all came up for some good old NYC hospitality more than anything else."

Juuceman: "The non-Southern staff was provided by some event staffing company.. i thought most of them were pretty ineffective, poorly trained, and generally mechanical. . . ."

Edited by jkarpf (log)
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As I understand it, and again I'm not as involved behind the scenes as in the past, it works something like this:

- The BABBP event organizers provide all the local support. They provide staff, infrastructure and ingredients.

- Some vendors bring their equipment, others rent locally.

- The vendors bring a small crew to handle cooking and some parts of assembly. The rest are from the events team.

- Every vendor gets a budget for travel and such, based on distance, plus an attendance fee.

- Every vendor agrees to serve X orders per day, however there is no bonus for serving any given number of people, or for selling more drinks or anything like that. It's a flat fee.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There were also always a fair share of people who couldn't come on account of conflicts. Like those sausage guys from Elgin, they were great, they could handle the scale, but there's some big event that they need to do closer to home that has started to fall on the BABBP weekend -- so they're out of the rotation even though they were one of the best participants ever.

Funny you should say. I went to the Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival in NC held over the same wknd. It's a national competition so maybe the cause of scheduling conflicts? http://www.blueridgebbqfestival.com/ I find it amazing that multiple events on this scale can occur on the same wknd. Didn't realize there were so many traveling pit masters able to handle large volumes and produce (for the most part) excellent quality product .

The festival was definitely worth the 10hr drive (each way) to avoid those BAB lines though. And the q was phenominal. Best we ever had.

Edited by Eatmywords (log)

That wasn't chicken

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-- the more I'm struck by the range of quality that each booth can offer.  Sausage can be dry or juicy, pulled pork mushy/bland or stringy/savory, ribs tender or tough depending on the random time of day. 

Yep, that's my big complaint - it's very hard to get the consistency down in 2 days.

Last year, it was really hot; this year, not so much - even with a little rain. Pretty sure that has to affect the end-product; especially when there's no time to really experiment with your environment like many of them have been doing at their home base for years.

It's nice that so many of these pitmasters are able to gather in one place at one time - I just wish they had the same ability to put out their best product at that same time.

As far as the service goes, I worked the event a couple of times in the past. Most of the service staff is pretty disinterested in what they're doing - just looking to make a couple of extra bucks and maybe score some free 'cue.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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  • 1 month later...
It could just as easily be that the same number of people from our subculture are attending, but they feel there's less to discuss.

This is certainly part of it. Obviously overall interest is high. But I just don't get the same sense of ecstatic enthusiasm that the BABBP engendered in the foodie community in years 2, 3, and 4 when it was at fever pitch. But, then again, as I said before, barbecue of this quality was virtually unknown to most NYC-area foodies during those years.

Since the first BABBP, we have seen the opening of Dinosaur Barbecue (2004), R.U.B. (2005), Rack & Soul (2006) and Hill Country (2007), not to mention serious improvement at Blue Smoke. It's just not as exceptional anymore for New Yorkers. I mean, to put this in context, a lot of my foodie friends were pretty ecstatic when Virgil's opened however many years ago, and most wouldn't deign to eat there now.

A point of comparison might be the iPhone. Tons of people still buy them and tons of early-adopter types and Mac addicts still buy the latest models. But there just isn't the buzz that there was in 2007 when they came out.

Sure but you still can't get a decent NC style pulled pork in NYC. In fact of everything I tried this year Ed Mitchell's pulled pork was the one thing that stood out. Sadly everything else I could have lived without.

EDIT: The Baker's jalapeno cole slaw was another good memory.

Fastpass was nearly useless since they sell a lot of them now, and places running out at 3 was annoying. In any case the quality seems to go down as the hours go by.

Edited by sxr71 (log)
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