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Big Apple Barbecue Block Party 2010 [REPORT]


jkarpf
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And Ed Mitchell and Hill Country already sold out half an hour ago. They're smoking more. If it rains tomorrow, they'll have too much.

Below, whole hog from Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint. It's served disappointingly, though -- unlike Mitchell's finely minced whole hog, this is served in chunks, with my random sample being neither tender nor flavorful nor large, and pretty much buried under slaw in a burger bun. Conserving their pig resources, they won't run out, I'm sure.

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I've said it before and I'll say it again: the New York barbecue places are the unsung heroes of this event. Eight years ago, when the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party started, the barbecue scene here was totally different: there was no Hill Country, Blue Smoke was struggling to get its equipment under control, Dinosaur hadn't come to the city or hit its stride... New York was a different town, barbecue-wise. Today, I thought the beef ribs from Blue Smoke and the pulled pork from Dinosaur were totally competitive with what the visiting pitmasters brought to town. A beef rib from Blue Smoke was the best bite of food I had all day. I didn't make it over to Hill Country today, but I will tomorrow in order to continue the research.

But people don't come to this event to eat what they can eat any day, so the lines are longest at Mitchell's, 17th Street, and Big Bob Gibson's. I made it to the first two of those today, and they were superb.

I don't have anything new to say about Mitchell's. I still think what he's doing with the whole hog is on another level from what everybody else is doing. It amazes me every year. If you're at Mitchell's tomorrow, I suggest asking for extra cracklin's and extra vinegar-pepper sauce on your sandwich.

As for Mike Mills and 17th Street, the guy really is the master. Last night he rolled in with an imposing rig with all-new, shiny pits, and his guys cooked more than 2,000 racks of ribs with impressive precision. He also brought a few pork-butt steaks and some hot links, which were not for sale on the public side but were available to friends of the house. They were good.

I had an ambitious plan for coverage going into the event, which got derailed by various technological and personal failings. I thought I'd go down last night and photograph the setup, but I fell asleep -- parenthood will do that to you. Today I took a camera and my wife's netbook but the promised free public Wifi in Madison Square Park was not to be found. So now I'll process and post the photos I had wanted to post today. Stay tuned.

Tomorrow I'll try more systematically to sample the wares from the places I missed today -- most of them.

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 buzz on the mutton seemed positive but I didn't get to it. Tomorrow I will, surely.

Some photos from today...

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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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Blue Smoke:

Salt-and-pepper beef ribs, the best Blue Smoke offering in or out of the restaurant, though I've been spoiled by RUB's and Hill Country's much pricier but much meatier prime-rib beef ribs:

blue-smoke.jpg

Checkered Pig:

Three St. Louis style spareribs, in tomatoey sauce, were meaty but not very smoky. If there was a side, I didn’t write it down.

checkered pig.jpg

Jim 'N' Nicks:

A big sausage smoked open over hickory, somewhat spicy, made up for its weird accompaniment, the southern “pimento cheese” spread, here rendered as shredded American cheese w/ mayo topped by sliced fresh jalapeno, with Saltines on the side.

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Moonlite:

Mutton. Shortest lines, like least year's pig-snoot booth, but said to be very good:

mutton.jpg

Rack and Soul:

Three moist, meaty, and moderately smoky baby-back ribs, showing some pink at the edge and dressed w/ a very peachy, sweet glaze. The baked beans’s base sauce was generic but it was well spiked with spicy, chopped, well-cooked jalapeno, and there was a delicious cubic inch of impossibly tender pork shoulder with the beans, too.

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Wildwood:

Pork "steak" sandwich, possibly shoulder cut, the most meat of any of the entrees:

wildwood.jpg

I would've taken a photo of 17th Street's ribs, but they were so transcendent, stopping time, that I didn't bother.

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And Ed Mitchell and Hill Country already sold out half an hour ago. They're smoking more. If it rains tomorrow, they'll have too much.

Below, whole hog from Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint. It's served disappointingly, though -- unlike Mitchell's finely minced whole hog, this is served in chunks, with my random sample being neither tender nor flavorful nor large, and pretty much buried under slaw in a burger bun. Conserving their pig resources, they won't run out, I'm sure.

IMG_4366-small.jpg

I disagree, it was served differently from Mitchell's, but I enjoyed the variety. Bigger chunks of hog, bleneded well with the slaw, and I felt that their sauce was superb. Just a tasty spicy variation. I got a nice hearty portion.

Blessed are those who engage in lively conversation with the helplessly mute, for they shall be called, "Dentists." (anonymous)

Life is too short for bad Caesar Salad. (Me)

Why would you poison yourself by eating a non-organic apple? (HL)

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Had a good time at the Big Apple BBQ this year: it really pays to come early to the party! Really enjoyed the pork at Ed Mitchell: the piquant and spicy sauce was a lovely accompaniment to the succulent pork. Also went to Chris Lilly's spot: pulled pork was also nice but there were dry pieces of pork mixed with the more tender chunks, and it was a bit of a disappointment. Moonline's BBQ mutton was a revelation: flavorful, tender and not at all gamey, and the accompanying burgoo was also good. Had smoked sausage from Jim 'N Nick's BBQ: flavors reminded me of chorizo, and the pimento cheese provided some much-needed spice to the dish. Baby back ribs from Mike Mills' 17th St. Bar & Grill were tender but lacked flavor; his baked beans were also too sweet for my tastes. Went for Pecan Pie Oh My!!! concrete at Shake Shack for dessert. May consider a return visit next year, but must remember to come at 11 AM sharp!

BTW: Was at Ed Mitchell watching him preparing the whole hog when I saw Steve Shaw talking to Ed. Nice fish pants, Steve. Wanted to introduce myself but I tend to be shy, and you were busy talking shop with Mr. Mitchell.

Edited by The Food Doc (log)
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That was me and we weren't talking shop -- we were just BS-ing in the great barbecue tradition. Nobody should ever hesitate to approach me. It makes me feel legitimate.

I have to say I think this was the best year ever. I'll be interested to see the crowd numbers and number-of-portions stats, but if this year was bigger than previous years the crowd-control and organization effort was amazing. Even the people who showed up with no game plan were able to get some good 'cue, and those who gamed it effectively were able to get everything they wanted.

Moonlite. I had one bite of mutton, which will suffice as my mutton for the decade. It was better than I thought it would be -- John Sconzo described it as "well-modulated" -- but I can't imagine ever choosing mutton over beef or pork. The mutton guys were great and I loved the idea of them being there, but mutton just isn't my thing.

Jim & Nick's. I really wasn't fond of the pimento cheese mayonnaise thing, and thought that sausage was just okay. I miss having Southside Market at the event and wish they'd return.

Salt Lick. I've never been a big fan of Salt Lick, and they seemed not to be in attendance even though they were listed on the event map. So for me no great loss there. I just wish I'd remembered to ask someone the story behind the missing Salt Lick.

Blue Smoke. I had Blue Smoke beef ribs again today. I wrestled with my decision to devote stomach space to locally available 'cue but I decided to be utilitarian and simply eat what I thought was objectively best. And the Blue Smoke beef ribs were my favorite thing at the event. My three favorite things were those beef ribs, the Ed Mitchell chopped pork, and the Mike Mills ribs and beans.

Big Bob Gibson. Over the years I've tried Big Bob Gibson's pork shoulders a whole lot of times. This year the sample I tried was not up to snuff. But that's the world of barbecue mass production.

Hill Country. I thought their brisket was excellent. Score another for the home team. While New York City barbecue still lacks the romance of barbecue in its native places, and while it's still expensive by comparison, I think it's now possible to get barbecue in New York City that's on par with barbecue in most places. The big exception is that nobody here is doing great North Carolina barbecue in any of the major NC styles. But for ribs and such, we've done very well.

Baker's ribs were, I thought, really good. I only had one but I was impressed.

Also noteworthy, a superb berry cobbler from the Blue Smoke dessert operation. At about 2pm it seemed everybody at the event simultaneously got the idea to have a Blue Smoke dessert and that line temporarily became almost as long as Big Bob Gibson's line.

I got out of there before the rain in the later part of the afternoon. I assume most of the 'cue had been served by the time it rained. And the nice thing about the whole weekend of impending rain was that it kept the weather cool and breezy. I remember some of the barbecue weekends being brutally hot, like the one when my wife was pregnant. This weekend was lovely.

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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In the end I decided to go back for Day 2 rather than sell my pass. Glad I did.

On Day 1 I had, in order:

Moonlight Mutton -- I was a fan, not amazing but pretty tasty, although a little heavy handed on (I think) garlic powder. I like lamb, I like mutton too. My gripe: Before I got my sandwich I grabbed a sample hunk cut straight from the hind quarter, and this was a whole lot more interesting than the finely minced mixture they use for the sandwich.

Bob Gibson's Pork Shoulder -- Usually among my favorites, but this year it was cold and pretty pedestrian.

Martin's Whole Hog -- Last they were a very happy surprise for me, maybe the best thing I had. This year confirmed that Martin's is my new favorite vendor at the festival. I love their pork, it's tender and flavorful. Their sauce is terrific, and the slaw brings it all together.

Pappy's St. Louis Ribs -- Decent, not great. Some smoke, but not enough. Not really succulent. Over-salted.

A belly ache.

On Day 2 I had, in order:

Jack's Old South Brisket -- A nice showing. Moist and flavorful. Here's where I really agree with Fat Guy because although this was a good plate of brisket, it doesn't touch Hill Country.

Blue Smoke Beef Ribs -- Again I agree with Fat Guy. These were very good beef ribs, although I was let down that the serving was a few bony pieces instead of one meaty piece. I struggled to find enough to meat. big ups to the pickled okra and assorted other pickled pieces. Dipping the beef in the pickle juice was a strong play.

The Pit Whole Hog -- Still love this pork, it's just been surpassed for me by Martins.

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Ed Mitchell and his business partner (left of Mitchell) overseeing the meat:

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Blue Smoke's beef ribs:

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Sausage and pimento-cheese stuff:

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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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I'm glad Martin's served better portions overall. This year, I was again underwhelmed by Ed Mitchell's whole hog, which so vinegared and so finely minced that it was, again, almost like tuna salad (cracklings weren't available when I asked). I would've enjoyed Martin's whole hog more had there been more.

Portions can be such a crap shoot. My group ended up getting five orders of 17th Street ribs thanks to their highly smoked deliciousness, and the largest serving must've been three times the size of the smallest. Another reason to go w/ friends and share.

Moonlite's mutton took the place of the weird-food niche occupied last year by Smoki O, which had served delicious but off-puttingly-named snoot sandwiches. Most of my group loved the mutton, though two of us felt it didn't taste much LIKE mutton, more like beef.

I too was impressed by the trafficking, except for my last attempt for a meal, at Jim 'N' Nicks, where many sausages had been plated w/ their sides but the lines to buy were needlessly long. Cruising the booths shortly before noon meant instant service. I'll be going again in 2011.

The whole fair has inspired me to try my own smoking in a couple of weekend when I visit my gf's family, which uses their grill only for grilling, not smoking. I'll make a big mess, of course, but that's one of the benefits of being just a weekend guest: the privilege of not having to clean up entirely after yourself. I have some frozen heirloom-breed short ribs I'd like to experiment with.

Steve, great meeting you, but if I can wear a bacon shirt to a 'cue fest, you can wear bacon pants instead of fish pants.

Edited by jkarpf (log)
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North Carolina barbecue is definitely an acquired taste. I've never really acquired the taste for the Lexington style, where they process pork shoulders to a cat-food-like texture and add vinegar and ketchup (although, there's a post somewhere here from when I visited several rural Western places with Dean McCord and they didn't go so fine -- much better). I vastly prefer the Eastern style where they use the whole hog -- there it makes sense to chop it up because you get all different cuts of meat mixed together. I prefer a rougher chop than most North Carolina places default to, though. At most restaurant down there you can just ask for rough chop. With Mitchell's at the BABBP, where you can't customize as much as at a retail location, I've found that the way to go is to get extra cracklin's and mix them in for texture. But yes, I'd like to see a rougher chop statewide.

(The fish pants are a little bit of an albatross for me. People expect them. I can't change to another design because I get complaints. When Chefworks stopped making them I wore regular tan pants for a while and people on the street -- people I'd never spoken to before -- would stop me and be like, "Dude, where's the fish pants?" So I found an alternate supplier and am now again wearing them daily.)

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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Loved the mutton - delicious and really interesting. I do wish there were 2 "exotic" people every year - there's only so much pulled pork and ribs you can do, especially when mitchell and mills are the best every year anyway.

I want pancakes! God, do you people understand every language except English? Yo quiero pancakes! Donnez moi pancakes! Click click bloody click pancakes!

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