Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Do New Yorkers Get BBQ?


wcmckinney
 Share

Recommended Posts

My friend Elyssa from Raleigh said that when she started school at Barnard someone asked her where she was from. "The South," she said. "Oh so you're from Texas," her inquisitor responded.

Similarly Eugene Walter, a Southern engenue (read: eccentric) who ran in literary and cultural circles in New York City midcentury referred to those new to the city as coming from "the provinces."

These were the thoughts jogging through my head as I waited in traffic from LaGuardia to a Manhattan Hotel where I was going to participate in the 2nd Annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party

Note: A much...MUCH....M-U-C-H....too thorough discussion of this same topic is availabe on the NY/NJ forum site, resplendent with some good pictures of the event.

I was invited to speak on a panel discussion on NC BBQ. And I should also note that the hospitality that was extended to us speakers/pit masters/hangers on by Danny Meyer and the Union Square Hospitality Group was really and truly remarkable and appreciated.

I hit the ground running on saturday, with my father and sister along for the ride as they had taken the train up as a diversion from sister's college tour, quickly sampling some KC Beef Brisket (whose smoke ring looked like rubies it was so bright), moved on to some Southern Illinois ribs which were dry rubbed and retained a moistness that made them archetypes of ribs. I later came to understand that these purveyors of ribs were renowned by the BBQ cogniscenti, and deservedly so. I also managed to sneak in some Alabama BBQ shoulder (served with white sauce...I know it usually goes on BBQ chicken in Alabama, but how often do I get to sample BBQ white sauce?), and pig snoot from St. Louis. Do you like cracklin'? Then you'ld love a pig snoot sandwich since the two are virtually indistinguishable.

My NC BBQ panel was moderated by Ed Levine, a food writer for the NY Times. Two NC Born, NYC living filmmakers were to Mr. Levine's left, and Ed Mitchell, Wilson NC Pitmaster and BBQ participant, TV's Bob Garner and myself were to his right. The sun was above Mr. Levine and its strength made me think I too was being slowly cooked over direct heat for a long period of time...

Frankly, I did not find the discussion that fufilling or enlightening, especially for those souls who were sitting in the audience. How what we talked about could be considered sensical or evident of what BBQ is like across NC -- from Manteo to Murphy -- is lost on me. it was a 45 minute conversation on BBQ and NC, but I thought it all came out a little cartoonish and unrealistic of what is going on in NC BBQ as a whole. Furhtermore, how people in NYC would sit in a park to hear about BBQ for two days and wait in line for upwards of an hour and a half for BBQ is ALSO lost on me, but they did on both accounts. So maybe I am the crazy one here....

Noticing that the line at Ed Mitchell's of Wilson was long on saturday, I offered to help out on Sunday. Mr. Mitchell was gracious enough to let me hang out and help serve the Sunday meal, and this experience I found as rewarding as my panel discussion on Bar-B-Culture (as John Shelton Reed terms it).

I served, I chopped,I broke cracklin', I moved the line along, I applied sauce, I lived the dream.

Whole hog BBQ in NYC is about as rare as bread in 1970's Moscow, or so I assume judging by the length of the line. We guestimated that over 30,000 people were at the six restaurant booths on each day, and there was simply no way to move that many people through a line, no matter how fast BBQ was produced. Mitchell's Q was done early each day, despite fixing 7 whole hogs on each day...

Beyond the scheer enormity of the goings on, I should note the fascination by the NYC media with Mr. Mitchell (which was, as I understand it, similar to last year). He was the only Pit Master there who was cooking in what you and I think of as BBQ smoker, the black barrels with full grill and an opening for the addition of charcoal -- the other cookers had much more polished, but much less sublime equipment

Equally interesting to me was the New Yorker's appreciation for BBQ. On applying BBQ sauce to the pork: "Can you put that sweet & tangy (Out West) sauce with some of that hot & spicy (Down East) sauce?," they would ask. Sounds, and probably tastes disgusting, but i am not one to judge...too much.

"Why don't you have ribs?" they would ask of the NC Whole Hog BBQ stand. Its really just not what we do..."But it says you have BBQ." Conversations like these left me with a Laurel & Hardy, "Who's on First" feeling.

Then there were the complainers, "He got more than I did." No he didn't I said, and I was right. "Yes he did, I want my money back." (He did not get his money back, rather the enormous line simply engulfed him again).

"I want more cracklin' ", one person would say. I would think that this woman wanted to loose her teeth based on how much cracklin' she was putting back, but again, the customer is always right.

"I still want more sauce," was a common refrain, curious to me since at this point they were receiving something like BBQ soup.

I guess in summation I viewed this weekend as a BBQ outreach experience for New Yorkers. It was not that they had to wait in line so long for a blessing from Ed Mitchell. It was not that they corrupted what we would like to think of as pure BBQ. It was not that they would have left my panel believing that BBQ was produced by savants and eccentrics who ferret out their fresh wood from secret sources.

It was that they got a little closer to understanding how good food can taste, and how important it can be to the people and place from where it comes.

William McKinney aka "wcmckinney"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm curious, William -- how did you find the cole slaw? I've noticed that the cole slaw at every restaurant that claims to serve barbecue isn't really a Southern-style cole slaw. It's the crunchy kind, heavy on the celery seed, that I'd expect to find next to a corned beef sandwich.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting point, however the only slaw served was made by Mitchell's, so it was their slaw recipe (with NYC ingredients). I understand your slaw concerns, especially with celery seed and hints of mustard that I seem to catch when I am eating non standard slaw...

William McKinney aka "wcmckinney"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The white guy working at Mitchell's on Sunday was YOU?

That depends, Steve. Are we talking neon-white? Sort of like Doogie Howser posing as a poly sci major? That would be our boy. :biggrin:

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Speaking only as one barbecue-starved NYer, there's so much to learn! The first time I had barbecue, in Kansas City (late 1990s), it was not too far from what I'd heard about -- smoke-cooked meat and sauce -- so it wasn't totally foreign. The second time, in Wilson, NC in 2001 (not sure if it was at Mitchells), in my ignorance, I thought, "Is this IT??" So much to learn, so much to learn.

Maybe we should come down there and teach you about egg creams and lox? Would that be a fair swap?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe we should come down there and teach you about egg creams and lox? Would that be a fair swap?

A lesson and a visit are always welcome, Suzanne. But you raise a point I find interesting: If I wanted egg creams or lox, I'd certainly consider a trip to New York (or Miami -- I had my first lox on a bagel at Wolfies in Miami Beach when I was 10, so it will always be my standard). I wouldn't expect North Carolina to yield a good egg cream or decent lox, and I wouldn't fuss because it didn't.

But New York has this fixation on barbecue that puzzles me. It's sort of a collective attitude of "We have the best of everything, so we should have the best barbecue, too." Well, no. You don't have the lifestyle, atmosphere or history that would have given rise to great barbecue. So why the obsessation with declaring New York a barbecue capital? Why not just mark barbecue down as one of those things you enjoy when you're somewhere else and go about your business, enjoying your lox and egg creams and chewy bagels and good pastrami?

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why not just mark barbecue down as one of those things you enjoy when you're somewhere else and go about your business, enjoying your lox and egg creams and chewy bagels and good pastrami?

For the same reason North Carolinians shouldn't mark French, Asian, New American, and dozens of other cuisines and products down as things they enjoy elsewhere and go about their business, limiting themselves to barbecue and fried fish!

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh dear, you really think we want to be the barbecue capital? Maybe some do, but I think it's more about playing with a shiny new toy -- here's this delicious food that we haven't been able to eat close to home for so long, so we want more and more and more.

If barbecue be the food of love, play on.

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

If there's only one good thing about globalization -- and there very well may be only one good thing about it -- it's that good food can travel, too. :biggrin:

Besides, the state of most bagels here is ATROCIOUS! :angry: They are no longer the dense, chewy ones of my youth but big, puffy, inflated rolls. Feh. :sad:

Edited by Suzanne F (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This may be more a commentary on NYC than on BBQ, though until I can find an E-Geography message boad I will write it here:

When Bagels first hit Greenville, SC big about 10 years ago, there were bagel runs and many minivans making bagel runs all over town (and I was often in the back seat of these minivans), yet 50,000 people did not descend on Cleveland Park to eat bagels and Ethan Hawke was not spotted eating in bagelries on Pelham Rd....

Whatever confluence of factors that makes NYC such a vortex of excitement about new things, food or non-food related, it is lost on the rest of the country. This is not a value judgement, just how I see it.

So with BBQ leaping to the fore in NYC recently, I say great. Can there be good "authentic" BBQ in NYC? Why not. John Shelton Reed defines a Southerner as someone who wants to be a Southerner. So why can't someone in NYC who wants to take a stab at making good BBQ be a good BBQ-er?

Of course a contrarian, and these are my favorite people, might say (with apologies to David Mamet): "Well just because a cat has kittens in an oven, they aren't biscuits." Or, just because they make BBQ in NYC doesn't make them authentic pit masters...But where is the fun in shutting people out of doing something they want to do?

I get the sense that I am quickly chasing my tail in this arguement...but for the record I think it's cool people in NYC are digging BBQ. Vive le difference and all that!

William McKinney aka "wcmckinney"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

No. New Yorkers don't "get" BBQ.

But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have, eat, appreciate, even love good barbecue. Of course they should.

And eventually, they certainly can "get" it. Perhaps even develop their own special take on it.

After all, as is well-evidenced in several other current threads, barbecue -- even the part of it that one "gets" -- arrived from elsewhere.

In the American south, it probably came from slaves, and the Caribbean.

In East Texas, the African American influence is still strong. In Central Texas the smoked meats of German immigrants dominate. In Southwest Texas, it's the barbacoa of the vaqueros.

Kansas City owes much of its barbecue tradition to Arthur Bryant, a Texas boy passing through. He decided to stay and Kansas City and barbecue history were changed forever.

So it's entirely possible for New York eventually to serve up great barbecue. Even the "gettin'" kind. But you gotta start somewhere, and Danny Meyers is taking a great first step.

I respect and admire him for that. And wish y'all well.

All y'all.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

New York's unique enthusiasm for all things is what makes New York great! And let's not forget that there is a significant expat-Southerner population in New York City. All you need to do is hang out for awhile at Brother Jimmy's, where the signs on the wall read "God was a Tarheel" and such, and you can meet plenty of Southerners homesick for real barbecue (not that they exactly get it at BJ's). Not that it should come as a suprise: most groups and subgroups from around the nation and the world are represented in New York. That demographic reality is perhaps the single clearest defining cultural trait of New York City, so it's no wonder each group wants to bring its home to New York and it's wonderful that New Yorkers are constantly and excitedly embracing every culture under the sun. If that ever stops, New York will cease to be what it is.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it just happens to be a coincidence that the BABBP happened in NYC. It could have happened anywhere, and I have no doubts that plenty of people would have attended (although there may have been more enthusiasm for the diversity of styles in NYC than there might have been in a region with strong stylistic biases).

When Bagels first hit Greenville, SC big about 10 years ago, there were bagel runs and many minivans making bagel runs all over town (and I was often in the back seat of these minivans), yet 50,000 people did not descend on Cleveland Park to eat bagels . . .

Well, I think there is a pretty easy explanation for this. The population of New York City is around 8 million. The BABBP probably drew attendees from a much larger population area, but let's go conservative and call it 8 million. Assuming that there were 50,000 attendees, that's 0.6% of the population of NYC who checked it out. Greenville, SC has a population of 56,000. 50,000 attendees at a bagel festival would represent 90% of the population. 0.6% would represent around 335 people. Do you think it would be impossible to drum up 335 people for a bagel festival or something similarly "foreign" in Greenville? I don't. In fact, I would argue that bagel appreciation has permeated the zeitgeist of Greenville, SC far more deeply than barbecue appreciation has permeated the zeitgeist of New York City. The fact is that the average New Yorker doesn't really give a rat's ass about barbecue, but there are so damn many of us that even a small minority can make something look like a big deal based only on numbers.

But New York has this fixation on barbecue that puzzles me. It's sort of a collective attitude of "We have the best of everything, so we should have the best barbecue, too." Well, no. You don't have the lifestyle, atmosphere or history that would have given rise to great barbecue. So why the obsessation with declaring New York a barbecue capital?

I don't quite understand where you get the idea that New York has a "fixation on [traditional American] barbecue." I think you'll find, as I say above, that most New Yorkers really don't care about it all that much more than they do, say, hotdogs. As one of the panelists in the "barbeculture" talk said, "barbecue" has become an identifiable flavor throughout most of America. Additionally, much the same way that the Black migration from the South to the North brought barbecue to cities like Chicago, so has the migration of Southerners to New York City brought an increased interest in barbecue (and other Southern foods) to the City. Also additionally, the immigration of other cultures with similar meat cooking traditions (notably Caribbean and African) have tended to reinforce an interest in barbecue-like foods. So it stands to reason that barbecue would find some interest in the City.

I'm not sure it's accurate to suggest, however, that New York City is trying to establish itself as a "barbecue capital" by virtue of having some restaurants that are trying to make good barbecue any more than Raleigh, NC is trying to establish itself as a "pizza capital" by virtue of having some restaurants that are trying to make good pizza (assuming that they are). What I think we have here with the BABBP is nothing more complicated than a dense population center (NYC) combined with some people (Danny Meyer, et al.) with an interest in barbecue and the financial and organizational wherewithal to pull something like this off.

--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And let's not forget that there is a significant expat-Southerner population in New York City. All you need to do is hang out for awhile at Brother Jimmy's, where the signs on the wall read "God was a Tarheel" and such, and you can meet plenty of Southerners homesick for real barbecue (not that they exactly get it at BJ's).

Heh, yes. The 'cue at Brother Jimmy's isn't so wonderful, but it can't be beat for beer, hot wings, and ACC basketball on the big-screen. I think of BJ's as a sports bar with unusually good bar food, and that's about the rate of it. (You can also do okay there with a vegetable plate - the collards and blackeyed peas are pretty tasty.)

Incidentally, as a "balance of trade" issue, there are many NYC expats in the South these days, and restaurants are beginning to cater to them. Speaking of lox, for instance, there's a very good Jewish deli in Cary, North Carolina (Horwitz's) where you can get a fresh bagel with the works (lox, onions, tomatoes, etc.) that equals anything but the very best NYC deli food.

New Yorkers *are* starting to grok barbecue; they absorbed Soul Food into their culinary universe generations ago, and 'cue is clearly next. And North Carolinians are starting to speak in an informed fashion about smoked whitefish :wink: (though Barney Greengrass needn't worry just yet.)

Edited by enrevanche (log)

enrevanche <http://enrevanche.blogspot.com>

Greenwich Village, NYC

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.

- Mark Twain

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why not just mark barbecue down as one of those things you enjoy when you're somewhere else and go about your business, enjoying your lox and egg creams and chewy bagels and good pastrami?

For the same reason North Carolinians shouldn't mark French, Asian, New American, and dozens of other cuisines and products down as things they enjoy elsewhere and go about their business, limiting themselves to barbecue and fried fish!

True, and I suppose I'm just indulging in a bit of devil's advocacy here. (Hey, Suzanne started it with that crack about the South's inability to make an egg cream!)

And yes, I'm usually the first to start sputtering when someone suggests that the only food of interest in the South is traditional Southern food.

But, just to toss out another point for debate: Isn't that an extension of the logic that makes us think we should be able to have good tomatoes in January and strawberries in the fall? Sure, we can import them from Chile all year round. But that doesn't make them good.

Yes, we should expand our culinary networks and creative chefs should be able to play and expand and explore. But there are some iconic foods that are going to change -- maybe not suffer, but certainly change -- if you take them out of their natural habitats.

If I were in Rome, I'd certainly miss chocolate chip cookies. But I wouldn't expect to be able to walk into any bakery and buy them. If I did, I'd probably spend a lot of time pondering how the Italians interpret the Tollhouse. But what I should really be doing is saving my calories for biscotti!

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To be honest, I actually find parts of this discussion a bit disturbing. To me it seems obvious why there were crowds, why New York tends to get attention as a center for all kinds of cuisine, why there's an eternal curiosity about new things, why a casual observer might see some childish and/or ignorant behavior while watching a line.

Simple... it's numbers. Pure numbers. There are a LOT of people who live here. And also it's a group that, by it's very nature, is already very diverse--with a history of yes... let's admit it... assimilation. (Okay, Sam beat me to this argument, but it's worth restating)

And in the nature of all things New York... the barbecue festival was completely forgotten a week later. That's another part of there being a lot of people, in a small space, with a lot going on. If it was a fixation, it was a very short lived one. Until next year's BABBP.

As for the "BBQ capital" thing, I mostly get that it was an off-hand reference by Steven Shaw in his commentary to put the whole BABBP in perspective. If someone else actually said it at the event, I'm sure it was for similar purposes. I don't think it was stated as some serious goal. The very reason people were fascinated by Ed Mitchell was the realization that he's from a place, and a lifestyle, which represents barbecue, whereas Danny Meyer isn't. :smile: And even still, in the nature of the big populous city, it's a passing fancy--hopefully to be revisited next year, but perhaps not.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But, just to toss out another point for debate: Isn't that an extension of the logic that makes us think we should be able to have good tomatoes in January and strawberries in the fall? Sure, we can import them from Chile all year round. But that doesn't make them good.

That's really not the same. The imported foodstuffs have to travel a distance. If you import a pitmaster to New York, why won't the Q be good?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

. . . (Hey, Suzanne started it with that crack about the South's inability to make an egg cream!)

:blink::sad: Sorry, Ms. Purvis, I meant no slur. I've never even tried to get an egg cream anywhere outside of NYC -- in fact, I no longer try them outside my own house :biggrin: and the only other places I've had lox are in Beloit, WI (imported from Chicago) and in South Florida -- the parts of which do count as The South.

. . . Yes, we should expand our culinary networks and creative chefs should be able to play and expand and explore. But there are some iconic foods that are going to change -- maybe not suffer, but certainly change -- if you take them out of their natural habitats.

But what about foods that are already hybrids of different traditions -- the Italian/Cajun food in New Orleans comes to mind immediately (Mosca's "Barbecued" Shrimp). Or even the adaptations made to barbecue by settlers from different home countries, such as mutton in KY or sausage in TX? What I'm saying is: are there any PURE iconic foods at all?

If I were in Rome, I'd certainly miss chocolate chip cookies. But I wouldn't expect to be able to walk into any bakery and buy them. . . .

Not a great analogy, because we here don't expect barbecue to be as ubiquitous as, say, pizza (or chocolate chip cookies, if you will). We just want to be able to find good examples of it, period.

At least, that's my opinion. :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

:blink::sad: Sorry, Ms. Purvis, I meant no slur.
. . . Yes, we should expand our culinary networks and creative chefs should be able to play and expand and explore. But there are some iconic foods that are going to change -- maybe not suffer, but certainly change -- if you take them out of their natural habitats.

But what about foods that are already hybrids of different traditions -- the Italian/Cajun food in New Orleans comes to mind immediately (Mosca's "Barbecued" Shrimp). Or even the adaptations made to barbecue by settlers from different home countries, such as mutton in KY or sausage in TX?

None taken, Ms. S.

On barbecued shrimp, et al, that's why I'd say foods change, rather than suffer. Foods and the English language both continually evolve. And that's why I find them both so endlessly fascinating.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm an expat New Yorker living in the South (if one can truly call Atlanta "the South") and also happened to be in NY for the BBQ festival. I thoroughly enjoyed both, New York and the BBQ. The crowds were big, the food was generally great (though I didn't much care for that Brooklyn brewed beer) :wink: and the whole thing was lot's of fun.

In addition to going to Madison Park for the BBQ, I also did a very New York thing and braved the "crowds" to eat at Per Se, The Spice Market and that marvelous lower east side bistro known as Prune.

Bottom line is, I'd stand in line, brave wind and rain, frogs and locusts if some enterprising entrepreneur were to sponser a true New York deli festival in Piedmont Park, with honest-to-god, real up-home, corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on real rye bread, potato knishes and chocolate egg creams the way they used to be made in Bronx where I grew up.

Every once in a while its nice to step out and experience true regional specialties without having to leave home.

Life is all about diversity. I love it all. :biggrin:

Edited by jaypm51 (log)

Jay

You are what you eat.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Give anyone a seltzer spritzer (which are hard to find, I grant you) and a bottle of Fox's U-Bet and they can make the world's greatest egg cream. I used to make them at my fraternity house in Boston when I felt homesick...

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The white guy working at Mitchell's on Sunday was YOU?

Yeah, and he even recognized my Varmint's Pig Pickin' tee shirt while I was on line...

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was a great event. I was there both Saturday and Sunday and I look forward to attending next year. There was a huge crowd, but if anyone noticed, Union Square and Washington Square, nine twnety blocks south respectively were both also densely crowded with people. Union Square had NYC's most popular Greenmarket on Saturday, otherwise all those places had to offer was good weather. Eight million people is a lot of people and the majority really don't escape to the Hamptons for the weekend, at least not this early in the season. They gotta go someplace. That said, the event was well attended and there were even more potential attenders who were just scared away by the crowds and lines.

Considering NY's appetite for foreign food and "ethnic" food, it's really surprising we don't have better and more barbecue around all year, until you listen to people describe how difficult it is to install a proper pit in urban areas of North Carolina and how local zoning and buidling codes are killing traditional BBQ and then take a look at the density of New York compared to the cities with a barbecue tradition that having a hard time keeping barbecue.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...