It’s summer in New York. And other than the prevalent smell of urine in the subways, as amplified by the heat, the city has a lot to offer: the opportunity to idle away a Saturday afternoon in Sheep’s Meadow, the summer movie series in Bryant Park, and an ongoing variety of outdoor fetes and festivals. The fairest of them all? The Big Apple Barbecue. Now if you are a vegetarian, I have to warn you: this column isn’t for you. No hard feelings or anything, but we are going to be talking meat here. If you want to stick around to hear tale of this BBQ to satisfy some curiosity, you are certainly welcome. But try not to be a buzz kill. Are we good? Good.
Meat lovers, listen up: every summer a marvelous thing happens in Madison Square Park. Something more marvelous than enjoying a midday burger at Shake Shack. I am referring to the glory that is the Big Apple Barbecue. For one weekend in June, pitmasters from across the country descend upon our fair city bringing their own special brand of BBQ showmanship and all the heavenly meat a person can sink his/her teeth (and wallet) into. Entrance to the block party is free, but for $8 a plate you can sample barbecue as prepared by some of the country’s most celebrated barbecue pitmasters. And yes, that is their actual title. They take this stuff seriously, as do I, and throngs of others. One bite and you will be glad they do, too.
Now a few tips one partaking in the Big Apple Barbecue, brought to you by a seasoned pro:
First: come hungry. This may seem obvious to most of you, but each year I inevitably run into a friend who says something like, “I ate lunch before, so I’ll probably just get a little something. Or maybe I’ll just have to have a bite of whatever you get.” You know, that’s just rude. You are at a festival of meat and gluttony. This isn’t a wine tasting. Embrace it. You don’t do it everyday and you can always hit the gym tomorrow, if that’s your thing. Because at this BBQ Block Party, you can grab a taste of St. Louis-style pork ribs, Texas-loved beef brisket, and North Carolina-approved whole hog,. Not to mention the beef ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage, and barbecued turkey that will also be cooking up. For those whose preferences lie with all things New York, do not fear. The BABBQ has something for you as well: You will be able to snag a plate from such NY establishments as Hill Country, Blue Smoke, Dinosaur-B-Que, and Rack & Soul (though to be honest, this was last one my least favorite rib sampling from years past). And don’t forget the savory sides that come with your meat! Or the dessert you may choose to snag at the Blue Smoke stand to help stave off the inevitable meat coma. No word yet on what the dessert will be this year, but I have a recollection of a BABBQ past where one of the desserts Blue Smoke offered was a giant S’more with peanut butter and a chocolate-dipped corner. And yes, it was a-m-a-z-i-n-g.
Second: don’t show up wearing your favorite garbs. Yes, we know you are pretty and those pants you just picked up at Barney’s Co-op look awesome on you. You’re butt has never looked finer. But do you really want to be sitting in the grass, dripping yummy meat juice all over them? No. Also, you will be standing in lines snaked around barbeque pit upon barbecue pit. This means it will be hot. Really hot. Dress accordingly and give the guy tending to the ribs a kind smile and know it is all worth it.
Third: be patient. Lines can be long. Are you surprised? This is Manhattan. And FastPasses for the BABBQ are, sadly, already sold out. If you are fortunate enough to have snagged one (thus, bypassing the longer lines reserved for ordinary folk)…then I hate you. For the rest of us, standing in line just gives you time to digest before further meat intake. Again I say to you, it is worth it.
Fourth: plan your method of attack. Know the joints you want to hit and stay focused. If you are anything like me, your eyes will be bigger than your stomach. And you want to make sure you get a taste of your top picks before the meat sweats and heat get the best of you. Personally, I am looking forward to Martin’s and The Salt Lick. I visited The Salt Lick’s home base restaurant, located outside of Austin, not long ago and am more than excited to bask in their meat majesty once again.
You are now ready to partake in the joy of the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party. It takes place takes place June 11-12 in Madison Square Park, from 11-6 each day. If your navigational skills (or iPhone GPS) fail you, just follow your nose. Seriously. When you have 16 pitmasters cooking up their goods in one condensed location, the glorious smell will spill out onto the surrounding streets acting as some sort of beacon. A delicious, delicious beacon. Check out the events website here to peruse the days’ offerings (including musical guests performing throughout each day).
Enjoy! And pack some extra napkins.
The 9th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party takes place June 11-12 in Madison Square Park, 11am-6pm. Admission to the event is free. Food is $8 plate, $4 for desserts, and $2-$6 for beverages. The park is easily accessible via the N/R or 6 train at 23rd street.
All proceeds from the event will benefit the Madison Square Park Conservancy.