Dr. Gonzo's: pepper mashes, mustards and tongue tingling condiments that'll rock your world
2009 Snapple Big Apple Barbecue Block Party Recap
I made a vow to myself that I'd go to the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party to have fun first and to cover it second, and I succeeded. Beyond the spectacle and pageantry, there was some good 'cue. Probably not as good had the same set of pitmasters cooked for 200 rather than 200,000, but still good.
I could not help but make a few mental comparisons to the Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party, a similar event held in the Boston area (stay tuned). Meanwhile, enjoy the photos of the food and the process.
Mike Mills's ribs from 17th Street Bar & Grill (Illinois).
Baker's Ribs (Dallas TX).
Pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob Gibson's BBQ (Alabama).
Pulled pork from Ubon's BBQ (Mississippi).
Pulled pork sandwich from Ubon's BBQ (Mississippi).
Chopped pig sandwich from The Pit (North Carolina).
Pulled pork from Black Jack BBQ (South Carolina).
Pulled pork sandwich from Martin's (Tennessee).
Pulled pork sandwich from Dinosaur Bar-B-Q (NYC).
Ribs from Pappy's (Missouri).
Brisket from Wilson's (Fairfield CT).
Thoughts on the Big Apple BBQ Block Party
After attending the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City last Saturday, I've had a few days to process the photos, digest the meats and gather my thoughts:
The Fast Pass is a serious commitment ($100), but for a person or couple committed to trying a dozen plates (that's what it would take to use it up), the convenience is a just reward. That convenience not only means separate, shorter lines but also separate toilets, washing stations and the freedom of not having to fumble with wallets paying and receiving change. The fact that there's no admission fee is both nice on the wallet and nice in that it avoids time-consuming nuissances like wristbands and hand stamping.
That said, the overall quality wasn't as stellar as you might expect. But just like at a restaurant visit, it's difficult to give thumbs up or thumbs down to a festival pitmaster based on only one taste. With a crowd of 100,000+, a pit crew of hired local help, locally procured meats, different equipment, numerous press requests and customer questions, there's a lot that can go wrong. Or at least wrong enough to bump the 'cue down from great to merely good. So when expectation is sky high and you receive anything less, the temptation is to write the place off. In a real restaurant setting, the meats can receive more TLC and quality control (if the pitmaster is actually there), and be served with pride instead of haste. At a festival like the Block Party, it's necessary to cook in large batches and have buckets of product ready ahead of time to avoid running out. That often translates to luke warm food and/or loss of texture. On the other hand, a fresh batch right out of the pit is also achievable if you happen to get lucky—you may rave about that pitmaster but never receive anything that good from him again.
We had a great group of people sharing line duties (Chuck, Julie and I) and table duties (Steve, Eric) to allow for sensible sampling and to make the whole process hum. The more I think about it, the more I think the best strategy is to have the whole group (a trio is probably best for ribs, a duo for pork) just wait in line together, get some quality time with the pitmaster and eat on the park benches inside the Fast Pass area. It's slower that way, but possibly a better all-around experience.
It's a shame that Ray Lampe, also known as Dr. BBQ, wasn't one of the participating pitmasters. He was at the event doing some entertaining pork demonstrations, but he should have been able to strut his stuff among the vendors. It would have been a great showcase for Southern Hospitality's 'cue, which would not have been out of place at this event. I also would have liked to see Big Lou Elrose of Wildwood offering his spectacular lamb ribs, Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May's vending his spectacular chili (and his new book, Serious Barbecue), and the return of RUB's Paul Kirk—who was assigned the Block Party equivalent of Bob Uecker seats when he participated a few years ago—offering his spectacular burnt ends.
For pulled pork and chopped pig sandwiches, it was difficult to choose a favorite among Big Bob Gibson's (Chris Lilly), The Pit (Ed Mitchell) and Ubon's (Garry Roark). All three were excellent in their own way. Lilly's had the most bark and deep, deep flavor that filled every bite. Mitchell's was chopped much finer than I like, but the natural flavor of the pig kissed with hints of smoke, vinegar, pepper and sugar was every bit as good, and just as moist (if not more moist). But Roark's: was a good cross between the two, with the best combined bark-moisture score and a killer cole slaw that featured pepper heat and bits of pickle for tang.
For ribs, I give the nod to Baker's Ribs for their crisp texture, perfect doneness, bacony flavor and subtle layers of cooked-in sauce. These edged out Pappy's ribs that featured a nice honey flavor to offset the smoke, but a less impressive texture. The 17th Street Bar & Grill (Mike Mills) supplied fattier, soggier babybacks that didn't stand up to the first two. I've had some great ribs from Mills in the past, so I chalk this batch up to the big batch theory. Blue Smoke offered spare ribs finished on the grill with a good dose of a spicy barbecue sauce; our plate received good marks for flavor but struggled with the texture.
For brisket, the plan was to hit the Salt Lick, but even with Fast passes, the lines were too long to endure. Brisket at Hill Country is a no-brainer, but that's better saved for a leisurely visit to the restaurant. After an intermission to digest, two of us hit RUB (just a few blocks away) and had some succulent brisket that was probably the best meat of the day.
The legendary Mike Mills (17th Street Bar & Grill, in Illinois and a pre-opening consultant on NYC's Blue Smoke).
Carolyn and Don McLemore of Big Bob Gibson's (Alabama) might not be as well known up north as their son-in-law Chris Lilly, but they're just as legendary.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Q's John Stage is a New York BBQ legend.
Ed Wilson (Wilson's, Fairfield CT) was a barbecue star long before he met Guy Fieri.
Spicy Southern Goodness gets the lines going at Jim 'n' Nicks.
Ubon's BBQ (Mississippi) pulling pork.
Black Jack BBQ (South Caroliona) pulling pork.
A mountain of chopped pig getting a vinegar shower at the Pit (North Carolina).
Whole pigs before chopping at Martin's (Tennessee).
A bin full of Chris Lilly's pulled pork from Big Bob Gibson's BBQ (Alabama).
Blue Smoke (NYC) getting a grilled finish on their ribs.
Pappy's Smokehouse (Missouri) puts a mustard slather on the ribs before smoking.
A stack of Royal Oak charcoal, and it's not even Brooklyn.
White Trash BBQ on the 2009 Big Apple BBQ Block Party
BBQ Illuminati on the 2009 Big Apple BBQ Block Party
(more links to come)