Written by, Nirm and Phil. Photos by, Jonathan.
Disclaimer: The following is two men’s accounts of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party that took place in Madison Square Park, NYC on June 12th and 13th, 2010. Names may have been changed to protect the innocent. No hogs were harmed during the making of this review (they were dead long before we got there).
The Big Apple Barbeque Block Party started 8 years ago in front of Blue Smoke on 27th between Park and Lexington as more of a street fair than what could be qualified as a Block Party. Over the past 8 years, it has evolved into what is today a festival that engulfs all of Madison Square Park and then some and features some of the best barbeque from around the country.
Nirm: For me, this was the fourth consecutive year I attended the Block Party and it seems to be getting bigger and better each year (let’s be honest, bigger really is better). Even the VIP passes, a must have if you plan on staying all weekend, have gone up in price to keep the lines from approaching the length of the normal lines. This was the first year the event stretched beyond Madison Square Park all the way up to 27th on Madison and I still have a hard time believing over 100,000 people descend on the event but if that’s what the internet says, then we all know it must be true.
A close friend of mine happens to own Jim N’ Nicks, a famous barbeque restaurant from Birmingham, Alabama, so for the past two years I have had the privilege of spending the weekend with family and friends and a keg of Mud Bone Beer so I have to admit my experience probably differs from most. That being said, if you can figure out how to reach me or come by Jim N’ Nicks’ stand next year (and are female), I would be happy to introduce you to everyone and show you around.
Surprisingly, I’ve found that I still have to sell this event to people in order to get them to attend, which I have trouble understanding. My basic pitch is that this is one of my five favorite weekends of the year behind Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and the Fourth of July (in no particular order) and I promise I do not take that statement lightly. Between daytime drinking and barbeque, I can’t think of another event that embodies the South in New York more aptly and I mean that in the least redneck, most endearing way possible. I hope that this convinces you to at least consider braving the heat and making an appearance next year in June. If, for some reason, you are disappointed, please email me your complaints so I can post it on the site and openly mock you for being un-American for everyone to see.
With that introduction, the fine folks at the Bite Sized Blog asked us to write this review and spend the weekend trying to find Big Apple BBQ’s Best Bite. As you can see, Phil and I each rate those places we were able to try over the course of the two day event. Hopefully this will help you navigate the rather daunting field of choices in the future.
We have rated each place using the following rating system to determine the Big Apple BBQ’s Best Bite:
- 1st Bite: (appearance + texture)^deliciousness
- Southernness Quotient: = 2.75 * miles below the Mason/Dixon Line divided by number of times we say y’all in a 10 minute span after eating.
- Side: positive points for complementing the main course, negative points for getting in the way and causing a mess.
Phil: A crowd favorite based on the extensive line. The pulled pork shoulder was very tender and smoky. Both habanero and regular bbq sauce were available, and I added a little of both to my sandwich, which was a great choice. The side of mustard-based cole slaw was a nice compliment and very crisp.
Rating: 1st Bite: 4/5; Southernness Quotient: 4.75/5; Side: 4/5; Overall: 4.5/5
Nirm: This is one of my favorites every year and this year was no different. The pork shoulder is chopped with some burnt edges to add crispiness. I only tried the traditional barbeque sauce which wasn’t too sweet and had some kick to it afterward. The mustard based coleslaw was both different and very good if you like mustard (which I do).
Rating: 1st Bite: 5/5; Southernness Quotient: 4.5/5; Side: 4/5; Overall 4.5/5
Jim and Nicks – Birmingham, AL, Pitmaster: Drew Robinson, Serving: Homemade Smoked Sausage
Phil: Jim and Nicks had a big advantage going in as the only booth serving sausage, and from the first bite, the spicy sweet flavor of the sausage overwhelmed the senses. The pimento cheese side was by far the most unique of sides offered at the Big Apple BBQ, and it helped provide welcome relief to the 5 alarm fire in my mouth from the sausage. This is one sausage fest I wouldn’t mind going to all the time.
Rating: 1st Bite: 5/5; Southernness Quotient: 5/5, Side: 4.5/5, Overall: 5/5
Nirm: Considering I have spent most of my time by this stand over the past two years, I end up eating at least 5 of these over the course of the weekend which can be a little overwhelming. That being said, their sausage is fantastic and frankly, I never even knew they served sausage (pulled pork is my favorite thing on the menu).
Rating: 1st Bite: 4/5; Southernness Quotient: 5/5; Side: 4.5/5; Overall: 4.5/5
Phil: The highlight of this spot is Big Ed Mitchell himself, who is larger than life, not only because of his gregarious personality, but also because of the giant picture of himself on the side of The Pit’s tractor trailer. The Pit’s pork shoulder was light and peppery and was served with a vinegar-based sauce. I’m getting hungry while writing this.
Special shoutout to the nice lady who offered me one of her excess ziploc bags that she brought in hopes to snag some cracklin’ Hog skin from Big Ed. I sincerely regret my decision to decline.
Rating: 1st Bite: 4/5; Southernness Quotient: 5/5, Side: 3/5, Overall: 4/5
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nashville, TN, Pitmaster: Patrick Martin, Serving: Western Tennessee-Style Whole Hog
Phil: At Martin’s, it’s all about the show. A crowd gathered and gawked as a Martin’s cook stepped up on the smoker and pulled out steaming pork from the smoked hog using thick rubber gloves. The Whole Hog sandwich was served with coleslaw, sauce, and sweet pickles all on the sandwich. The sweet pickles alone were worth bonus points in my ratings
At a time like this, I can’t help but wonder that if pigs are supposedly so ‘smart’, why would they make themselves so darned delicious?
Rating: 1st Bite: 4.5/5; Southernness Quotient: 5/5, Side: n/a/5, Overall: 4/5
Nirm: Pulled pork really is my favorite kind of barbeque and this place from Nashville got it right. The coleslaw was mixed in with the pork which was a nice touch and the sauce had a great combination of sweet and tangy that leans toward tangy which I prefer. Granted all the pulled pork places used the potato buns, but it is worth mentioning that these buns are the best. Period.
Rating: 1st Bite: 4.5/5; Southernness Quotient: 5/5, Side: n/a/5, Overall: 4.5/5
Phil: We traveled to Ubon’s directly after Bob’s, so it had a difficult comparison. The pulled pork shoulder was served open faced with a tangy side of coleslaw that ended up getting mixed in with the pork shoulder making the whole thing pretty sloppy. Overall, it was satisfying, but not as good as you’d expect from a guy named “Roark”.
Rating: 1st Bite: 3/5; Southernness Quotient: 4.5/5, Side: 3/5, Overall: 3.5/5
Nirm: I agree it was a tough comparison to Bob Gibson’s. I really like the sauce at Ubon’s which again had more of a tangy than a sweet taste to it. The texture on the pork was more pulled than chopped and frankly was a little too chunky for me. The coleslaw was also more chunky and very crispy, which I liked a lot.
Rating: 1st Bite: 3.5/5; Southernness Quotient: 5/5 (it’s from Yazoo, MS – let’s be honest); Side: 4/5; Overall: 3.75/5
Hill Country of New York, NY, Pitmaster: Charles Grund, Jr., Serving: Beef Brisket
Phil: This is my favorite BBQ restaurant in NYC because the food is both delicious and based on the famous Kreuze Market in Lockhart, Texas. I didn’t expect to hit up Hill Country’s offering this year because I eat there all the time, but when the girlfriend gets hangry (hungry/angry), you make a B-line to the nearest booth with a short line. The brisket was tender and smoky, but the cucumber salad side was little more than a garnish. It’s definitely a better idea to go down the street and get the full experience, where the jalapeño sausage and mac and cheese are to die for.
Rating: 1st Bite: 3/5; Southernness Quotient: 1/5, Side: 1/5, Overall: 2.5/5
Memphis Championship Barbeque of Las Vegas, Nevada, Pitmaster: Mike Mills, Serving: Baby Back Ribs
Nirm: Notwithstanding the fact that Memphis is nowhere near Las Vegas, I really enjoyed the ribs from this place. Generally speaking I am a much bigger fan of spare ribs as opposed to baby back ribs usually because baby back ribs tends to be very sweet. In this case, you had the best of both worlds in that the meat fell right off the bone which is very characteristic of baby back ribs and the sauce avoided the pitfall of being so sweet it tastes more like candy than barbeque. Also, this was the only place I tried that had baked beans as a side which I thought were great so an added bonus which made the very long line worth the wait.
Rating: 1st Bite: 4/5; Southernness Quotient: 3.5/5; Side: 4.5/5; Overall: 4/5
Stubb’s BBQ: Austin, TX, Serving: Chorizo Sloppy Joe (Free).
Phil: 2 cheers for Stubb’s effort to feed the hungry abroad and for the great live music taped at their restaurant in Austin. 1 Jeer for the indigestion I got after eating the free chorizo sloppy joe that Stubb’s friendly staff handed out.
Rating: 1st Bite: Gross/5; Southernness Quotient: 3/5, Side: 1/5, Overall: 1/5
Phil: Jim and Nicks
Nirm: Split decision – Martin’s Barbeque and Bob Gibson’s
Nirm is an ex part time semi-professional pulled pork judge and knows the location of every bar that serves Miller Lite on tap in Manhattan.
Phil is an amateur freelance barbecue taster, and currently holds the New York state record for most complaints about not being able to find good authentic Tex-Mex in Manhattan.
They both are currently developing the following Bite Sized Blog spinoff sites, coming soon to an Internet domain near you!:
Byte-sized Blog – Covering the latest in edible electronics, Tight-sized Blog – the Internet’s largest collection of pictures of overweight men trying to fit into t-shirts they got in high school, and Sprite-sized Blog: your premier source for news about those cute little 8 oz. cans of Sprite.
© 2010 Jonathan Meter and Jessica Hertle