Giant rigs with multiple smokers and the distinct clank of cleavers hitting wooden chopping boards set the mood at Madison Square Park this past weekend. For the 13th year in a row, New Yorkers could smell and taste the wonders of barbecue from around the country at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. A handful of top-flight pitmasters representing a wide range of regional styles—Texas, Alabama, Memphis, North Carolina—set up shop around the perimeter of the park, luring customers with samples of burnt ends and Southern wit.
Below are some of our favorite moments we shared with ‘cue veterans, who were happy to share the secrets of their smoked-meat supremacy.
Chopping pork with Skylight Inn
From: Ayden, NC
Style: Whole-hog cooking with a simple vinegar and pepper sauce; slaw on the sandwich
Chopping meat may seem like a mundane operation, but that’s certainly not the case for Skylight Inn’s extraordinary meat dicer, Chopper. “See here?” he said, pointing to the tattooed cleaver on his bicep.
The ultimate showstopper at this year’s Big Apple BBQ Festival, Chopper is living proof that there is a distinct flair to pounding pork with heavy cleavers. “You find ways to make things interesting,” says the five-year veteran. Perhaps even more impressive is that this was Chopper’s first job in the barbecue circuit. He gives us plebs hope.
Brushing and Torching Ribs with Pappy’s Smokehouse
From: St. Louis, MO
Style: Ribs with a sweet, tomato-based BBQ sauce
“Ribs are pulled off the smoker and put in a hot box to seal in the juices,” says Eric, one of the employees at Pappy’s. “We paint them up with our love, and then we torch them. The torch caramelizes the sauce we put on there. It’s basically like crème brûlée-ing. This helps bring out the natural flavors and sweetness of the meat.”
Slicing Brisket with Salt Lick
From: Driftwood, Texas
Style: Brisket, sausage, ribs served on butcher paper (without sauce)
After removing the deckle (the chunk of meat surrounded by fat) and other regions of un-rendered fat, locate the grain and cut against it.
Louisiana Crawfish Boil with Blue Smoke
From: New York
Style: Cajun country
“You see a big draw when you start doing things like this,” says Jean-Paul Bourgeois. “This one is very traditional. Potato, corn, sausage, mushroom, onions, celery, garlic, and obviously crawfish. Not sure if it’s a fact or not, but it seems like there’s some connection between crafwish boils and frogmore stew, and Lowcountry boils. Historically, the French came over to Canada and a lot of them settled in Louisiana, and I have to think that those traditions are all very similar. They developed a certain way depending on where they settled. With crafwish boils, you usually just pour the contents on a table covered with newspaper; you’d never eat it with plates. And you scoop the remains into a trash bin. We try to de-savage it a bit.
Whole Hog with Martin’s BBQ
From: Western Tennessee
Style: Whole hog
Patrick Martin’s operation honors the West Tennessee tradition of smoking whole hog. The cavity is filled with their signature-vinegar based sauce, then the hog cooks on its belly for six hours.
So there you have it: BBQ knowledge, straight from the lips of the legends. And here’s some extra BBQ porn for good measure: