Warning: This post is not about knitting (though a fellow blogger makes an appearance), and this post is NOT for vegetarian consumption. It’s also only for the most die-hard of food readers, and for my own personal reference :)
This weekend was the Big Apple BBQ here in NYC. Smokehouses come from around the country to Madison Square Park to sell samples of their best items to thousands of hungry New Yorkers. Annie has been raving about the event since I first moved to the city, and she hooked me up with a Fast Pass—the only way to successfully attack BABBQ. With it, you get into priority lines that are shorter than those for the hoi polloi. Because we are barbecue elite, of course.
Four friends, 2 fast passes—in one day we hit 7 smokehouses and 2 dessert joints. I ventured back on Sunday with one friend to finish out the fast pass and try 4 more spots (and revisit my favorite from Saturday). Before I forget it all, here it is . . .
BlackJack BBQ (Charleston, SC)
Serving: Pulled Pork Shoulder & Coleslaw
Verdict: This was our first of the day, and it was great. The NC vinegary sauce was easily soaked up by the pork, which was a little on the dry side. Though I knew to avoid any and all bread (more room for meat!), the sauce made me take two small bites with some of the roll—it was that tasty. The coleslaw was standard and refreshing, but didn’t strike me as noteworthy. We were off to an excellent start to the day.
The Salt Lick BBQ (Driftwood, TX)
Serving: Beef Brisket, Sausage & Coleslaw
Verdict: The brisket was nothing short of heaven. Annie had declared this the best brisket, and she was most definitely not wrong. It melted in your mouth, the fat was unctuous and tasty, and the sauce complemented it perfectly. The sausage . . . had a bit too much “snap” for me, and I can’t even remember what it tasted like. Not good enough to get me past the initial texture. It wasn’t bad tasting by any means, but I ate only one bite. (And I’m not one to leave food on my plate.) The coleslaw had a slight sweetness; it was cabbage with a bit of sesame seeds and the dressing. It was really really good.
City Grocery (Oxford, MS)
Serving: Smoked Crawfish & Okra Hush Puppies (closest to my feet)
Verdict: These hush puppies had, supposedly, bits of smoked crawfish and okra in it. Mostly they were just big (2″ diameter!) balls of fried cornmeal. They were light and fluffy—excellent consistency—and the sauce they came with was sweet and tangy, but overall they were a disappointment. There was a slight seafoody quality, but not distinct. A girl I sat next to on Sunday turned to me and complained that they were just fried corn. She held hers out and it really was devoid of other ingredients! I think if this had been just a hush puppy, we would have had no complaints.
17th Street Bar & Grill (Murphysboro, IL)
Serving: Baby Back Ribs & Beans (the two containers to the left in the photo above)
Verdict: The meat was tender and moist—great quality. The sauce that was on the ribs reminded one of my friends of minestrone soup, and she was not far off the mark. That’s not the best flavor for the ribs, but it wasn’t bad by any means. The beans were excellent. Overall, pretty good.
Wilson’s Pit Barbeque (Fairfield, CT)
Serving: Texas Style Brisket & Coleslaw
Verdict: Hands-down the worst of the day. (I suppose we should have known; this was the furthest north we ate bbq from.) The brisket was tough but the restaurant didn’t supply knives, the fat was not flavorful and was poorly marbled in the meat, and the sauce was not memorable. It doesn’t even look good in the photo, does it? The sauce was oily, actually, come to think of it, and we all took about two bites (or what we could manage to rip off) and set it aside. The coleslaw either didn’t get any dressing or they always serve just a handful of cabbage to their customers—completely worthless. The slices of this potato bread (visible in the background) did come in handy as “plates”—we weren’t going to eat them, but we did use them to support our food and catch drips.
Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs (Los Angeles, CA)
Serving: Beef Rib, Sausage & Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Verdict: Most definitely my favorite. Oh good lord it was amazing. The beef fell off the bone, was moist and flavorful, and totally demanded that you suck on the bone. I’m almost speechless for how good it was. It had great beefy, smoky flavor but most of all the consistency was perfection. The sausage? Oh, who knew sausage could be so smooth and soft and good? It had been very finely milled, so it wasn’t so much like meat inside a casing as a smooth paste made solid. This is making it sound awful, I’m sure, but it was spicy and complex, flavor-wise. And then the cucumber and tomato salad! Very vinegary, very refreshing, and a delicious foil to the spicy sausage. This whole plate was just the best you could possibly hope for. We were surprised—this was our longest wait of the day, and happily it was worth it—because, I mean come on, California ribs? Los Angeles, no less? But it was undeniable.
Ubon’s “Champion’s Choice” (Yazoo City, MS)
Serving: Pulled Pork Shoulder & Coleslaw
Verdict: This pulled pork was really good, and the sauce was excellent. Little bits of onion in the sauce gave it extra bite and sweetness, and I definitely mopped it up. The coleslaw was what coleslaw should be, especially after the highly disappointing example served up by Wilson’s.
Day 1’s pork eating was now over. It was time for dessert part 1! We got the last 4 root beer floats of the day. It ended up just being Barq’s over some good vanilla, but it hit the spot. The peanut butter and jelly cupcakes were great examples of PB&J cupcakes; the brownie was dry but chocolatey (both from Blue Smoke, NYC). We took a break to walk around a little and when we came back the bourbon bar was, unfortunately, folding up shop for the day, so we got more dessert instead: Wildwood Barbeque (NYC) for the S’mores (yum) and banana pudding, which was served frozen with instructions to wait 10 minutes, but it was like a frozen pudding pop in that state and even better than 5 minutes later when it had fully defrosted (did I mention the oppressive heat?).
Day 2 began with a return to Mr. Cecil’s. It was as amazing as I’d remembered. I want to move to LA so I can eat it all the time now. Then I took a new friend around to sample places I’d not tried the day before.
Mitchell’s BBQ (The Pit) (Raleigh, NC)
Serving: Whole Hog (chopped) & Coleslaw
Verdict: On Saturday I got home from the festival completely sun-weary. I dragged myself into the apartment, took a long shower, and settled in the new Bon Appetit, which had just arrived. And who was looking out the pages but Ed Mitchell, who I’d taken a photo of just hours before. His joint had the huge smokers set up, and the crowd around his stand was abuzz (I think because he was there). At this point we were full and too tired to wait in line, so it was definitely a must-eat for me today. And . . . the meat has the consistency of tuna fish (which I’m told is intentional); it was really mushy and just plain icky. The vinegary NC sauce was fine, but only added to the fishy tanginess, I think. I was sorely disappointed. The coleslaw was too saucy and blah.
Hill Country Barbecue Market (New York, NY)
Serving: Beef rib, sausage & beans
Verdict: First off, kudos to Hill Country for being the only place to spell barbecue correctly. Since this restaurant is in the city, I was not inclined to sample it, but after Mr. Cecil’s beef rib I wanted more beef rib (more beef rib!) and there was absolutely zero line there at 12:15. The meat didn’t fall off the bone as well as Mr. Cecil’s had, and it was ultimately the most work for the least meat, but it was tasty nonetheless. The sausage was preferred by my friend to Mr. Cecil’s; it was spicy and stood head and shoulders above The Salt Lick’s. The beans were tasty.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Decatur, AL)
Serving: Pulled Pork Shoulder & Beans
Verdict: As we walked to the grass holding our Hill Country and Mitchell’s, I overheard a man say to his friend, “This is the best pulled pork I have ever had.” I spun around and asked where it was from: Bib Bob Gibson’s. Notice how yellow the coleslaw is—I asked, and it’s due to the mustard in it. Oh wow this coleslaw was awesome. It had great heat from the mustard, and the cabbage held up well to the dressing. The pulled pork was incredible, too. Bits of char and smoke throughout, and the meat was super moist. They had a choice of four sauces to put on (how to decide!)—we went with original, spicy, and a dollop of the white sauce, just to try. All delish. That guy who made such a big claim was totally, totally right.
Baker’s Ribs (Dallas, TX)
Serving: Baby Back Ribs & Coleslaw
Verdict: The map said Baker’s was serving brisket, but we wanted a pork rib to finish out the day. We were heading to Rack & Soul (Anne-Marie’s favorite spot), but when I realized that Baker’s had ribs and is not in NYC like R&S is, well, we made a diversion. These ribs were meaty, greasy, with good char on the outside—probably the best pork ribs I’ve ever had, with intense porky flavor in addition to the smoke and spices. It was a good portion, too. This coleslaw had crazy kick! There was no evidence of hot peppers in it, but the flavor was like that of jalapeño or unripe habanero—that “green” kind of heat that smacks you on the back of your tongue and makes your eyes water, but your hand keeps going back for more bites. It was a great ending to the meal.
Phew! My weekend of many meats had come to a close. I only didn’t sample 5 of the offerings—3 of which are in NYC, 1 that was serving Brunswick Stew, which I did not want on hot days like these, and, unfortunately, the Checkered Pig for no good reason. I’m totally eager for next year—and a few more ’cue stops in the city before then!