The United States is too large and too diverse to consider any particular style of cooking as defining "American Cuisine", however, I can not think of a genre of cooking more classically American than Barbecue. Certainly many cultures cook on the grill or over open or pitted fires. That is not what makes barbecue uniquely American. Matured across the southern United States, American barbecue (which in itself is composed of a number of distinct and unique styles) has spread across the country in popularity if not in sheer excellence. New York City has itself, in recent years, become a hotbed of barbecue, albeit without a distinct style of its own. As the city often does, though, it has taken much of the best of elsewhere and made it into its own in restaurants like Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Dinosaur and others. What it has also done, thanks to the vision and management genius of Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group, is to have created what may be the country's greatest and most well attended homage to the genre with the Big Apple BBQ, the latest edition of which (the 7th), just concluded this past weekend. Now sponsored by Snapple, the event combines great food, music, seminars and people watching in a package that does a lot to support the park at which it takes place. According to Danny Meyer, each year has seen an increase, with this year's net proceeds topping $100,000 to benefit Madison Square Park.
The event does much to showcase the best of NYC area barbecue, but it gains its wider appeal by bringing in much of the best from the the parts of the country where BBQ truly rules, from the Carolinas to Tennessee to Illinois to St. Louis to Texas. With such BBQ luminaries as Mike Mills, Ed Mitchell, Kenny Callahan, Chris Lilly, Michael Rodriguez and others all together in one spot, it is very difficult to not eat very well and have a great time. If there is a down side, it may be that the event is too popular, as throngs filled all the available space in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday and in some cases food from some of the pits sold out earlier than expected. The smartest thing we did was to get there just before 11AM Sunday morning to commence a BBQ brunch. There were absolutely no lines and plenty of food.
Food highlights for my son and I included the ribs from 17th Street bar & Grill and Blue Smoke (we were fortunate enough to have been invited into their VIP area to sample some amazing, but extremely limited lamb ribs as well as smoked foie gras and pork belly); the whole hog from Ed Mitchell (tastier than what we remembered from last year and fully justifying his lofty reputation) and Pat Martin (equally good, from a different style – West Tennessee); and the pulled pork from Big Bob Gibson and Dinosaur. We simply did not have the stamina to try much more and totally missed the brisket this year.
Other highlights included seeing old friends, making new ones and meeting people I had previously only known virtually and for my son, having his photo taken with Billy Mays, yes, Billy Mays, that Billy Mays.
Below is a slide show of my photos from the event. The album can be viewed here.