If you live in New York City and you love barbecue, there's a pretty good chance you've been to the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, which has been around since 2002.
The upcoming 2016 Block Party will be a little different from last year's event, which I enjoyed quite a bit. The 2015 Block Party was managed by C3, a TX-based event company, but the event will now be owned and operated by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The event raises money for the Conservancy, so this change makes total sense. However, expect the setup to change and for the event to be a tad smaller than last year.
If you're considering attending, here are some answers to some of the most popular questions I've been asked about this year's Block Party.
When and where is it?
The 2016 Big Apple Block Party takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 11th and Sunday, June 12th at Madison Square Park in Manhattan.
How much does it cost?
For casual attendees, the Block Party doesn't cost anything. You can show up and wait in line at any of the food stands and buy barbecue and sides. The average plate costs $10, but most casual attendees should expect to pay at least $15-20 per person. Then you can take your food over to the park and eat and drink and be merry.
The event also sells two upgraded packages: the FastPass and the Big Wig VIP Pass. The FastPass costs $125 and covers two people for both days. It allows you and a companion to access "express lanes" where you can jump the lines somewhat. The FastPass also gives you a $100 credit toward food, drinks, and merchandise. So if you were already planning to spend $100 between two people (which is easy to do at this event), then you're really only paying $25 extra.
If you want to go all out and spend the whole day at the event, you can pay for $275 for a Saturday Big Wig VIP Pass or a Sunday Big Wig VIP Pass. While the price is a bit much, it does cover two people and gives you $100 in credit toward food, drinks, and merch just like the FastPass. Plus, you and your companion will also get access to a private VIP tent that will include an open bar and some barbecue.
What pitmasters and restaurants will be there this year?
The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party will feature 14 prominent pitmasters from NYC and from around the United States. The full lineup of pitmasters and their respective restaurants can be found here.
What are the top stands to try?
When it comes to this event, I recommend looking at BBQ joints you can't get in NYC. While I'm a big fan of Hometown, Hill Country, and Blue Smoke, you can easily visit these places (and you should!). If you're wanting to try barbecue from places around the U.S. that aren't easy to get to, I'd highly recommend considering Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q from Decatur, AL; Skylight Inn from Ayden, NC; Ubon’s Barbeque from Yazoo City, MS; and 17th St. BBQ from Murphysboro, IL.
What if there's bad weather?
The Block Party is rain or shine, so be prepared to come no matter what. It would only cease operations temporarily if there was terrifyingly bad weather. And if there's rain, that might actually be a good time to go since there will likely be shorter lines!
Any pro tips you care to share?
The single biggest thing I recommend if you can't deal with long lines is going early. If you show up at 10:30 a.m. and get into line at the stand you're most interested in trying, you shouldn't have too long of a wait. If you show up at 2 p.m., you'll probably end up in some of the longest lines of the day.
Secondly, the FastPass is strongly worth consideration if you and at least one other person were already planning to attend and were going to try BBQ from a few different places. There are only a limited number of FastPasses, so get 'em while they're still available.
Finally, it can get quite hot in NYC in June. Grab a large bottle of water at a nearby bodega and bring it with you, rather than buying water at the event, as it will be much cheaper. Plus, if you want to eat a lot of food, water is the best drink of choice rather than more-filling beverages.