Late on Sunday afternoon, after nearly two days of eating copious amounts of smoked meats at the 2016 Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (BABBP), I sat for few minutes with famed North Carolina pitmaster Ed Mitchell at the corner of Madison Square Park as he was taking a short break. Mitchell, whose speciality is whole hog barbecue, has been a pitmaster at the BABBP for 13 out of the past 14 years.
But Mitchell skipped last year's event after it came under new management, noting that his "sixth sense" told him to not attend. He said he was concerned about the new company's logistical skills and that he was ultimately proven right when the event was messier than in years past and several pitmasters who attended told him they were disappointed.
What brought Mitchell back? The BABBP returned to its old management under the Madison Square Park Conservancy and promised Mitchell things would get back to normal. Promises that included: There would be plenty of room for the pits and for each vendor. The lines would be long and under control. The popular FastPass would return. Vendors would sell out before the end of the day.
Turns out Mitchell's sixth sense was right again, as he returned and this year's BABBP went off without a hitch with excellent food and huge but manageable crowds. On top of Mitchell's excellent vinegar-rich chopped whole hog sandwich, there were plenty of other bites that stood out and gave New Yorkers a diverse selection of BBQ from around the country.
This year, I was especially fond of the wonderful brisket from Hutchins BBQ (seen in the first photo below), the tender pulled pork from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, the flavorful chopped whole hog from Skylight Inn / Sam Jones BBQ, the succulent sausage from Salt Lick BBQ, the rich beef short rib from Hometown Bar-B-Que, and the mouth-watering Alabama White Wings from Blue Smoke. Oh, and I ate two outstanding fried hand pies (peach and apple) from The Original Fried Pie Shop. I was deliriously full after eating so much 'cue, sides, and desserts after both Saturday and Sunday, but it was worth it.