This past Thursday, the first-ever North Jersey BBQ Showcase was held at an event space inside the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, NJ. The event was organized by pitmaster Robert Austin Cho of Kimchi Smoke and featured more than 10 vendors from around New Jersey and New York, including some of New Jersey's best known BBQ joints.
From New Jersey, there was Red, White, and Que Smokehouse, Hamilton Pork, Big Papa Smoke'm, Smoked, Fink's BBQ Smokehouse, and Kimchi Smoke. Non-BBQ vendors from NJ included Empanada Mania, Carlito's Trailer, Glaze Donuts, and Mr. Cupcakes.
Representing New York was the Handsome Devil BBQ Team (which I've written about previously) and Mighty Quinn's. (However, while MQ is best known for its NYC presence, it now has two locations in NJ too.)
I ate several spectacular dishes at the event. Standouts in BBQ included the sumptuous pork cheeks from Mighty Quinn's, the creative pulled pork tostadas from Big Papa Smoke'm, the glazed pork belly from Red, White, and Que, the smoked pork butt and Mexican street corn from Hamilton Pork, and the whole hog from Handsome Devil. In the non-BBQ category, I adored the bacon cheeseburger empanada from Empanada Mania and the maple bacon cupcakes from Mr. Cupcakes.
At the end of the night, three winners were crowed from the vendors, with Smoked winning the coveted Judge's Prize. Additionally, Handsome Devil won the People's Choice Prize and Hamilton Pork won the Bloggers' Choice Prize.
While there were a good number of people there (including Jersey-based rapper Fetty Wap) and many of them were excited about the event, attendance was a tad lower than expected. I'd attribute this to two factors — timing and pricing. With the event held on a Thursday night against the first night of March Madness, it's understandable less people would be available to attend any event, no matter how good. Second, the event cost $50 for day-of tickets and that did not include drinks, so it's easy to imagine less people attending simply because they couldn't afford to. I sincerely hope this event happens again, but perhaps on a Saturday and with the cost down slightly.
Ultimately, the first North Jersey BBQ Showcase was a success and helped show that Jersey has a burgeoning BBQ scene that is worth paying close attention to. Nearly every dish at the event was full of life and flavor and experimentation that makes the the greater New York City metro area so exciting when it comes to BBQ. It made me realize I haven't spent enough time across the river in New Jersey, and that's something I desperately need to remedy soon.
Check out more photos from the North Jersey BBQ Showcase below: