Mmmm...barbecue.  The Apple City team's baby back ribsPouring rain couldn't keep Gothamist and hundreds of other New Yorkers away from the first annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party on Saturday. Sponsored by the Union Square Hospitality Group, barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke ,and jazz club the Jazz Standard, East 27th Street between Park Avenue South and Lexington Avenue was closed to give New Yorkers a chance to taste some of the best barbecue in the country, including some from New York.

Five kinds of barbecue were represented by five barbecue experts from five regions:
- Baby back ribs & beans from 17th Street Bar & Grill, Murphysville, IL, and Memphis Championship Barbeque, Las Vegas, NV
- Beef shoulder clod with onions and pickled jalapeno peppers & saltine crackers and sausage with onions, sliced dill pickles & white bread from Kreuz Market, Lockhart, TX
- Whole hog and cole slaw from Mitchell's Ribs, Wilson, NC.
- Pork shoulder and baked beans from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, AL.
- Smoked chicken and potato salad and chipotle chicken wings and potato salad from Blue Smoke, New York, NY.
This was the kind of challenge Gothamist was made for: attempting to try as much barbecue as possible on a midday Saturday afternoon.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q smoker!With tickets in hand (each ticket was one dollar; a plate of BBQ and one side was six tickets; another side would be another ticket; beer was four tickets...all proceeds going to Jazz at Lincoln Center and Music Maker Relief Foundation), Gothamist decided to tackle the pork shoulder at the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q booth first.

We admired the Big Bob Gibson smoker (the smokers and vans rolled onto East 27th Street Friday night). Then we saw one of the pitmasters, Chris Lilly, mixing the the pork. (Lilly graciously held the steaming hot pork extra long for Jen, camera spaz, to take the picture.)

Chris Lilly mixes the pork......and shows it to us

And, in the true manner of a pitmaster who has won 8 State Barbecue Grand Championships in the Southeast, plus 5 World Barbecue Championships in chicken and pork, he did a fantastic job, as the pork shoulder sandwich was incredibly delicious. Don McLemore, the co-pitmaster, is Big Bob Gibson's grandson and carries on 75 years of barbecue tradition. We got the pork shoulder with hot BBQ sauce and whispered thanks to Big Bob.

Checking out the beef and sauase in the Kreuz smokerSlicing Kreuz Market beef

Jake takes a bite out of Kreuz beef shoulder clodNext we went to the Kreuz Market booth. Kreuz Market is a grocery store/meat market, and pitmaster Rick Schmidt says "good meat with just a few basic seasonings cooked with the right wood is all you need. We feel that sauce is for covering up mistakes, therefore, we use none." Gothamist decided on the beef shoulder clod sandwich, which Jake felt reminded him of brisket. Delicous brisket, that is.

Jen stopped short when she noticed a white-haired gentleman sitting near the 17th Street Bar & Grill and Memphis Championship Barbecue smoker. She wandered over to get a better look and then ran back excitedly and exclaimed, "That's Jeffrey Steingarten!! I think!" One friend asked, "Who is Jeffrey Steingarten?" and Jen started to rattle off his credentials: Food critic for Vogue, food raconteur, author of The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must've Been Something I Ate. Jen decided to approach Jeffrey; Jake decided to turn away and instead ask, "What is Jen doing, because I'm too embarrassed to watch." Luckily, Jeffrey was impressed with Jen's extreme foodie-ism in recognizing him ("I went to your book signing!") and offered her some ribs that pitmaster Mike Mills had just given him. Having read the "Whole Hog" chapter of The Man Who Ate Everything, which details Jeffrey's experience as a judge at the Memphis Barbecue Championship, Jen knew this was no throwaway gesture. [Read more about Jen's encounter with Jeffrey Steingarten]

The ribs look good and have a four-legged fanJake savors a baby back rib

These ribs are the award-winning product of Mike Mills, the mastermind pitmaster behind the Apple City Barbecue Team, which became the only three-time World Grand Champions of Barbecue. Served over beans and a white bread, the ribs were succulent and the pork gently fell from the bone. No meat was left on anyone's rib bones as far as Gothamist could tell.

We saw Kenny Callaghan in front of the Blue Smoke smoker. He was checking on the meat and waved to us later. Callaghan had worked at the Helmsley Palace Hotel and Russian Tea Room before joining the Union Square Cafe, where he worked for almost a decade. When Union Square owner Danny Meyer decided to open Blue Smoke & Jazz Standard, Callaghan embarked on "extensive barbecue touring" and became "Executive Chef & Pitmaster" at Blue Smoke in 2002.

Gothamist has always been intrigued by the idea of a New York chef (read: a Yankee) becoming a barbecue expert, as most barbecue gurus enter the business through the family in some way (as is the case with Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Kreuz Market, 17th Street/Memphis Championship and Mitchell's Ribs) and are from the South. Callaghan is from New Jersey, so that clearly explains his success, at least to Jen. The smoked chicken Gothamist tasted was tender and juicy. We also picked up a few enormous Blue Smoke chocolate chip cookies that disappeared quickly. Maybe too quickly, as we started to realize that it was getting harder for us to move.

The line outside of the Mitchell's Ribs booth

Discriminating critics start youngWhen we finally waddled to Mitchell's Ribs, the long line outside of Mitchell's Ribs screamed that we had to try it but Gothamist's belly was too full - a true rarity. We'd heard wonderful things about pitmaster Ed Mitchell's pit-cooked pork (over hickory and oak coals), basted with homemake vinegar and pepper sauce, pulled, chopped, and served hot, but we decided to err on the side of caution and instead spoke to the most discriminating of eaters (this side of Jeffrey Steingarten): The small child brought to a rainy barbecue block party by a barbecue enthusiast parent. This little girl was so happy by the whole hog and cole slaw that she didn't need to say anything to Gothamist to convey her pleasure. Gothamist's lesson has been learned and we vow to start with Mitchell's Ribs whole hog and cole slaw next year. (In a sidebar, Gothamist had mentioned to Aaron that we'd be at the block party around 2PM...Aaron found us once he heard someone saying to the little girl's parent, "Can I ask you a question? I have a website...")

The FinsBlue Smoke revelry

Besides an incredible sampling of barbecue, the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party also offered live music outside (Gothamist thinks it was the Fins when we were there; other bands included Bob Belden's Ice, Bernard Prudie & The Hudson River Rats, Jazz Discovery Youth Orchestra, and Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra) as well as workshops and films about barbecue (like documentary Barbecue is a Noun and a panel about American Regional Barbecue: One Language, Many Dialects) inside the Jazz Standard. Many people were also inside Blue Smoke, enjoying a drink and a little respite from the rain before setting out to try more barbecue. Obviously, they had paced themselves better than we did.

Big Apple Block PartyGothamist likes the fact that it's the 1st Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, which means that there will be another. Danny Meyer's ambitious wish "to promote the cultural value of American Barbecue and launch a New York Barbecue tradition" was really a gift to us - the organization to coordinate all the barbecue and events seems incredible. And people were more than happy to experience barbecue in New York - there were crowds of people happily holding umbrellas and waiting on line for a taste of barbecue. Gothamist looks forward to next year.

Intrepid New Yorkers pooh-pooh bad weather in search of good barbecue