This weekend marks the 15th year that the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party has taken over Madison Square Park and its environs, and though things have changed and grown considerably since 2003, the meat festival remains the best opportunity you're going to get to try some of the most popular BBQ in the country while not actually dealing with TSA airport security lines.

Anyway, the rain held off yesterday, the crowds were huge as always, and I ate almost everything that all 14 pits fired up. Plus dessert. If you go today—and you should, because it's great, but go early... like, leave right now—here's what you can expect.

Best Ribs
Ribs are always the best overall meat genre at the block party, and though my perennial favorite Pappy's Smokehouse was a no-show this year, John Wheeler's Memphis Barbecue Co. ably filled the hole Pappy left in my heart. These Baby Backs are smoky, ridiculously tender, just the right amount of sweet, totally addictive. Solid fallbacks are 17th Street from Murphysboro, Illinois, and Baker's from Dallas.

Best Whole Hog Sandwich
Ed Mitchell's gets most of the attention in this category—and rightly so; this is good pig—but I'm giving the nod to Sam Jones's Skylight Inn, for his juicy, crackling, well-balanced sandwich. Bonus: due to its location near 27th Street and Jones's comparatively low profile, there was literally no line here, even at around 1:30.
Best Beef Brisket
Brooklyn's own Hometown Bar-B-Que sold out of everything by about 2:30, but since you can go to Red Hook anytime, it's better to try the Texans anyway. Scott Roberts's Salt Lick is back, and his brisket is as a good as ever (plus he throws in an excellent sausage), but the surprise winner here is first-timer Hutchins BBQ from Dallas, whose fatty, melty, peppery, funky meat was also possibly the best dish I ate all day.

Best Other:
I realize that Blue Smoke is located right down the block all year round, but Jean-Paul Bourgeois's Alabama White Wings are a welcome addition to your mouth anytime. They're creamy, complex, freshly-fired and popping with grease, and if I didn't have ten pounds of other meat to eat, I might have just settled in here all afternoon. Blue Smoke also did a crawfish boil yesterday, which is always fun, if a little frustrating for its effort-to-meat ratio.

Best Dessert
Fried Pies get all the love here, and they're ok, but if you want something sweet (and you do, after all that meat), head over the small Sugaree's tent in the "corporate-sponsor area" for a huge slice of gooey, sugary layer cake, straight from Mississippi. There are about a half-dozen varieties, and I can assure you that not only is the Rainbow slice totally Instagam-ready, it's also damn delicious. Happy Pride!

If you're making a day of it you should probably spring for a $125 Fast Pass, which is loaded with $100 worth of credit and gets you and your buddy onto shorter (though not necessarily short) lines. The Big Wig VIP Pass is still available for $275, which grants access to an exclusive lawn with an open bar and buffet of all the meats. But you can also just pay-as-you-go, and there were enough quickly moving lines, especially early in the day, that you could have scored a large meaty meal without a huge commitment.