The Pitmaster Parade
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
A parade of barbecue rigs and refrigerated trucks filled with meat will make its way to Madison Square Park today. It’s all in preparation for this weekend’s 4th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, where America’s top pitmasters offer their best to a hungry throng of New Yorkers.
Some, such as pitmaster Bryan Bracewell of Southside Market & BBQ, are coming from as far away as Texas. “We were surprised at the intensity of how much New Yorkers love barbecue,” Mr. Bracewell said of his experience last year. “We couldn’t believe the thousands of people waiting in line for hours to get it.”
This year, he’s driving to the city with a new 32-foot-long trailer – the old one was too small – that contains two 10-foot sausage pits and one rotisserie pit. He’s bringing almost twice as much meat as he did last year: 1,800 pounds of sausage and 2,500 pounds of brisket.
The president of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer, said he is “amazed” by how large the event has grown since he founded it four years ago with David Swinghamer. The inspiration was simple, he said. “It was a chance to bring people together from many walks of life who had a common love for two great, democratic American art forms: barbecue and music.”
The pitmasters’ day begins like it will for most of the weekend’s expected 100,000 attendees: in a long line. Nine rigs will queue up at 11 a.m. today on 27th Street between Lexington and Madison avenues. From there, the pitmasters will head to Blue Smoke restaurant, where chef, local pitmaster, and organizing host Ken Callaghan welcome them and outline the weekend’s schedule. “I try and scare them a little bit,” Mr. Callaghan said, explaining that this is “combat cooking. … I tell them, ‘You’re about to get pummeled. I don’t think you’re ready.'”
Mr. Callaghan keeps his 7-foot-tall competition-class rotisserie-smoker in his driveway at home in Washington Township, N.J. Today it will be parked in front of Blue Smoke alongside the 18-wheeler that’ll be his refrigerator for the weekend. His menu features 4,000 pounds of baby back ribs, 4,000 pounds of St. Louis spareribs, 9,000 pounds of brisket, 7,500 pounds of pork shoulder, 1,800 pounds of rib tips, and 3,500 pounds of whole hog. He does not expect to have any leftovers.
After the orientation, the rigs will pull into place on Madison Avenue and the pitmasters will start their fires around 5 p.m. Barbecue is a slow and low-heat style of cooking. Mr. Bracewell’s brisket, for example, takes between 14 and 16 hours to cook. A crew of pitmasters, private security staff, police, and others will stand guard throughout the night watching the pits. “For our style of barbecue, wood is the biggest flavor” Mr. Bracewell said, “so we’re bringing a cord of oak from central Texas.” A cord of wood measures 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long.
The event takes 10 months to plan and requires the participation of hundreds. This year, the organizers – Union Square Hospitality Group, Blue Smoke, and the Jazz Standard – have enlisted Live Nation, an event company that specializes in concerts; the company was chosen, Mr. Callaghan said, because “they’re used to the logic of this kind of crowds and volume.”
With the crowds, street closings, and all those fire grills, police officers from the 13th Precinct will be on hand, too. “I’ve been there from the beginning” Officer Mike Hnatko, of NYPD Community Affairs, said. “It’s a great event for the community, and the park is the pride of Chelsea.” Last year’s festival raised $50,000 dollars for Madison Square Park.
After the last rib is served Sunday evening, the pitmasters will have about 13 hours to break down and get their rigs out of the city. Then they’ll enjoy a pitmaster after-party on Sunday night, featuring foods like fried chicken, seafood, and macaroni and cheese – anything but barbecue.
Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, Saturday and Sunday, noon-6 p.m., Madison Square Park, www.bigapplebbq.org.