On the second weekend in June, the island of Manhattan smells the best it will all year. That's because some of the greatest pitmasters from around the country set up mobile rigs along the edges of Madison Square Park to smoke tens of thousands of pounds of ribs, brisket, pork and sides for meat-loving New Yorkers who have been waiting 12 months to go whole hog at the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.
Here's the best way to get your fill of the best barbecue in the country, all in one small park on one tiny island.
Take a lap. It's tempting to dive in for the first pulled pork sandwich you see, but it's worth your while to root around and see what's on offer. Many of these pitmasters have traveled a long way, and they bring nothing less than their A game. There are plenty of hometown heroes to celebrate, of course, but also consider paying homage to regional specialties like Wayne Mueller's mammoth beef ribs, Sam Jones's skin-chopped-in whole-hog sandwiches and Drew Robinson's hot links with pimento cheese—minus the drives to Texas, North Carolina and Alabama, respectively.
Divide and conquer. There's no way around it (other than with a VIP pass, which we're giving away a chance to win below): The lines are long. Luckily, people are really good natured (champion pitmaster Mike Mills jokes that barbecue smoke makes people docile, like beekeepers use on hives), and there's plenty of great live music playing. But it doesn't hurt to have a plan. Go with at least one other person, hit separate lines and meet up afterward. Or—pro move here—get the goods, move on to another line and convene in the middle with a feast of at least four offerings. It's a bit of work up front, but think of it as kindling your appetite.
Be an early bird (or pig). It gets crowded—as in more than 100,000 barbecue lovers descending upon a relatively small space in the span of a weekend. The pitmasters prep as best they can, but they can bring only so much meat, and it takes a long time to get it smoked just right. When they're out, they're out. Get there as close as you can to opening to avoid the biggest crowds and stave off heartbreak over missing out on your favorites.
Dance it off. Pre-empt the meat sweats by getting it all out on the dance floor. Or pavement. Or lawn. This year, the beef, lamb and pork will be paired with live music from acts like Nikki Lane, Jonny Fritz, the Reed Turner Band and Whiskey Shivers, whose frontman, Bobby Fitzgerald, has been described as "barefoot, sleeveless and sweaty." Do what you gotta do, 'cue fan.
Wrap it up. Look, it's only once a year. Live high on the hog and buy an extra sandwich to take home for dinner or even breakfast the next day. It ain't like there's a kale salad shortage in the city, so it's perfectly fine to have barbecue for multiple meals, even a couple of days in a row. Also, make it your business to hit the merchandise tent for signature rubs and sauces from the pitmasters' restaurants. Even if the block party is only one weekend a year, they'll help you get your own barbecue on lock for the other 51.
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