Monday, June 14, 2010
BBQ, Burgoo and Bliss
One weekend a year, a change comes over Madison Square Park. The question "What is that smell?" gets an answer you are delighted, not horrified, to hear. The ubiquitous pale blue haze hanging invites a deep inhale, not a call to the EPA. Out of the cacophony of entwined conversations, you hear more than a few "Y'alls." The annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party has arrived. The country's best pit masters hold court for two days of bbq, burgoo and bliss.
I arrived early Saturday morning to take a quick reconnaissance tour around the park. A crowd was already starting to form for the upcoming pork-a-palooza. I made my way to Ed Mitchell's and joined the already growing queue. The line moved quickly and I soon was dining on one of the greatest pleasures of porkdom. I looked up and saw what I thought was a porcine induced hallucination. There, clad in heavy rubber gloves, was Michael Pollan chopping pork into tiny pieces for Ed Mitchell. Yes, the Michael Freakin' Omnivore Dilemma Pollan. I had no idea of what to make of that, so I continued on my quest for low and slow cooked perfection.
I soon ran into my friend Kat who was busy working the Big Apple BBQ for work. After a chance encounter with a friend of hers, we found ourselves immersed in a wonderful conversation with Ed Mitchell. Ed has hogs raised to his own standards to be used for his bbq. The hogs are raised on pasture and given a high quality feed that Ed devised himself. He works closely with several organizations concerned with the living conditions of farm animals. The pork that Ed uses in his bbq has a superior taste to what is available commercially. Mr. Mitchell believes that the better you treat the animal, the better the animal will treat you. Now I know why Michael Pollan was up to his elbows in hog. He was getting a hands on lesson in sustainably raised pork.
Most of the pit masters at the Big Apple BBQ served up the usual offerings. Whole hogs, ribs, beef brisket and a sausage or two were the staples. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn from Kentucky was serving up more of a regional specialty, mutton. Along with the mutton, they were serving another local Kentucky dish, burgoo. I was snapping a few photos when I was ushered into their cooking area to get a full lesson on how they cook their mutton and how they prepare burgoo. Burgoo is a thick soup of mutton and vegetables cooked for 6 hours, while being stirred every 15 minutes. The restaurant freely gives away their recipe because so few people are willing to stand around and stir a pot for that long. The mutton and burgoo were a nice counterpoint to the more usual being offered. a
The organizers of the event thoughtfully book many live music acts to help you dance off some of that food. The two bands I watched on Saturday were incredible. The first band was called Secret Country from Newark, NJ. Newark is about as far away from rural as one could possibly get. In fact, I just looked up rural in the dictionary and the definition was not Newark, NJ. This probably helped form their unique style of playing. Try to imagine the love child of Hank Williams Jr. and The Ramones. Country music played with breakneck speed and a punk aesthetic.
The other artist I really enjoyed was Carolyn Wonderland from Austin, TX. She possesses an incredible voice, amazing guitar chops, and a very droll sense of humor. The audience wouldn't let her leave the stage. She had to sing an a cappella number while the roadies set up the stage for the next band to keep the audience satisfied.