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Big Apple BBQ Suggestions

Hello All,

I'm a (relatively) new transplant to NYC. I wasn't here for last year's Big Apple BBQ, but am soo looking forward to it. If you attended last year and had a particularly good offering from one of the pitmasters, please share. I hear the lines can be crazy, so I'm trying to triage/limit my choices to the handful of pitmasters that have delivered consistently great food!


The BABBQ website lists those pitmasters who are participating this year:

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  1. Just go to Blue Smoke a couple blocks away.

    The Big Apple BBQ has grown way too big for Madison Sq. Park, not worth the congestion, especially if its a hot one.

    1. Yes, the lines have become incredible these past couple of years. Add to that the noise, the crush of people, the heat and the wafting scent of bbq and you have -- a classic NYC good time.

      We have had some excellent plates at the BABBQ. Can't say the same for Blue Smoke, except for their mac and cheese.

      Go and have fun. Expect a wait and skip bkfst that day.

      1. Search is your friend! All you need to know is here:

        In short:

        Get there around noon, bring a friend, split up. You *must* hit up these out of town pitmasters:
        1. Chris Lilly, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Pulled Pork Shoulder. With the best BBQ sauce.
        2. The Pit, Ed Mitchell, for NC style Whole Hog (the entire hog is chopped up, not just the shoulder), it's very tender. Almost melts in your mouth. Nice vinegary sauce.
        3. 17th Street Baby Back Ribs, Mike Mills. Saucy and sweet.
        4. The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX for brisket and sausage (ask for the deckle, which is the fatty part, I think their brisket is very good but not the absolute greatest, but I've been to places in hill country in Texas).
        5. Skip all NYC vendors. Don't eat a big breakfast. Eat some salad for dinner, if you actually get hungry later.

        Lines are HIGHLY dependent upon who we're talking about (Salt Lick and 17th Street are perenially long) weather and time of day (earlier is better). Sunday is always more smooth than Saturday since it's volunteer staffed.

        10 Replies
        1. re: kathryn

          I almost completely agree with Kathryn's post, and I would even put it in about that order!
          Bib Bob is A MUST! the best pulled pork/Slaw combo money can buy in NYC, at least for two days a year ..
          17th St Ribs are close 2nd, Salt lick is Slammin and Ed Mitchell (if and when he has Cracklin Available!! ) is solid. There will be some new entries this year and I cannot wait.The Fast Pass works best on Sunday and on the earlier side ( 30-40 minutes before it even opens perhaps) to get a map, peek at a few and send one or two friends off to find a place in the different lines, meet on the grass and GORGE! Save the NY stuff for their locations, don't fill up on too much beer and waste space,. And as I like to do for a good cool down, albeit at a higher cost, I head to Eleven Madison for live tunes, a nice comfy seat in the shade and icy cold Mint Juleps sponsored by Pappy Van Winkle Family Bourbon !

          1. re: goodtimeguy

            How does Big Bob's BBQ sauce differ from The Pit?

            1. re: AimeeD

              The PIT is NC style BBQ. Vinegary sauce with a little bit of spice and a bit of pucker, and kind of dissolves into the chopped up meat. They also chop their stuff pretty finely and some complain it's too soft although they do chop up the crackling into the mass of chopped whole hog.

              Big Bob's sauce (actually they have several) is great. The Championship Red is bright red, sweet, and tomato based, and coats the meat really well and doesn't get absorbed. He tends to chop his meat a bit more coarsely. I think it makes it more attractive, and more fun to eat.

          2. re: kathryn

            Kathryn, your list is spot on. I usually end up at Ubon's every year since their line is often shorter (probably because they ended up being on the streetside of the cookout instead of on Madison) and fear I will have to do so again if too many people take your advice and line up for the festival with your list in hand. I would gladly skip Salt Lick's sausage, though. I have ruined shirts two years running with the hot juice from those succulent sausages!

            1. re: kathryn

              How long are the waits? I would assume that the lines are extremely long but move pretty fast. Well.... I am hoping lolol.

              1. re: steakrules85

                Waits are highly variable on competing events, which vendor, time of day, FastPass vs. regular line, and WEATHER!

                If it's super humid and looks like it's going to rain, a lot of people will stay at home.

                1. re: kathryn

                  Well what would be the typical wait if you didn't have a fastpass on a nice day?

                  1. re: steakrules85

                    It's not like Shake Shack where you can predict how long it's going to be.

                    Every year has been different in my experience, from "the registers just went down and nobody knows what to do" to "oops, we just ran out of food, can you wait for the next batch?" to "the lady in front of me just bought 12 plates of BBQ!" to "something went wrong with this batch of hush puppies and we need to all start over." It really depends on how organized each individual vendor is.

                    I've never waited in the normal lines. But 17th Street and Salt Lick have really long lines most of the day, in my experience. 90+ minutes I'd guess?

                    1. re: kathryn

                      How early can people start lining up?
                      I've avoided this festival in the past, but I'm pregnant this year and *need* to have some pulled pork.

                      1. re: AimeeD

                        It's 11am-7pm both days! Not sure when you can start lining up, probably right around 11?

            2. Two words are all you need to know: SALT LICK


              1. Bakers Ribs. Best ribs at the festival (at least last year that is).

                1. Better get there before noon-they open at 11 AM this year.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: David W

                    Oh, right, I forgot they extended the hours this year! Thanks for the reminder.

                  2. Wow, thanks everyone! My girlfriend and I are completely looking forward to this. A special thanks to Kathryn for your thoughtful/comprehensive reply.

                    1. I've only been once years ago and don't remember what I had. This year I got a FastPass and am going to try and plan out what I'm getting and spend a good amount of time there. I live in Manhattan so no need to go to any of the NYC vendors. My question is what's the longest I can expect to wait in the FastPass lines? Wondering if I'll be able to try just about everything the out-of-state vendors offer between the 2 days.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: morninghurts

                        Last year it was about 90 deg and sunny. The longest fast pass line all weekend was at Salt Lick. In the mid-afternoon on Saturday, it took about 45 minutes. At that time, most of the other pit masters didn't have lines of more than a few people for the fast pass, so while one of the two of us waited on Salt Lick, the other went around to get pulled pork, beef rib, etc which we ate while waiting for the Salt Lick.

                        1. re: morninghurts

                          > Wondering if I'll be able to try just about everything the out-of-state vendors offer between the 2 days.

                          You might if you have a big appetite, don't eat any sides/bread, maybe share. I have been limited only by my stomach size and my dislike of wasting protein! I

                          've gotten pretty close to trying all visiting vendors in past years but it does get a big meat-heavy after a while. And let's face it, some of the vendors are not as good as others.

                          45-60 minutes sounds about right for Salt Lick, and about the same for 17th Street. Other than those two, I've only waited 20-30 minutes, tops in FastPass lines in the 2 years since they implemented the punch cards (they used to be the kind you swiped). In 2008, some of the best vendors (like Big Bob and the Pit) had FastPass lines of < 10 minutes before 1pm.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Dinosaur BBQ won best BBQ in the country on Good Morning America.

                            1. re: OC Mutt

                              I can vouch for the one in Syracuse as I've eaten there, but haven't tried the NYC branch.

                        2. I feel like the stand that gets the biggest raves every year is Big Bob's.

                          All the line situation is a total crapshoot. The past 2 years, we didn't wait more than 15 minutes in line. Last year we went late in the afternoon and zipped in and out. Granted it was 1 million degrees and the tail end of the Puerto Rican day parade. The year before we went on Saturday afternoon and were also in and out in no time. That year it was about 50 degrees and cloudy. It all depends...

                          1. We arrived around 10:50 and found that we could already enter the fast pass area-I was second on line at 17th St...my wife (who had the Salt Lick assignment) and I were on a bench and eating by 11:05-we bought extra of each to bring home (in fact-the guy at Salt Lick helped her pack it into the plastic container). Both excellent, as usual (though we go heavy on the sausage and just get one mixed with brisket from Salt Lick.)
                            Newcomers-Jim 'N Nick's sausage couldn't compare-more dense, less tasty-I did buy a bottle of their habanero sauce, though, that I really liked. I also didn't think much of Pappy's Smokehouse St Loius ribs - they lacked flavor and the way they were cooked, it wasn't even that much pleasure to eat the fatty bits.
                            I had thought to share a plate of Big Bob Gibson's before leaving today, but the line was by that time fairly long, and decided to hit them up tomorrow.
                            Note that Edy's ice cream was giving away cups (I had something with mango-the place was a wild pit of people grasping for free) that was pretty good. And someone was giving away some kind of granola bars-when we first saw her, she was calling out sadly "please-just take two!"...by the time we passed her a second time it was "Please! Just ONE!" When will they ever learn...
                            On the whole, the crowds seemed way down this year, at least up until I left around 2-we walked past 11 Madison to look at their drink menu (nice, but we decided to go home) and found the non-pass lines to be not bad looking at all...maybe the casual BBQ needs of NY have been met by all the full time NY shops in town.

                            1. Hi I went today - I really really liked the 17th St. Memphis baby back ribs the most. Flavor of Baker's Ribs was great and smoky - but a little dry for me. I thought it was really fun until it rained - crowds were less than last year I think...

                              Here's my quick review: http://tinyurl.com/l33pxu

                              Enjoy tomorrow if you didn't go today!!

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: YummyInTheCity

                                big bob, 17th street, and the pit are really all that you need. i don't even understand why ppl even bother with salt lick, i've tried it two years in a row and think that it doesn't compare to the moist brisket at hill country. according to some of the other pitmasters, their product is much better at their restaurant than it is at the block party. plus, their line is usually terrible because of the additional time required to slice and serve the brisket.

                                1. re: fulminating

                                  Fulminating is on point. Just listen to what he says. The one thing I would add is to put some baker's ribs sauce (you'll have to buy it separately) on the whole hog sandwich you get at the pit- get the cracklins on it too. I just wish they did this thing more often- it really doesn't take that long to get your food but you have to get there before 1230 and Saturday is less crowded than Sunday in my experience.

                                  1. re: fulminating

                                    Agree -- I think their brisket is pretty good but not the absolute greatest, and definitely not worth that long line if you're hungry. The problem is that not that many places at the BABBQ are offering brisket to start with.

                                    1. re: fulminating

                                      I would have to agree with you too! Not sure what the fuss is for Salt Lick. Tried it and kept being disappointed. These three are really the ones that needed the visits!

                                    2. re: YummyInTheCity

                                      I didn't go yesterday, but went today (Sunday) from 12:30pm to 2:00pm. Little to no waits with a FastPass although I didn't even consider Salt Lick.

                                      Walked right up to 17th Street/Mike Mills station (only two people in line in front of me).

                                      After that, grabbed some sandwiches from Big Bob Gibson/Chris Lilly and waited maybe five minutes total. The sandwiches also seemed unusually generous, mounds of meat falling out of the bun.

                                      Then it was off to The Pit/Ed Mitchell's where the line was maybe ten minutes. Fiance even went back for seconds.

                                      Then we split a sausage from Jim'n'Nick's. I really loved the combination of the sausage, cheese, sauce, jalapeno pepper, and saltine.

                                      Our friend went back to 17th Street to get some ribs to taken home. He was gone for about 15 minutes.

                                      After two $5 lemonades from Eleven Madison Park, I thought briefly about trying Martin's whole hog or Pappy's ribs, but the crowds had become really thick, so we left around 2pm. The dessert selection seemed a bit anemic compared to last year with only watermelon and brownies available. No pie?

                                      I gifted the $4 remains of our Pass to a family with two strollers and a dog.

                                      Overall, my experience was perfect. Someone on Gothamist that a lot of the overcrowding on the streets and sidewalk area was due to the lawns in the park being off limits. It did seem off to me, as I recall previous years feeling like one giant picnic on the grass. The sidewalk area was a bit hectic, especially on Madison Avenue, where the picnic tables are. Things were a definitely less crazy towards 26th Street.

                                      1. re: kathryn

                                        Over the course of two days we hit up the following:

                                        Saturday -

                                        The Pit - really good, finely chopped whole hog. Just a touch of smoke and a subtle vinegar flavor. The pork had some real sweetness to it and the sandwich was great with the vinegar slaw added to it

                                        Big Bog Gibson - whole shoulder. Pulled not chopped, big juicy pieces, well seasoned and smoked. I asked for extra bark on the sandwich and was rewarded. Good tangy tomato based sauce. Probably my favorite of the weekend.

                                        Pappy's Smokehouse - St. Louis style ribs - Nice and tender and the meat gave way with just a little pull. Good but not great

                                        Mike Mils/17th St - baby back ribs - the surprise of the weekend. Really good, nice spice rubs and sauce. 2nd favorite behind Big Bob Gibson. Wife loooved the bbq beans but i didn't try it as I'm not a beans fan.


                                        Jim n Nicks - jalapeno sausage with pimento cheese. Sausage had good flavor and loose texture. Wished the casing got crispier in the smoker as it was a little soft and chewy. Did not understand the pimento. I've had it only once or twice before and i doubt i'll want any more.

                                        Wilson's bbq - We were going for Salt Lick but didn't feel like waiting on the huge line, so we went to Wilson for some brisket. Really good, fatty (in a good way), nice smoke. Very happy with our choice.

                                        Some beer and a tshirt later, we had $4 left on our fast pass and gifted it to two people on our way out of the park.

                                        The lack of the lawn did crowd up the beer area of madison sq. park. I went both days around 2ish and thought Saturday was much more crowded.

                                        I was happy with all my choices this year. Would've enjoyed Salt Lick but wasn't feeling the wait this year, even with the fast pass. It was my favorite last year but I was ok not waiting this year. In sum my rankings are as follows:
                                        1. Big Bob Gibson
                                        2a. Mike Mills/17th st.
                                        2b. The Pit
                                        3. Wilsons BBQ
                                        4a. Pappy's smokehouse
                                        4b. Jim n Nicks

                                        1. re: ESNY

                                          > 1. Big Bob Gibson
                                          > 2a. Mike Mills/17th st.
                                          > 2b. The Pit

                                          After going to this event for four years, I think that's how my rankings have settled. Given what Hill Country is doing, I have less of a need to go to the Salt Lick station, but great pulled pork and whole hog is under-represented in this city. Rack & Soul's baby back ribs are pretty good, though the beans at 17th Street kick butt, so 17th Street is a can't-miss for us.

                                          1. re: kathryn

                                            I am a rib person and 17th St is my favorite since the first year of block party! Big Bob and The Pit were nice too but sometimes you get drier pieces if you are not lucky...

                                    3. We went today, but left, very disappointed. It may have gone against my Chow spirit but we just couldn't face the lines. At about 2:00 the line for 17th street was a good hour or so. Over 100 people on line. Easy. Ditto a number of other spots. We had tried to purchase a fast pass a couple of weeks ago, but they were already sold out. The ribs and sandwiches did look great, but we kind of chickened out and didn't opt for the wait. Not sure what the answer to this is. Maybe just some more good bbq in the city?

                                      So now, tonight, I am left bbq'ing some chicken and thinking what might have been . . .

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: comiendosiempre

                                        > Not sure what the answer to this is.

                                        Go at 11am, leave by 2pm!

                                        1. re: kathryn

                                          absolutely right, kathryn....my friend gina and i got there yesterday at around 11:20 or so....we had a fast pass, but when we got there, there was one person at the ed mitchell.pit fast pass "line" and three people at the real line. thirty minutes later, bakers had a line (on the pay as you go side, not fast pass) that looked to be about 15 or so minutes tops.

                                          i can empathize with comiendo...as i get older, lines are less appealing. but sometimes worth it. and here, even at peak times, the lines only looked insane at 17th street and salt lick (imo the two most overrated vendors here).

                                      2. i showed up today at 10:30 and grabbed a bench to sit on since the grass area was closed. i have to say, it was not that crowded as compared to last year. although, the lines for the regular attendees was huge, as normal, the fast pass lines were very very fast. the guards are the gates were anal not letting anyone pass without a fast pass. this was so much better then last year. i managed to be 5th on line when salt licked opened up. i barely waited 3 mins on the fast pass lines, (not counting salt lick b/c the fast pass line was huge at 3pm). if you want the food, you gotta go early and beat the crowds and claim a bench. i got in all the good ones at 11AM, and slowly made my way to the other ones. SOOO MUCH BETTER THAN LAST YEAR.

                                        1. I have no love for 17th St. The ribs were under cooked (tough) and the fact that they don't cut them made it very hard to eat. I was a fan of the beans though. Bakers Ribs was a million times better. Perfect tender ribs with a great flavor.

                                          My favorites were (in order):
                                          1. The Pit
                                          2. Bakers Ribs
                                          3. Bog Gibson
                                          4. Ubons

                                          The rest were not noteworthy. Especially disappointing was Patrick Martins. They provided tasteless and dry pork.

                                          Special note to the Salt Lick. Two years in a row the brisket has been disappointing. However, that sausage is fantastic, way better than the other sausage option that was at the festival (can't remember which venue, I think it was Jim 'n Nicks)

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: demigodh

                                            I was just at Salt Lick this weekend and I concur that the brisket was disappointing but I loved the sausage. Possibly the best I've ever had.

                                            1. re: demigodh

                                              I concur the ribs I got from Bakers were very moist and tender and their jalapeno slaw had a nice kick to it.

                                              1. re: demigodh

                                                The Salt Lick ran out of brisket at about 3:00 on Sunday. This was inexcusable in light of the fact that they have been at the event for years and should know how much brisket they will sell. I thought that the Pit was, as always, fantastic. I disagree about 17th Street. I enjoyed them very much. The ribs easily pulled apart so eating them was not difficult or much of an inconvience. Martin's was not as good as The Pit but I enjoyed the sandwich and I don't think any place in NYC does whole hog in that style so it was a nice treat. Pappy's( a first timer) was also out of meat by about 3:00 so I didn't get to try their ribs, did anybody?.

                                                1. re: stuartlafonda

                                                  They ran out at around 2 on Saturday, so were giving out double portions of sausage. Their brisket was not as good as Wilson's, and while I skipped Hill Country's stand, it's not as good as what Hill Country sells at the restaurant. Sausage was great though.

                                                  Full recap:

                                                  I went on both days, and as everyone has said (and predicted), Saturday was a mess and Sunday pretty civilized. Armed with a fast pass and a stack of takeout containers, I tried most of what was there, some more than once. As always there were some hits and some misses but the overall standard was high.

                                                  I got The Pit's whole hog both days, and as in the past I've found the place to be very variable. On Saturday the texture was terrific but it was extremely underseasoned; Sunday the vinegar sauce had really taken hold in the pork and it lived up to its reputation. Patrick Martin's whole hog was also good, and the pre-constructed cole slaw and hog sandwich looked weird but worked. Sadly their pickles didn't make it to NYC.

                                                  I'd always skipped Ubon's, which I now consider a major error. I'm not all that into barbecue sauces, so I won't rate their "Champion's Choice" sauce beyond saying that it seemed pretty good, but I really liked the very smoky meat, which had a good bit of crispy skin mixed into it. Big Bob Gibson's was also excellent, although they seemed curiously reluctant to promote the white sauce, which I'd thought was their hallmark. The lone bottle was out of reach and when I asked for it the woman overseeing the sauce area poured a tiny amount into a little plastic cup rather than offering me the bottle.

                                                  Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's pulled work was well cooked, but they'd drenched it in sauce rather than just having bottles out, so it wasn't great for my sauce-liking-but-not-loving taste. And while I liked that they had bits of pork in their baked beans, the beans were inedibly sweet. BlackJack BBQ's pulled pork was the weakest of the lot, without a lot of flavor in the meat and served with a very spicy sauce that overwhelmed it. I like spicy foods a lot, but it didn't work here.

                                                  I was thoroughly unimpressed with Baker's tough, dry ribs, which didn't have enough flavor to make up for the poor execution. Pappy's were much better, although very fatty. And I really don't get all the love for Mike Mills. They were cooked extremely well, and I liked that they're doing something offbeat with the beans, but the flavors didn't seem to be there.

                                                  I was a fan of Jim 'n' Nick's smoked sausage with pimento cheese although I'm still not sure whether they were intended to all be eaten together or not. The sausage was on the dry side but the flavors more than made up for it, and I thought the pimento cheese was really tasty.

                                                  I went by the Salt Lick at around 2:30 Saturday, when they'd already run out of brisket and were getting low on sausage as well, where they gave out two pieces of sausage to make up for the missing brisket. I suppose they misjudged demand but having come up here for years, it's hard to see how they could have been THAT wrong. As always their sausage was one of the real highlights of the event, although the brisket, when I returned Sunday, was a distant second behind Ed Wilson's outstanding version. Wilson's was pretty fatty, but had great smoky flavor and was much more tender than the Salt Lick's.

                                                  1. re: craig_g

                                                    fyi, the reason why different stands ran out of meat is due to the supplier NOT the pitmasters. the pitmasters have no control over the supplier (usually a festival sponsor like smithfield in previous years) so don't blame them for running out of food; their hands are tied behind their figurative backs.

                                                    1. re: fulminating

                                                      I don't understand. BBQ places run out all the time, meaning when all the meat is sold out it's sold out. Why would Big Apple BBQ be any different? I mean meat that take hours to make can't be cooked to order so if crowds are bigger than anticipated or space is limited the meat will run out, right?

                                              2. I'm a little confused by all the responses about Jim N Nick's related to the sausage or pimento cheese...

                                                I mean, I understand that they brought what they did and served it up, but why they either brought or served either of things, well...it confuses me. I'm from Alabama and have eaten Jim N' Nick's for many, many years, and I've never eaten either of those dishes OR known anyone who has eaten either of those dishes; and that's kind of saying a lot because my neighborhood in Birmingham is a very small town and I've never been to a restaurant there without running into at least one other party that we know.

                                                In any case, here's the thing about Jim N' Nicks: they're extremely good at their good stuff, most people order pulled pork in some way (that's not their only good thing, but it's probably the surest and most ordered); however: Jim N' Nick's is really trying hard these days to "spread their wings" a little bit, and possibly/probably a little too much. They're trying to become a bit of a chain, but not in a good way. When they were becoming a chain within the Birmingham city limits, well, that was one thing. But a nationwide chain is far from the same thing.

                                                In terms of BBQ, too broad will very quickly become too generic, and quickly it just tastes bad. No excuses. No one in this thread can name a true nationwide bbq chain that will fall under the best food, or even the best bbq, they've ever had. Local, and small, will always be best.

                                                Jim N Nick's would win at what they do best, every time, but...it's too hard for them to not grasp nationwide popularity, and thus they will fail, at least from a chowhound perspective..in real life and in business, they will still be wildly successful.

                                                Dear Jim N Nicks: Please open a restaurant in Burbank, California. We need bbq. Love, Catherine <3 :)