Monday, June 15, 2009

Maybe this should have been a BBQ blog...

17th St Bar & Grill Ribs and Beans

While BBQ is certainly well within the realm of what I thought this blog was going to be about, I didn't think it would be quite so prominent of a feature. But, as the saying goes "When life gives you BBQ... What are you complaining about, BBQ is the the greatest thing in the world!" This past weekend, life gave me a little more BBQ at the 7th Annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party. With Pitmasters coming in from around the country, this is the kind of event that would be worth planning a trip around, but for me it was just a happy accident. In fact, I only found out about it last week when the Southern Foodways blog mentioned it. Upon finding out, I quickly decided that in lieu of my third trip to Fette Sau, I would get my BBQ fix at the festival. (Now, I know you are asking yourself, "why not go to the block party AND go back to Fette Sau?" The answer is quite simple really. It's pizza. I only have so many meals to eat in New York and I have to make sure I eat enough pizza to last me until my next trip.)

I don't think there was bad BBQ to be found, but I decided to focus in on the guys who had traveled north for the event. The Salt Lick was there serving their unrivaled brisket, but I've been to the Salt Lick and will have ample chance to return in the future. I ultimately decided on 3 pitmasters: Ed Mitchell from The Pit in Raleigh, Patrick Martin from Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville, and Mike Mills of 17th St Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL and Memphis Championship Barbecue in Las Vegas (He's also the author of Peace, Love & Barbecue).

Mike Mills was cooking up some unbelievable ribs, with a wonderful crust, great smokey flavor and great sauce. Next time I'm visiting my family in Illinois I'm going to have to make the trip to Murphysboro because I will be dreaming of these ribs for a long, long time.

Both Ed Mitchell and the Martin's crew were doing Whole Hog BBQ, but with a couple of notable differences. Martin's was using wood that they burned down to coals and then placed in the smoker and Mitchell was using charcoal. The other big difference was that Martin's put a small dab of tomato based barbecue sauce on the sandwiches, while Mitchell uses a vinegar based sauce on the meat but no additional sauce on the sandwich. Both sandwiches had a coleslaw topping.

Unfortunately, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I only ended up getting to try Martin's sandwich. It was really quite wonderful, with wonderful flavor and a complex texture. They were also giving small pieces of skin to those interested. It was very flavorful but very tough, definitely not for the meek.

Martin's Sandwiches

Pile of skin at Martin's

Despite having my appetite completely defeated by ribs and a sandwich, I decided to spend some time watching Ed Mitchell practice his art. It was a sight to behold. Not a measuring cup to be found, salt, sugar, pepper, vinegar and chili peppers were added to the meat by the bottle and and handful. I also enjoyed watching one person after another coming by to get their picture taken with Ed. There is no doubt about it, the man is a superstar. I had a brief conversation with Ed and I was interested to find out that he raised his own pigs. This is clearly a man who know a thing or two about pigs.

Pitmaster Ed Mitchell getting the fire going

Ready for the grill

Close it up and cook until tomorrow

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