As anyone who has spent time in the kitchen will tell you, cooking is a labor of love. But barbecue especially requires dedication. Pitmasters spend hours amid smoldering heat, tending to the fire that will smoke meat to utter perfection. Luckily for us, across the country pitmasters are still carrying on America’s great barbecue traditions despite the hard work involved.
At the 15th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party held this past weekend, 15 pitmasters gathered in Madison Square Park to show off their mastery of the art of barbecue. Each developed a unique cooking innovation that gave their meat its defining flavor and texture.
Here’s the lowdown on a few meaty creations we sampled this weekend:
Barbecue joint: Big Bob Gibson BBQ
Hailing from: Decatur, Alabama
Smoking meat since: 1925
Signature dish: pulled pork sandwich
Signature cooking method: cooking meat directly under the fire, in addition to using a heat shield that allows fat to drip slowly into the charcoal, creating extra moisture for the meat, according to Jacob Lilly, manager and son of Big Bob Gibson’s current proprietor, Chris Lilly. The pitmasters never take a peek in the smoker throughout the whole smoking process (13 to 16 hours), so these guys are clearly pros.
Barbecue joint: Rodney Scott’s Bar-B-Que
Hailing from: Charleston and Hemingway, South Carolina
Smoking meat since: 1972 (The Hemingway location was first opened by Rodney Scott’s father. Scott opened the Charleston location this year)
Signature dish: spare ribs
Signature cooking method: Scott burns oak and hickory wood into charcoal embers himself, so the meat has “a clean flavor that’s not too smoky,” he said. This past weekend, a massive kiln was set up on the streets so Scott could make the charcoal for smoking the delightfully peppery St. Louis ribs he served.
Barbecue joint: Salt Lick BBQ
Hailing from: Driftwood, Texas
Smoking meat since: 1967
Signature dish: brisket, sausage
Signature cooking method: In addition to using live oak wood, soaked pecan hulls are thrown into the rotisserie pit smoker to control the burning of the wood and give extra flavor, said Miriam Wilson, chief operations officer at Salt Lick. Barbecue sauce is also applied throughout the cooking process to seal in moisture and lend a pleasant sweetness to the meat. After spending 16 to 17 hours in the smoker, the meats finish cooking in an open fire pit that was built by the founder 50 years ago.