Date: June 9-10, 2007
Venue: Madison Square Park
Summer is almost here, and what better way to celebrate it than with a good all-American barbecue? Snapple, with the help of NYC & Co. and a slew of other sponsors, rounded up 13 of the country's top pitmasters to show New Yorkers what real barbecue is all about.
Barbecues from as far as Texas and Virginia outlined the perimeter of the park. Since barbecue sauce flows through these pitmasters' veins, each of them brought their best cuts of brisket, pork shoulder and ribs to the table and gave New Yorkers a taste of the "real stuff."
'People up north'
"People up north thought barbecue was hot dogs and hamburgers," said Jimmy Hagood of South Carolina's Food for the Southern Soul. "What we do is to the product is magic. So we take the New York eating public very seriously."
And after trying a little brisket from the Texas-based Salt Lick BBQ, I found out what real barbecue was.
With fires burning as early as 6 p.m. the night before, the temperature in Madison Square was a little hotter than usual for this time of year. Barbecue connoisseurs and novices alike lined up at their favorite place to taste what was up for grabs. Patrons could buy a Bubba Fast Pass for $100 that allowed them to get their food faster and eat more of it.
Snapple made its presence known throughout the event with iced-tea signs at every nook and cranny of the park. Each of the barbecue stations carried a variety of Snapple flavors for people to quench their thirst. The marketer even had two stations (one, appropriately enough, on Madison Avenue and 23rd Street and the other at the north end of the park) where visitors could sample new flavors of green and red teas. In Sponsor Row, located on the 26th Street side, Wendy the Snapple Lady handed out autographed photos and water bottles every hour. The stand also offered samples of the new line of black teas featuring English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe.
Sponsor row housed other brands that gave away samples of their products. Texas Pete, the official hot sauce of the barbecue, gave away mini bottles of its buffet of condiments, black-and-red bandanas and branded paper pig ears. Coca-Cola gave people a taste of Coke Plus (which tasted like Diet Coke) and energy drink Vault Red Blitz. Cinnabon also passed out cans of its new line of coffee drinks, which felt more like a sugar rush than a caffeine high after one sip.
How could a Big Apple event start without a ceremonial ribbon cutting? This one left the cloth at home and used barbecued meat instead. Snapple President Jack Belsito, along with Bruce Revman, NYC & Co.'s senior VP-sales and partnerships, and Blue Smoke co-owners Danny Meyer and David Swinghamer and their executive chef, Kenny Callaghan, cut ribs with a large pair of shears to officially open the event.
"This is our community," Mr. Belsito said. "New Yorkers of all kinds are here eating barbecue and drinking Snapple."
Despite reports of possible rain during the weekend-long event, the park was packed with people waiting to get their fill of food. "If the barbecue is good, then the Snapple will taste good in the rain, too," Mr. Belsito said.
Gold Snapple bottle caps
Besides feeding hungry New Yorkers, each of the pitmasters competed for a chance at winning $500 from Snapple, a fully-stocked Snapple cooler the size of a vending machine and bragging rights for a year. Unlike other barbecue challenges you see on TV, the crowd decided the winner. Gold Snapple bottle caps were handed out to everyone who bought food at the event. Attendees could vote for their favorite by placing the caps into the appropriate pitmasters' buckets at the Snapple booth. This year's winner was Michael Rodriguez of Salt Lick BBQ in Texas. Thank goodness I got to sample a winner.
After my fill of pulled pork, pecan pie and black-eyed peas, I don't think I'll be able to look at barbecue the same way again.