Big Bob Gibson’s Pulled Pork Wins Best Bite at Big Apple BBQ Block Party for 2nd Straight Year

Date June 23, 2009

“I wish they did this four times a year,” said my brother Craig as we watched Chris Lilly pull two shimmering pork butts from the smoker, some of the 3,000 pounds of pork cooked by the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q crew at this year’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party.  Lilly, 8-time Memphis In May Champion and co-creator of Big Bob Gibson’s famous Bar-B-Q sauce, then proceeded to pull, chop and sauce the best pulled pork I’ve ever tasted.  Read on for the step-by-step pulled pork photos and a look at some other hits and misses at the 2009 Big Apple BBQ Block Party.


The Disappointments

Disclaimer: All the opinions within this post are written with the utmost respect for the art of barbecue and the pitmasters who took part in the Big Apple BBQ Block Party.   The barbecue they served in Manhattan, adjusted for the masses under imperfect conditions, may not be a fair representation of the delicacies served at each of the participants original establishments.

Ubon’s “The Champion’s Choice” Pulled Pork – Yazoo, MS

My friend Charlie recommended Ubon’s after hearing it was the best pulled pork at the event.  His source had obviously not tasted Big Bob Gibson’s.  The best part of Ubon’s pulled pork was the bark, the dark shards of skin redolent of smokey deliciousness.  The pork itself was fatty, a bit tough and didn’t have much flavor.  The thin sauce was flecked with black pepper but more tangy than spicy.


Pappy’s Smokehouse St. Louis Style Ribs – St. Louis, MO

Our hopes rose as we watched Mike “Smokey” Emerson pull rack after rack of St. Louis spare ribs from a huge container.  Mr. Emerson, also known as “Pappy,” cuts the knuckle off of the tough spare rib before coating each rack in a Memphis-style dry rub.  He mainly serves “loin back” or baby back ribs at his St. Louis smokehouse (link), but today he proudly brandished a rack of spare ribs and said “I wanted to give New York a taste of St. Louis.”


He should have stuck with the baby backs because the spare ribs weren’t great.  The flavor of smoke was almost undetectable.  The ribs were as tough as you’d expect, not quite fall off the bone, and not even the sweet, thick sauce could save them.


17th Street Bar & Grill Baby Back Ribs – Murphysboro, IL

After the spare rib disappointment at Pappy’s, I was hoping for baby back rib enlightenment at 17th Street Bar & Grill, the baby of champion pitmaster Mike Mills, a consultant at Manhattan’s Blue Smoke.  Unfortunately, transcendence was out of reach.  The ribs were dry, covered in a pasty mustard-based sauce and didn’t fall off the bone.  A friend later scoffed at my choice of 17th Street saying they weren’t very good in 2008 either.


The Favorites

Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q Homemade Smoked Sausage with Pimento Cheese & Saltines – Birmingham, AL

Cheese? Crackers? Sliced jalapeno? One might wonder how these accoutrement found their way onto any plate at the BABBP, but I’m certainly happy they did because they paired perfectly with the charred, spicy sausage from Jim ‘N Nick’s. The combo of spicy pork, creamy cheese, crispy crackers, and bright jalapenos was a flavor trip I’d love to take again.


The Salt Lick BBQ Beef Brisket & Sausage – Driftwood, TX

If you’re wondering why it says “brisket” above but you don’t see any below, it’s because the pink slices of fatty meat are so delicious, Salt Lick ran out by 3PM on the first day of the BABBP.  Lucky for Craig and me they still had some of their juicy, garlicky and slightly spicy sausage.  Sweet sauce covered an outer skin with just the right amount of snap.


Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q Pulled Pork Shoulder – Decatur, AL

Wow.  Just wow.  If ever there was a moment I was happy to have written a year’s worth of posts to get from the 2008 BABBP to now, it was when Don & Carol McLemore, owners of Big Bob Gibson, offered us the chance to stand directly in front of the raised cutting board upon which the best pork shoulder ever was being pulled.  Let’s see how it all comes together….


Step 1. Remove the bone and pull


Step 2. Chop the Pulled Pork with a Huge Knife


Step 3. Drench Pork in Apple Juice-based liquid


Step 4. Look at all that delicious pulled pork


18 Responses to “Big Bob Gibson’s Pulled Pork Wins Best Bite at Big Apple BBQ Block Party for 2nd Straight Year”

  1. Boone said:

    Nice writeup. I must respectfully disagree with some of your choices, though! First: I vastly preferred Ubon’s to Big Bob Gibson’s. I will grant that I got (by sagacious request) extra bark at both places, which may have tilted the scales unfairly in Ubon’s direction. In any case, I found Ubon’s much moister (maybe this is the fattiness you didn’t like?) and smokier than the comparatively bland Gibson’s. I agree with your pictures that Big Bob’s looked fantastic – I stood and watched the picking for a while myself – but the flavor just didn’t stand up for me.

    I also thought 17th St’s ribs were quite good. Texture-wise, I think you’ve got it right – they were a bit on the dry side and most certainly did not fall off the bone. I thought the flavor was great, though. The mustardy sauce had just enough tang to offset the smokiness of the meat – smokiness that was, in my view, the most bite-for-bite intense of any of the meat I tasted that weekend.

    You don’t mention Ed Mitchell’s The Pit! Are you not a fan of the NC style? Even though Mitchell’s sandwiches are not the best NC bbq I’ve had – I can think of a few places in the eastern part of NC that have been more consistently delicious – it still stood out at the BABBQ. Immensely tender, tons of smoky flavor, and a nice amount of kick from the vinegar sauce. Plus, if you stood around long enough (worth it anyway to see them take a hog off of the smoker), you could get your hands on some cracklins.

  2. phil-ate said:

    is pulled pork a menu item or a recreational activity?

  3. sarah said:

    omg. i could die just looking at these photos. pulled pork is my FAVORITE.

  4. Gilda MacDonald said:

    There is a lot to be said about pulled pork, where to begin?Let’s see, first of all I am so sorry to have missed out on this extraordinary day. I am putting it on the calendar and schlepping the family next time for sure. I can see this becoming an annual family outing, everyone is sick of Rockefeller Center at Christmas time anyway.Who could ever get sick of pulled pork or crisp sausage? I first had this delicacy ( barbecued Sausage that is ) at Blue Smoke. If you haven’t been there, get there soon. It is divine!

  5. Mona said:

    Hey! I was there on Sunday too. What I am wondering is how you managed to take all those photos with your hands covered in BBQ?? You are talented.

  6. HowfreshEats said:

    FG- good stuff. After seeing these pics I’m kind of pissed for missing it, but the waits, lines and heat in the past make me remember the suffering. But the links and those ribs are making me hungry.

    I’ll admit I’m not such a pulled pork fan, but both look serious, especially with the bark.

    Had the Salt Lick last year- both brisket and links were great. I also thought Mike Mill’s babybacks were top billing- fall off bone status. Sounds like you had the odd rack.

  7. 2Kizzle said:


  8. Harry said:

    you really have no idea wot u talk of.. Pork was fatty? waddya expect. no fat ? sauce flecked with pepper.. have you ever heard of East Carolina BBQ sauce?? ribs didnt fall off the bone.. for your disclaiming and upmost respecting guidance and edification, the meat on perfectly cooked ribs are NOT supposed to fall of the bone.. and not quite sure what batch of ribs you got, but there was no thick pasting of sauce on any of the ribs I tried.. and how could a thin mustard sauce be pasty… you truely know not what perfect BBQ is.

  9. harry bush said:

    Harry harryyyy harryyyyy ur barkin up the wroonnnggggg tree…..

  10. Raj said:

    I was at the Saturday event and eventhough it was pouring rain, the food made it worthwhile. I concur about Jim N Nick’s. I ate the pimento cheese alone it was so good. Martin’s also had a great pulled pork. On the sweet side but tasty. Great pictures and writeup as always.

  11. ScottV said:

    I was at the BABBQBP for both days. I preferred the pulled pork at Ubon’s over Big Bob Gibson’s. The smoke flavor permeated the meat so deeply that sauce was unnecessary. Big Bob’s was good but I still dream about Ubon’s. As for ribs, the 17th Street baby backs were outstanding on Saturday. Moist, falling off the bone and simply delicious. They had the longest lines on Saturday until the rain started. They were so good that my group and I picked 17th Street as the one place that we would go to again on day 2.That being said, the ribs were not nearly as good on Sunday. It’s my guess that because they sold so many that they couldn’t keep up with the demand leading to Sunday’s ribs not being in the smoker as long as Saturday’s had been. If I had skipped them on Saturday and only tried them on Sunday I would not be a fan. I found the brisket at Salt Lick (the only brisket I tried) to be dried out and flavorless. The Pit from NC was an excellent example of NC BBQ. Smokey and vinegary and chopped to perfection. That all being said, I am looking forward to next year’s BABBQBP.

  12. FooDude said:

    2Kizzle, RIGHT ON ABOUT BIG L! Maybe you can post some pics of those toilet stuffers!

  13. fred said:

    Great review food guy you’ve successfully made me salivate!

  14. The NYC Food Guy said:

    Thanks for the comment. That is a pretty smart move on your part to request extra bark, it’s by far the best part. Chris Lilly mentioned that his favorite part of the pork butt is on the top of the shoulder on the end opposite the bone. One day I will make my own pulled pork and have the pleasure of finding this out.

    I had no issues with the fatty-ness of Ubon’s, in fact I would have liked more. My only issue was lack of flavor and tenderness on the part of Ubon’s. I think in the end, and this holds true for the rest of my responses to your comment and others, there was no way to standardize the quality of the BBQ being doled out at the event. I might have received the last bit of Ubon’s pork from the least fresh pan remaining. And I know I received pork directly from the smoker at Big Bob’s so how could that compare to just a regular serving?

    I didn’t mind the flavor of the 17th Street ribs but they were very salty and pretty tough for baby backs, I didn’t hate them but i certainly didn’t love them.

    As far as Ed Mitchell’s Pit goes, I’m down with it. I’ve got nothing but love for all types of BBQ. I just didn’t get around to eating it at this years BABBP. You certainly paint a pretty picture, however. Makes me regret not eating it.

    Do you live in NYC? What’s the best BBQ you’ve EVER had?

    The perfect junction of both.

    Pulled pork is definitely up there for me too but I love the ribs too.

    Gilda MacDonald,

    I honestly didn’t loved the pulled pork at Blue Smoke but I’ve only been once and would love to try it again. You DEFINITELY need to get to the event next year!


    HA! You’re too kind. There was definitely a lot of napkin usage. Did you have fun? What was your favorite bite?

    After hearing your comments on Mike Mills ribs (17th street) I can’t tell you how much I’d love to get out to his real spot in the south and check it out. I’m surprised to hear you didn’t make it this year.


    Out of your mind as usual! Love it.

    As I wrote earlier, the more fat the better when it comes to pork. You misinterpreted my statements. Also, no love lost on the pepper-flecked Carolina BBQ sauce, it just wasn’t as spicy as I had hoped it would be. I’m also well aware that “fall off the bone” really means “fall off the bone with a little help from a bite.” And as far as Mike Mill’s 17th street BBQ sauce goes, I’m not anti, I just didn’t love it, mainly because it coated dry, tough baby backs instead of delicious and tender ones.

    Thanks for the kind words. Nice work on the Jim ‘N Nicks. I’m glad you liked Martin’s pulled pork, I hadn’t heard anything one way or the other on it.

    Thanks for the analysis. Your anecdote about 17th street ribs on Saturday vs Sunday proves my point above perfectly. There’s no way to make sure everyone gets the same quality BBQ. Salt Lick is excellent, I had a bad batch last year on my first try, complained, and then got new brisket from the smoker and it was awesome.

  15. Boone said:

    Hey FC,

    I live in NYC, so I’m very much an amateur when it comes to barbecue. But the best I’ve had was at Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC. As smoke-infused as you can imagine, perfect balance of pepper/vinegar/sweetness, laced with a confetti of crunchy cracklins. Incredible. That place is right up there on my “last meal” list. Barbecue Center in Lexington has also always treated me well. As for places in NY, I once had a birthday party at Daisy May’s on the West Side, where we split a half suckling pig, and it was really, really good.

  16. BubbleQ Best Bites at 2010 South Beach Wine & Food Festival | NYC Food Guy said:

    […] because I’ve actually eaten this Decatur, Alabama original twice before thanks to the Big Apple BBQ Block Party.  Lilly is the son-in-law of the owner of Big Bob Gibson’s and he’s the man who has […]

  17. The Collective: Zany New Restaurant in Meatpacking District Serving Gimmicky (But Surprisingly Good) Food Until 4AM Thursday-Sunday | NYC Food Guy said:

    […] eaters will enjoy this, but I’m forever spoiled.  No pulled pork will ever be as good as the pulled pork from Chris Lilly’s smoker. […]

  18. H-E said:

    Hey Sarah, you can pull my pork any day.

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