Pitmasters bring party to Charleston

Jimmy Hagood served pork at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party this year.

The Big Apple BBQ Block Party, long the leading caucus of the nation’s top pitmasters, sputtered this year under new ownership, but Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que in Nashville doesn’t think the festival format is played out.

“People like to try different stuff,” Martin says. “It makes it work, just having variety.”

Martin is one of three visiting pitmasters on the program for the Charleston Brown Water Society’s second annual Summer BBQ Invitational this Sunday. He and Mike and Amy Mills of Illinois’ 17th Street BBQ will join a local crew from Home Team BBQ. According to a press release, each of the pitmasters will present a unique cut.

“That was the entire point of the Big Apple, to bring the best of specific things,” recalls Martin, a longtime participant in the 13-year-old festival, always held in New York City in June. “It was me and Sam (Jones, of North Carolina’s Skylight Inn) and Rodney (Scott of Hemingway) cooking whole hog, taking three roads to the same house.”

Other Big Apple veterans include Jimmy Hagood of Southern Soul Barbecue, who this year reported slower traffic than in previous years. Lines were notably shorter, a result of the festival discontinuing its FastPass program, which allowed VIPS to cut to the front.

“The BBQ block party was not the same under its new ownership,” Ed Levine of Serious Eats tweeted, alluding to Tim Love’s purchase of the event from founder Danny Meyer. “Bring back the funk. Really.”

While the Charleston Brown Water Society’s event is organized on a significantly smaller scale, it includes a cocktail program featuring Houston bartender Alba Huerta and beer from host venue Holy City Brewing.

Martin says he’s not planning any gimmicks, though. “You’ve got the hipster barbecue thing out there: Guys trying to figure out what can set them apart, using far-flung ingredients like Asian peppers. I’m a traditionalist. I cook hogs for 24 hours and I let the fire do the work. Guys like us aren’t changing what we do. I’m going to cook the best I can, and either you eat it or you don’t.”