Barbecue Tips from the Pit

The U.S.’s top pit masters share stories and barbecue best practices

Big Apple BBQ Block Party attracts barbecue fans who feast on barbecue creations made by the U.S.'s top pit masters.

For the last 10 years, the second weekend in June has meant one thing for New York City, the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Some of the best pit masters from across the country convene at Madison Square Park to barbecue and offer New Yorkers an opportunity to taste the variety of flavors and styles of America’s most homegrown, authentic cuisine.

My family is from Argentina and I grew up on South American Asado-style barbecue. Asado is the way my dad and grandfather cooked and it’s all I knew about barbecue for most of my life. It was not until I went to my first barbecue festival five or six years ago when I moved to New York that I gained an appreciation for American-style barbecue. It was then when I began to understand the differences in flavors and styles.

I wanted to talk to some of the pit masters to learn about their specific styles of barbecue, who taught them how to cook, and whether their cooking is influenced by international styles of barbecue. I found that most of these renowned pit masters learned how to barbecue the same way I did - from their dads - and they take tremendous pride in maintaining the flavors and techniques that have been passed down through their families for many generations.

Chris Lilly (Big Bob Gibson BBQ, Decatur, Ala)

Pit master Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson BBQ from Decatur, Ala. is one of the most decorated pit masters in the country with 10 World Barbecue Championship titles. Decatur’s location between Memphis and the Carolinas makes Big Bob Gibson’s style of barbecue a unique combination of those two traditional styles.

Big Bob Gibson’s pulled pork is given its subtle smoky flavor from a dry rub and apple juice injection, followed by 12 to 15 hours of smoking over a combination of Kingsford charcoal and hickory wood chunks.

Lilly believes the tastiness of their pulled pork stands strong on its own, and he serves all his sauces on the side so that the customer can decide whether they want sauce and what type.
Lilly is well traveled and loves incorporating foreign flavors and cooking techniques into his recipes when he is catering parties or cooking at home. However in his 87-year-old family restaurant in Decatur, he leaves the recipes alone and lets the family tradition stand true and uncorrupted.