www.pigtrip.net is a deep, deep resource for Northeastern barbecue hunters. Gary’s Best Barbecue Meal from Boston will be featured in the next Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and he was kind enough to share some of his story and knowledge with us.
Congratulations on hitting the 8 year mark at www.pigtrip.net! When you started this project, did you see it lasting 8 years and growing into what it has become?
Thanks! To be honest, I had no idea how long I’d continue the site and at what output level. I’m not even really sure what it has become. The concept was not just for reviews, but a reference source for barbecue joint locations and contact info—this was before Yelp was a household word, before Google maps got as reliable as now, before social media, before “big boy” restaurant sites like Eater and Thrillist, and before barbecue became cool enough to warrant attention from the mainstream media. So in a way, even though the readership is at its highest level now, PigTrip was a bigger deal in the early to middle years.
How many barbecue restaurants have you been to in these 8 years?
I’d guess nearly 400. One reason that count is so high is barbecue crawls: with four barbecue aficionados in one car, you can head out and hit four joints in a single day, trying a good chunk of their menus by creative ordering and sharing.
Do you still love barbecue? If you knew you only had one meal left on earth, what would it be?
I still love barbecue and am still wowed by great barbecue. If guaranteed great, barbecue would be my final meal. If not, gimme a burger.
Reviews and opinions are often controversial. Have you received harsh criticism from any of your reviews?
One disgruntled barbecue joint owner who didn’t think I was so fair sent me eight f-bomb filled emails over the course of two hours on a Saturday afternoon. I can imagine him in a dimly lit office with a bottle of whiskey, looking at his bills and blaming me for his troubles when I basically said his barbecue was good but his reheats (cold temperatures, slushy surfaces) needed work.
When America thinks of barbecue, we think of Birmingham before Boston; KC instead of NYC; and Lexington, North Carolina rather than Lexington, Massachusetts. How have you seen barbecue change and grow in the Northeast?
Decades ago barbecue joints attempted to pass off boiled-and-baked meats covered in barbecue sauce as barbecue, assigning names like “Texas brisket” and “Carolina pork” without any resemblance to the real thing. But back then, you didn’t have cable TV shows unmasking the fraudulence. Now, pitmasters are either improving their approximations or veering off in their own direction and tossing those silly labels. Oh, one more thing: the execution may sometimes leave something to be desired, but there might be more joints smoking with real wood within a 50-mile radius of Lexington MA than Lexington NC.
The barbecue scene in New York has received a ton of attention recently. Is it well deserved?
I can’t wait for you to find out and report back on your site. Sure, there’s an element of bombast, but I say the attention is mostly deserved. What New York lacks in barbecue culture, they make up in sheer numbers. To have great barbecue you have to turn it over and serve it fresh, and that’s what the best joints in New York City are doing, particularly in Brooklyn. But the numbers help out even beyond that. Niche businesses not only survive but thrive in New York, so sourcing better cuts of meat that may cost more but yield tastier results also result in commercial success: there are enough affluent, sophisticated customers that demand is high. And there are some great BBQ joints in New York City.
Are there any contributions or unique creations that have come from the Northeast barbecue scene?
Creativity is also high: some chefs-turned-pitmasters are using meats like duck, lamb, pork belly and pig’s head, and mixing flavors from Asia, Central America and all over the world. The barbecue’s often as interesting as it is good.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the www.barbecuerankings.com audience?
First, thanks for inviting me to share some thoughts with your readers.
Because it’s cooked for as many as 18 hours, barbecue is much trickier to get right than a steak or a burger. To do well you have to be great not only at cooking barbecue but also at predicting how big the crowds will be and at what time they’re going to arrive. That means every joint, no matter how good, will have an off day. I try to remember that, keep an open mind and revisit joints that might not have been the best but showed potential. The elusiveness is a big part of what makes the great barbecue meals so great.
Thanks, Gary, for being with us today! I use your website extensively to find places to visit in the Northeast and appreciate you taking the time to speak with us!