Surviving Pig Beach
Eating my words with Shane McBride.
Shane McBride was mad. His finger waved and his pace quickened as he marched toward me. “That was some bullshit!” he exclaimed as soon as he was able to confirm my identity. It was Big Apple Barbecue week in 2015, and most everyone who came up to introduce themselves as I was eating barbecue on New York’s Madison Avenue was happy to see me. Not McBride.
As our president is wont to do, I had angered McBride with a tweet. New York media outlet the Gothamist visited his new barbecue joint Pig Beach on opening day and bluntly declared it “the worst new BBQ place in NYC.” A photo included in the article of what looked like ribs was even more damning. Assuming that this was a clear case of a chef jumping into the barbecue biz unprepared, I weighed in.
What happens when somebody says "Barbecue. How hard could it be?" https://t.co/lCDge5hOzu
— Daniel Vaughn (@BBQsnob) June 9, 2015
Four days later, on a hot sidewalk in Manhattan, the man I had insulted in 140 character or less hulked over me. I’d never heard of Shane McBride. I had no clue that he was the executive chef of the highly praised Balthazar in Manhattan. I didn’t know he ran a successful barbecue competition team at the annual Memphis in May, nor had I heard that his partners at Pig Beach, the Salty Rinse BBQ team, had just taken second place in whole hog at the competition. I was certain the chefs Gothamist had written about were barbecue Johnny-come-latelies (Also, let it be noted that I didn’t get a chance to read the whole article, which might have cleared things up much sooner).
After getting a rundown of his credentials, McBride and I agreed it was unfair to be judged on your first day of business. We also agreed that it was unfair to serve the ribs pictured in the Gothamist piece to a customer. I promised to visit Pig Beach and judge for myself, and most of the redness left McBride’s face.
It took longer than expected to visit. I skipped Big Apple Barbecue in 2016, and my other New York visits were during the months Pig Beach—a primarily outdoor venue only open during summer months—was closed. I headed back to New York for Big Apple Barbecue a few weeks ago, joined by my friend Nick Solares of Eater’s “The Meat Show.” As luck would have it, McBride was there, chopping pork shoulder at Big Bob Gibson’s rig. With an unsettled look in his eye, McBride handed me what turned out to be one of the finest bites of the event.
Satisfied with a day’s work at the festival, I was about to hail a cab when Solares said he’d found a ride. Suddenly, I found myself in the passenger seat of Shane McBride’s FJ Cruiser, ever wary of a backhand to the throat as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.
Pig Beach is hidden behind a long green brick structure—aptly dubbed the Green Building—on Union Street in Brooklyn. The so-called beach is a tongue-in-cheek reference to its location on the bank of the less-than-picturesque Gowanus Canal. Peeking over the Union Street Bridge was a capsized boat surrounded by the iridescence of floating petroleum, but luckily, the smell of wood smoke dominated as we took a seat at the picnic tables.
McBride brought trays of food to our table and sat down to eat with us. His girlfriend and a friend joined to help us through a starter of saucy chicken wings. They could have used some crisping in a fryer (coming with planned renovations), but it was a solid smoked chicken wing with a hot wing-barbecue sauce hybrid and a drizzle of Alabama white sauce. The ribs were even better. With McBride looking on for my reaction, I conceded that they looked nothing like the Gothamist photo. These were undoubtedly competition-style baby back ribs, tender with a thick, sweet glaze and garlic and thyme battling with the heavy sugar content. I wouldn’t call them balanced, but I found myself grabbing another. You know, just to make sure I liked them.
I joked about eating crow, and the chef lightened up a bit. He smiled as Solares and I each wolfed down half a burger in a couple of bites. They used the building blocks for the perfect burger—two thin patties with white American cheese, special sauce, and pickles on a Martin’s potato roll. The grilled flavor of the meat delivered on Burger King’s flamed-broiled promises. It was beautiful. McBride insisted that the hot dog was just as good, but they were sold out.
Luckily, we added a couple links of their signature sausage. It’s a pork base with cheese and peppers, but instead of Texas’s jalapeños and cheddar, they provided New York flavor with aged provolone and red peppers. It’s like a smoked Italian sausage sandwich without the bun. This was barbecue that belonged to New York.
Pig Beach hopes to have renovations done this summer on a portion of the Green Building for indoor seating. It’ll also house a new smoker for items like beef ribs and maybe even brisket. For now, beef eaters will be happy with a solid version of smoked/grilled tri-tip, appropriately served medium rare.
Sure, I got the best picks of the litter from McBride, but the top end at Pig Beach puts it second in New York for me, just behind Hometown Bar-B-Que. As for fun places to hang out on a sunny day, Pig Beach is hard to beat. I’ll have to come back when the brisket and beef ribs are ready to see how well Pig Beach does beef. And I promise that I’ll eat before I tweet.
480 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231