Carnivores, Delight: It's Meat Week

Liz Miller attacks a beef rib during Meat Week at Fette Sau in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jan. 31, 2010.
Alan Betts
The organizers of Meat Week know what you are thinking.

Eight straight days of eating barbecue?

Could this be real?

Yes, yes it is.

"We know it is stupid," said Derek Atkinson, the organizer of the New York City chapter of Meat Week. "It's eight nights of barbecue. It's unhealthy - it's horrible for you. But it's delicious. But it's about getting together with your friends and eating the hell out some smoked meat - and sometimes potato salad."

Meat Week was conceived by two bored coworkers in Tallahassee, Fla. Back in 2005, Erni Walker and Chris Cantey were using a word generator on Cantey's Web site that came up with the "holy combination" of "meat" and "week."

"From the day we sat down and wrote 'Meat Week' in our planners, that was the day we decided to do this weird thing, and we decided that every year for the rest of our lives we'd do Meat Week now," said Walker, who now works with Cantey for a production company in Los Angeles.

Now the gospel of meat overindulgence has spread across the country as 16 cities have organized chapters venturing to barbecue restaurants from Jan. 31 to Feb. 7. -- with some locations drawing as many as 70 meat eaters a night.

As home butchering classes gain popularity, headcheese and pigs feet show up on fine dining menus across the country, and you can read up on nose-to-tail eating, the timing couldn't be better for Meat Week to try and make its mark on the hipster foodie zeitgeist.

But don't picture ranks of Meat Week as your typical contestant for "The Biggest Loser."

"Our normal meat volume throughout the year makes meat week more special," Cantey said of his diet which includes - gasp! - tofu, tempeh and other meat substitutes.

In fact, many participants at Meat Week are vegetarians. The draw for many is the communal, family-style environment that is the hallmark of many Southern-style barbecue restaurants.

"That's why a lot of vegetarians come out, even though they are appalled by what's going on around them," Walker said.

At a Meat Week event in New York City on Sunday, participant Liz Miller brought out some homemade vegan and gluten-free brownies for dessert -- this after she tried brisket, beef ribs and spicy pork sausage at Fette Sau, a barbecue joint in Brooklyn.

And for Atkinson, a former vegetarian, the sheer endurance needed for Meat Week can be a challenge.

"I have to pace myself if I'm going to make it," Atkinson said. "I'll have meat sweats by Thursday."