BBQ Snob Takes Manhattan: A Visit to Brisketlab
The fourth installment from Daniel Vaughn, whose tastebuds took him to Brisketlab in New York City.
With a U-Haul truck full of Texas post oak and a smoker in-tow, Daniel Delaney made his way from Austin back to Manhattan to start the craziest do-it-yourself brisket kickstarter I’ve ever heard of. Without a storefront or a barbecue reputation to rely on, he convinced hundreds of people to pre-purchase 3,200 pounds of his brisket, sight unseen, for the staggering price of $25 per pound, and it only took 48 hours to sell out. It wouldn’t be fair for me to question the wisdom of his customers because I too bought into the hype and purchased a couple of pounds knowing that I live 1,500 miles from his nearest brisket party. But as luck would have it, I found myself in New York on a weekend where Brisketlab had an opening. So, I bet you’re wondering, can Texas barbecue be successfully replicated in a foreign environment? With the help of Laurie Jon Moran, who had recently taken some time away from his day job at Le Bernardin to drive around Texas eating barbecue with his girlfriend, it was time to discover if this Delaney fellow was really smoking or just blowing smoke.
Before I get to proclamations about the beef, it is important to understand that the Brisketlab has a few advantages over their competition in New York. Briskets are smoked in New Jersey away from the strict regulations of the Big Apple. Also, only about a dozen briskets are required for each Lab, and they are the only cut of meat on the menu. Even these advantages don’t make smoking a brisket an easy endeavor, and Delaney made a few important decisions to boost his chances of success: an all wood smoker was purchased from none other than Aaron Franklin; Delaney has aged Texas post oak shipped to New York; and his process and ingredients are based on what he’s learned from Aaron Franklin and Wayne Mueller. The simple rub he uses on his Creekstone Farms briskets (Franklin Barbecue uses the same) is an example of those lessons, as is the heavy black pepper (a Mueller signature) and rust red butcher paper.
Once we made it to the carving table, it was obvious that Delaney knew who he was carving for. He had announced my presence in his opening remarks to the group. As we approached, he grabbed a fresh brisket, unwrapped the fat-saturated butcher paper and started carving. You could see from the gentle jiggle of the meat that this was well cooked brisket. The knife passed through it easily, and the slices that fell onto the board looked promising. With a pound of lean and fatty brisket, we sat down for our meal. The meat pulled apart easily. Just like Franklin’s brisket, this one was on the verge of being overdone, while still having some integrity. The fat was perfectly rendered in both cuts, and the dark crust and rosy smokering were exemplary. The strong notes of black pepper (which Delaney cracks fresh before rubbing) and just the right amount of salt mixed with the smoke for the most impressive flavor that was easily better than any I’d had in New York over a very intense weekend of barbecue consumption. Laurie noted sheepishly that it could possibly use more smoke, but this was admittedly a quibble that was only present because we really couldn’t find anything negative to say about it.
This was fine brisket, in New York or elsewhere. I dare say it could hold its own against some of the best in Texas. With the success of the Brisketlab, Delaney has now announced his new venture called Brisket Town. For now folks can pre-order whole briskets, but my guess is that a permanent storefront is inevitable. When a full-fledged business finally becomes a reality is when Delaney will face the demands of putting out a consistent product to the masses every day, but for now he’s making plenty of people happy with some well smoked brisket, and not all of them hail from New York. This Texan for one is a believer.