“Wow, kids these days really love their meat,” I quipped to a gal on line at Monday night’s Brisket King NYC. The jam packed brisket competition was held at the sprawling Irondale Center, a gigantic space that was once a Sunday school auditorium. It was a fitting setting for faithful foodies to come out and worship brisket in all its incarnations, from straight-up traditional like American BBQ and deli to the downright strange, like bulogi and nigiri .
At the end of the day it was the most traditional BBQ brisket of all—Hometown BBQ—that took home top honors. Pitmaster Billy Durney and his crew smoke the meat, which is possessed of a formidable crust and a deep smoke ring, for 12 to 14 hours over a combination of white oak and red oak.
Durney and his crew sliced their luscious specimens below two gigantic plaques that were carved with the Beautitudes. Blessed are those who hunger indeed! “There’s no doubt that for a straight up brisket Billy at Hometown earned it,” said Will Horowitz chef owner of Ducks Eatery who was last year’s King. “It was well balanced and perfectly executed. Anyone that knows Billy, knows that he is as straight up and genuine as a dude as it gets.”
My first bites of the evening were decidedly nontraditional, brisket bulgogi in a lettuce wrap from Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue. It was a delicious departure from Matt Fisher’s usual style. “I thought Fletcher’s was fantastic, it says a lot for guy with such incredible straight up barbecue to have the balls to come to a competition with a lettuce wrap,” Horowitz said. “I dug it.”
I wouldn’t come to a brisket throwdown with a cold entry but Paul Denamiel of Le Rivage did just that. His beef brisket terrine with horseradish cream served on slices of baguette was wonderfully creamy. It acted as a palate cleanser between the smokier spicier entries.
The award for most innovative brisket went to The Wandering Que, a kosher outfit that served up a brisket nigiri topped with lamb belly. The brisket had been smoked for 7 hours over wood from kosher wine barrels and then sous vide cooked for an additional 49 hours. The finishing touch was a dual blast with a Searzall.
“Out of the whole competition there is no Doubt that Ari over at Wandering Que had the most innovative and hard working dish,” Horowitz said. “His brisket by itself might have been a serious contender for 1st place, let alone the guy had cured a lamb belly for months and turned the whole dish into a beautiful piece of nigiri using two Searzalls. Truly a man after my own heart.”
There is of course a long tradition of brisket cookery among Jews in New York City that has nothing to do with sous vide or Searzalls. I speak of the traditional Jewish deli. My local kosher deli Ben’s Best prepared a Hawaiian brisket marinated for five days in beer, cloves, honey, brown sugar, and crushed pineapple.
“It was a wonderful event I really enjoyed being there,” Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best said. “It was a lot of fun I love to see a room full of people who are real foodies who walked around and could discern the difference between one barbecue and the other brisket and the next one and the next one.” Parker said he was surprised by the level of innovation and fierce competition and will up his game next year. “We might have to smoke them,” he said with a smile.
I didn’t get to taste everything at this year’s Brisket King of NYC, but what I tasted was great. I’m looking forward to next year’s innovations, perhaps shabu shabu or tartare are in the works.