“I don’t want to make the best barbecue in New York City,” Daniel Delaney says, without blinking an eye. “I want to make the best barbecue in the country.”
Delaney, a bespectacled, 26-year-old Williamsburg resident, is nothing if not ambitious. For the past few years, he has been obsessed with one thing: Central Texas-style barbecue brisket, that low, slow, wood-smoke cooking technique that somehow manages to take one of the cheapest cuts on a cow and turn it into something tastier and more tender than a filet mignon. Delaney has whipped up enough of a local frenzy surrounding his own version of the stuff that his upcoming, brisket-only Williamsburg restaurant–BrisketTown–has already pre-sold more than 5,000 pounds of said meat, even though it isn’t slated to open until October 31.
Delaney, who grew up in New Jersey and until recently hosted a weekly web video series about street food, had his brisket epiphany three years ago, when he sampled a morsel from the famed Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. “It was one of those moments where you become instantly educated and instantly ruined on any other version of this food, because it was so much better than anything else I’ve ever tasted in this genre,” he says.
Developed by German and Czech immigrants to Central Texas in the 19th century, this straight-forward style of BBQ adds just salt and pepper to the beef, and smokes it over oak wood for 20 or more hours, allowing the fat and connective tissue in the tough, muscle-y piece of meat to melt down and add flavor throughout. At its best, Texas brisket is charred and crispy on the outside, rich and juicy all the way through. Traditionally, there’s no sauce and few fixings. The beef is served simply with a slice of white bread, plus maybe pickles and onions, though some places do have squeeze bottles of house blend barbecue sauces as well.
“I’ve only had it done this well two or three times in my life,” says Delaney. “So much is about the technique. You have to let the brisket caramelize, to get it sweet, but also cook it at the right temperature so that the fatty part of the meat cooks in a way to bring as much flavor as possible.”
Delaney started experimenting with his own take on brisket at dinner parties, and quickly moved on to form “BrisketLab,” whereby he experimented with different meat suppliers and cooking times, serving his results at pop-up events held around the city this past summer—drawing plenty of love from bloggers and Chowhounds.
James Boo, author of The Eaten Path and a barbecue columnist for Serious Eats, who attended several of Delaney’s BrisketLab events, had this to say of his efforts: “It’s a really true rendition of the Texas BBQ that [Delaney] fell in love with, with a savory, peppery exterior and a great, deep flavor throughout. He aces the toughest part–getting all the fat to render consistently, like they do in Texas, so that the meat is juicy and flavorful all the way through.”
The version Delaney settled on for his upcoming restaurant—you probably won’t be surprised to learn—adds some Brooklyn-y touches to the classic Texas technique. He starts with Pat LaFrieda’s Creekstone Farms beef, which is cooked over white oak in an 18-foot-long smoker imported from Texas to his offsite cooking facility, a reclaimed shipping container in East Williamsburg.
Delaney notes that BrisketTown’s distinction isn’t so much about new directions, but the commitment to getting it right every time. (He often likes to call his bristket operation “the least innovative barbecue company in NYC.”) Once the pit is fired up, there’s someone manning it 24 hours a day, adding wood to the fire, and adjusting the heat to respond to outdoor temperature conditions, which can change how the meat cooks.
“It’s a ripple effect,” says Delaney, noting that a five-degree temperature difference at the beginning of the process can have a dramatic effect on the outcome.
BrisketTown, which will open at 359 Bedford Ave., is being called a “pop-up,” although it’s really more of an incubator—a small space that is permanent. Delaney hopes to move up to a larger restaurant space at some point in the future.
Since the smoker can only produce so much brisket each day, the restaurant will remain open each evening until the sell out. BrisketTown will have a Momofuku Ko-style online reservation system, whereby each week, the following week’s seats become available to book. Customers who were quick enough to pre-order meat through BrisketTown’s website will have advance access to book seats. While that setup may sound gimmicky, Brooklyn foodies have already bit—with 5,000+ pounds already spoken for, at $25 a pound. (If you didn’t book yet, you’ll have to wait for their full reservation system to come online in a few days.)
The restaurant, designed by Evan and Oliver Haslegrave of hOmE, who did nearby spots like Paulie Gee’s and Manhattan Inn, is designed to look like a causal Texas BBQ/grocery and will seat 35-40 people. Brisket will be served alongside a salad and a slaw of the day, and the shop will bake its own Pullman-style white bread. Once BrisketTown gets going, Delaney plans to branch out and experiment with other meats, including pork ribs, beef ribs and sausages, and aims to secure a liquor license so he can stock a selection of Texas beers. The brisket itself, of course, is never quite done.
“If we want to do this tradition right,” says Delaney, “the idea of perfecting it is not in the vocabulary. We’re constantly tweaking it—that’s how brisket works.”