In my experience, there are two primary schools of brisket: Texas-style (slow-smoked for hours and served with white bread, pictured above) and Jewish-style (oven-braised for hours in a sweet-sour sauce often spiked with Manischewitz). But last week at the annual Brisket King of NYC competition, I experienced this fatty, flavorful cut of beef in ways I’d never imagined.
Taboonette’s Middle Eastern pita sandwiched tender brisket with tahini, pickled onions, preserved lemons and cilantro, winning Best Exotic Brisket. Who thought brisket could ever taste so refreshing? Then Tchoup Shop went for over-the-top decadence with fried boudin brisket balls, awarded the title of Best Non-Brisket Brisket.
But barbecue tradition won out in the end. Two Texas-style New York pit masters took home the evening’s big prizes for Judges’ Favorite (the official Brisket King of NYC) and People’s Choice, respectively: BrisketTown, the new Williamsburg brick-and-mortar spot that started out as Daniel Delaney’s Brisketlab pop-ups, and Mighty Quinn’s, Hugh Mangum’s two-month-old barbecue joint in the East Village that began as a vendor at Smorgasburg.
When Food Network’s Mory Thomas presented Daniel and Hugh with their crowns, he asked for some insight on their winning meats. Here’s what you need to know to make your own championship-worthy smoked brisket:
Daniel uses a simple salt-and-pepper rub, adhering to Texas tradition. Hugh won’t reveal what’s in his — it’s a Mighty Quinn secret.
While Hugh uses about 80-percent oak and a little bit of applewood to smoke his brisket, Daniel sticks with 100-percent oak. “It’s a combination of tradition and that it’s not an overpowering wood,” he explains. “White oak burns super clean and allows for a mild smoky flavor. You’re eating meat, not smoke.”
Both pit masters smoke their meat for anywhere from 16 to 22 hours.
Sauce or No Sauce?
There’s no barbecue sauce at all at BrisketTown: “We don’t believe it in it,” says Daniel. Hugh concurs when it comes to brisket. A championship brisket should be so flavorful that there’s no need for sauce.
Photographs by Morgan Ione Yeager