We've been watching Daniel Delaney's Brisketlab since he started his brisket-by-the-pound pop-up a few months ago. The guy sold 2,500 pounds of meat in advance orders, for diners to claim over the course of events throughout the summer. He sold out in 48 hours.
Last night, on the heels of his announcement of BrisketTown, a larger-scale pop-up restaurant that will open in the fall, we got to try some for ourselves at Dekalb Market. And we're happy to say that this stuff is pretty legit. New York has seen its fair share of newfangled barbecue joints recently, but Delaney's laser focus on Central Texas-style brisket gives our better pitmasters some solid competition.
His events this summer, which are all sold-out, have been about developing and refining his smoking technique, and getting feedback from eaters along the way. "We want to be very transparent, which is something a lot of restaurants don't do." Every Brisketlab so far—there have been about fifteen—has seen tweaks and adjustments to the smoking process, based heavily on customer feedback. Delaney doesn't claim to be an expert pitmaster; he humbly admits to just being a guy who fell in love with barbecue and is learning every step of the way. "What's really exciting is when people come multiple times, and they see we're making really big changes. It really is a lab."
It's also just good barbecue, with a thick peppery bark balanced by a jolt of salt, unctuous fat, and tender, deeply flavored meat that falls apart with a smoky sigh. Even the lean brisket flat, which is notorious for being dry, is relatively moist here, and plenty smoky in its own right. The meat, of course, has its own pedigree—from Pat LaFreida.
Delaney's planned pop-up restaurant (location TBA) aims to build on Brisketlab's success while still working towards a more perfect piece of barbecue. "I think it's always going to be an evolving process." One that at the restaurant will include smoked sausages and beef ribs (the latter a particular rarity in the city), as well as more refreshing side dishes than what you typically find at barbecue joints. Delaney will be heading back down to Texas to bone up on making sausage from his pitmaster friends, and plans to work with a chef on sides to make the barbecue experience less heavy.
But the focus, as always, will be brisket. Instead of offering 10 cuts of meat, which all have their idiosyncrasies, Delaney wants to stick to a few small options. "That's the tradition that we're honing—a single focus."
BrisketTown will follow the same reserve-in-advance format as Brisketlab. Current Brisketlab buyers have already gotten the opportunity to buy in; sales will open to the public tomorrow. You can pre-register here to get on the mailing list for when sales go live. As with Brisketlab, the brisket will cost $25 a pound, and can be purchased in one-pound increments.
If you're interested in getting in on BrisketTown, we recommend signing up soon. Delaney's barbecue has only gotten more popular—recent job applications have come from, among other places, South Carolina—and reservations are likely to sell out quickly.
In the meantime, Delaney is going to keep tweaking brisket in his effort to capture the real spirit of American barbecue in New York. Why the passion in the first place? Because "barbecue is America's oldest food form," a craft and ritual for both cook and eater that he thinks is vital to our country's food heritage. "It's like the jazz of food."
Read more about Brisketlab at delaneybbq.com.
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