UPDATE: Congrats to Izzy’s in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for being named the 2017 Brisket King.
After over a decade of attending and planning and participating in panel discussions, I’d become pretty convinced that a) panel discussions suck and b) there’s no reason for them to ever go longer than 25 minutes. But last night I sat through a panel that ran a little over two hours and I didn’t want it to end.
The topic was brisket. Yes. That’s right. Two hours about brisket.
This isn’t exactly a fair comparison to my panels of the past. Most of the panels I’ve dealt with over the years have been marketing, advertising and media related. And something happens to even interesting people when they get on a stage with talking points from a PR team and some message to sell.
Last night’s panel was five guys with no PR handlers talking about something they and all the attendees were extremely passionate about: smoked meat — and smoked beef in particular. Moderated by Eater.com’s Nick Solares, the panel included: Bill Durney, owner of Hometown Bar B Que in Brooklyn (where the event was held): Jake Dell, owner of Katz’s Deli; Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor of Texas Monthly (which is the best job in the world); and Chef John Tesar.
I’m not going to bore you with a blow-by-blow, but a few highlights:
- Brisket prices are going up everywhere thanks to fast-food chains like Arby’s and other restaurants buying brisket to grind it up for brisket burgers. Please stop this!
- A secret about how I can possibly get decent brisket at decent prices even in New York. (Sorry. Not sharing that with you.)
- A few of Hometown’s smokers were made by Aaron Franklin. (This is something I should have known, but for some reason didn’t.)
- Even out in Red Hook, neighbors sometimes complain about the smoke. (And you just know what kind of johnny-come-lately, upper-class hipster, gentrifying jackholes move into an industrial neighborhood and complain about the smell of barbecue.)
- Katz’s uses navel for its pastrami, not brisket. While it uses a lot of brisket, it doesn’t smoke any of it. And it smokes its pastrami at ridiculously low temperatures, using smoke as a flavor rather than as a cooking method.
- Katz’s worries about navel prices jumping as more people around the country try pastrami and others hop on the “beef bacon” bandwagon.
- Barbecue jawing is much likes sports jawing. Even folks who like each other as friends will talk shit about each other’s process, team, product.
- The debate over whether New York has good barbecue is, at this point, silly. As someone who moved here when there was no good barbecue, I can attest to this. But there are still people in the Carolinas and Texas who will loudly proclaim New York a barbecue desert (probably the same sort of people who think a smoke ring is indicative of good barbecue). Besides, to paraphrase Vaughn and Durney, there’s plenty of crap barbecue in those places, just as there is plenty of crap pizza in New York.
The discussion was a warmup for today’s Brisket King competition, which crowns the best brisket in New York. (Brisket King co-founder and host Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, was at Hometown last night making introductions and making sure we were all taken care of.)
Tonight’s event will be held at LIU-Brooklyn and tickets can be purchased at the website. It’s pretty good opportunity to sample this region’s best brisket players without having to fight the now-insane crowds at the Big Apple Barbecue in June.
And for brisket nerds, Aaron Franklin is one of the judges, along with Daniel Vaughn, John Tesar, Jake Dell and Peter Kaminsky.