Happy Memorial Day! It’s that time again to fire up those hibachis (if you’ve got room on your little apartment balcony!), head to the beaches and parks and celebrate the unofficial start to summer! Get out and enjoy that warm late May weather today (while you still can, and avoid the thunderstorms!). I will personally be spending the day with my friends out in New Jersey, where we’re having a picnic and frolicking (yes frolicking) through a strawberry farm for pick-your-own strawberries. Yum!
And, if there’s one thing that signals the start of summer, it’s barbecue meat. Now that deserves a “yum.” And today is perfect for that: it’s National Brisket Day! Brisket stands for the cut of a cow at the breast or lower chest, making for a very tough piece of meat. Because of this, brisket is usually slow-cooked in a number of ways–most markedly, slow braising or roasting. For lots of people around the United States, “brisket” brings to mind the smoked, basted barbecue meat that cooks long enough to fall right off the fork: Southern style barbecue! But for me, and a lot of other New Yorkers, brisket is braised for hours on the stove, in beef stock with a ton of vegetables, and served on Jewish rye. These two different cooking methods make two very different styles of beef brisket, but they both have their advantages and man, do they both taste delicious in their own special ways! I decided to highlight both popular brisket cooking methods today–because New York is certainly big enough for two cultures to cook their brisket!
The best kind of barbecue brisket comes from Texas, hands down, where they know the perfect combination of spices and sauces to rub into the brisket for marinating; the precise, to the minute time for marinating, smoking, and cooking the meats; and all the little tricks to make the most mouth-watering brisket you’ll ever have in your life. You wouldn’t think you could get authentic Texas barbecue in New York City, but Hill Country Barbecue Market tries to give you just that. Operated by pitmaster Robbie Richter–and you know the place is authentic when the head honcho isn’t a “chef” but a “pitmaster”–Hill Country brings the honky-tonk tastes of Texas right into Chelsea, importing their sausages, smoke oak wood, and their wine and beer lists from the Lone Star State. But their brisket is the most celebrated meat here, moist from fat, free of barbecue sauces to get the full flavor of the meat, and smoked to absolute perfection. Hill Country isn’t fancy in the least–you purchase your meats, sides, and fixin’s by the pound, not by the dish–but it’s the perfect place to stop by and order your barbecue brisket to go, then head to the closest park (Madison Square) where you can construct your own mouth-watering sandwich right in front of the salivating suckers in the ever-long Shake Shack line.
Hill Country Barbecue Market
30 W 26th St (between 6th Ave & Broadway)
“Which brings us to that brisket, that exemplary specimen of Texas-style salt-and-pepper pit cooking Mr. Richter and Mr. Elrose practice. The fatty part — the deckle, sold as “brisket moist” (the less marbled part, the flat, is sold as “brisket lean”) — should first be contemplated with nothing more than bare fingers and closed eyes. One should take a moment to appreciate the textural contrast offered by the ring of sweet-salty meat crust that surrounds the yielding, moist flesh, slick with fat, and the smokiness that never threatens to overwhelm the beef flavor. It is a thing of balance and of beauty.”–The New York Times
“For meats, I started with the two briskets side by side. The moist brisket was indeed moist, with a nice smoky flavor, a little fatty, and (surprisingly) a little tough. Even though I’m a deckle guy, I much preferred the lean brisket here, which was not only moist, but downright juicy. The smoke ring couldn’t have been any prettier if they painted one in. I loved the flavor of each slice, which perfectly combined a natural beef flavor with the sweetness of the post oak and the intense salt-pepper-cayenne rub that formed a deliciously crunchy crust. On a second visit, the moist brisket was unavailable, but the lean brisket nearly duplicated the excellence of the first rendition. I can safely say that Hill Country’s sliced brisket flat is the finest I’ve ever tasted and the gold standard against which all other briskets must be measured.”–PigTrip
“At Hill Country the specialty is brisket, too, smoked over cords of post oak trucked up from Lockhart. The grizzled pit master at Kreuz Market, Rick Schmidt, traveled to Hill Country himself and seasoned the big, state-of-the-art smokers with a half-burnt log from his own smokers in Texas. And as at Kreuz Market, the brisket is smoked unadorned, without sauces, and served on brown butcher paper, which grows increasingly wet and greasy as your meal progresses.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Oh, the moist brisket. This is, truly, the apotheosis of meat. Fork tender, well lubricated with flavorful fat, the intense beefiness is complemented, rather than overwhelmed by the smokiness. I still remember the utter revelation that was my first bite of the moist brisket; it was barbecue perfection revealed.”–Amy L.
“Moist brisket. I’m not even sure why places sell lean brisket, and why people actually order it, but the moist brisket here is among the best I’ve had. It truly is the marbled, fatty, juicy part of the brisket and is seasoned perfectly and smoked to perfection. Pricey, but awesome.”–Winston G.
It may not be your favorite way to order and pay for your meals, but Hill Country lets you order all of your food in different lines for meat, sides, etc., and pay at the end of your stay with a ticket stub. This method immediately reminded me of another purveyor of fine meats in Manhattan, Katz’s Deli, which still works on their paper tickets decades since they first opened. Which brings me to the other famous brisket in New York City: the sacred Jewish braised brisket sandwich on rye. You can go to any of the half-dozen or so old-time Jewish delicatessens around the city and get a fantastic sandwich you should write home to your mother about, but for my money, I’m going to Crown Heights, where the brisket’s so good, they named the restaurant after it. David’s Brisket House has been around for decades, though the ownership has changed hands quite a few times, and they were even shut down for a few months last year during the switch. But it’s come back with all its classic sandwiches and flavors, in a literal hole-in-the-wall deli where the best review on their meat is the silent satisfaction of happy, chewing customers. Their brisket, unlike Texas barbecue, is slow braised over low heat, so it stays moist and tender, and is just the right amount of juicy to get soaked up in your sandwich bread. You can have it as a standalone sandwich or a mix of brisket and pastrami (their most celebrated of meats), and even the biggest, craziest tower of brisket and pastrami will only set you back $15. Add in a side of homemade gravy–made from the brisket drippings–and you’ve got a sandwich so delicious it’ll shock you into satisfied silence, too.
David’s Brisket House
533 Nostrand Ave, Crown Heights
“David’s brisket is the dark, handsome, silent type; it lures you in with its deep, warm manner. Moist and mightily beefy, seasoned simply and cooked low and slow, it offers just the right amount of chew. It lends gravitas to a combo sandwich with the pastrami ($15). But no one really needs a duet this outsize; get the brisket solo on a roll with luscious gravy on the side, and savor its swarthy torch-song flavor.”–The New York Times
“Good brisket is hard to come by, but the slow-cooked meat at newly re-opened David’s Brisket House does right by its namesake. The brisket is an ode to delectable texture, freshly carved slices running with jus at every bite. The meat is minimally seasoned, so ask for yours with gravy, and add plenty of salt and pepper to really get the juices flowing.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“David’s Brisket House is the epitome of a hidden gem. This little shop is pumping out some of the best sandwiches in NYC, they’re no joke. Though they have a number of different menu options, their specialty is house made brisket, pastrami, and corned beef. The meat is thinly sliced with a deli slicer and layered high on just about any type of bread/bun with just about any topping. The small sandwiches ($6) are huge, if you’re getting a medium or large and eating it all yourself than you’ve got a serious problem. The pastrami was amazing, I would say it was 2nd only to Katz. The brisket was the best brisket sandwich I’ve ever had. Not that it needed it but it’s served with a bowl of gravy (which is more like a cross between gravy and au jus).”–Matt E.
“While in line I took note that the service was a little slow. When it was my turn to order, the deliberate pace and present nature of those behind the counter were obvious – I wasn’t part of the typical NYC assembly line process… I was actually being served! I ordered the brisket…The sandwich was enormous. The meat was moist. the flavor was explosive. In the time it took me to finish it, I saw most of the menu prepared – each dish secured my commitment to return.”–R. B.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!