A-Brisket A-Brasket: NYC Brisket Cook-Off Inspires

By: Roberto Ferdman
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The first time I tried brisket, it was many years ago at a family friend's house. The gentleman sitting next to me—someone I knew not in the least — caught me biting my fingernails, leaned over, and into my ear whispered "Just wait 'till you try the brisket." And wait I did, red-cheeked and all, until finally I had my first mouthful, and immediately turned to tell the man that he was right. In between chews, barely able to open my mouth, I exclaimed: "Brisket is good!"

Not too long after, I tried another brisket, this one shelled in a layer of fat and deeply browned on its extremes. It too was absolutely delicious, and so again I couldn't resist the urge to say it out loud. Over the years, it's seemed to happen each and every time I try a new take on the classic cut. Dry-cured pastrami, thin-sliced corned beef, Texas-style barbecued—you name it. They've all floored me.

So when I learned that fellow brisket enthusiast Jimmy Carbone of NYC's Jimmy's No. 43 was hosting a cook-off to celebrate the versatile beef, I couldn't help but dream up what some of NYC's most experienced meat lovers would enter into the contest.

The brainchild of Food Network behind-the-scenes man Jake Schiffman, the showdown was held this past Saturday, and showcased some of the city's best known meat experts, including the likes of Brooklyn-based smokehouse Fette Sau and Southeast Asian barbecue joint Fatty Cue. And just as I had anticipated, each contestant had brought a bit of their own unique brisket flair.

The first brisket I tried was from freelance food writer Emma Feigenbaum, and was among the more traditional of the bunch—smoked and slow-cooked, and topped with coleslaw and barbecue sauce. It was sliced on the thicker side, but was both tender and tasty.

East Village mom-and-pop restaurant, Joe Doe put forth a classic, well-crafted take on the cut. Sourdough toast was slathered with horseradish mayonnaise, and topped with their signature brisket, bathed in a meaty jus and sliced paper thin—a great example of preparing something simple, but doing it really well.

While some served their meat stacked over sliced toast, others showcased the goods in sandwich form. Fatty Cuewedged steak-like cuts of their juicy brisket into a soft, buttery bun. Garnished with pickled and raw red onion, fresh cilantro, and finished off with a garlicky aioli, their sandwich was full of complimentary flavors and made for some seriously stiff competition.

Andrew Burman of Court Street Grocersserved a bite-sized corned beef sandwich that placed third in the competition. The corned beef itself was outstanding—slow-cured, sliced thin and seasoned with a hodge-podge of spices—but the rest of the sandwich was equally worthy of the judges' praise. Toasted rounds of pumpernickel, Muenster cheese, slaw, and a healthy squeeze of Thousand Island dressing all made it pretty difficult to resist the temptation to fill up on Andrew's little sandwiches alone.

While corned beef brisket found its rightful place in the cook-off, so, too, did pastrami. Along with their sauerbraten, Waterfront Ale House served outstanding slices of expertly cured pastrami. Just salty enough, and topped with spicy mustard and a briny pickle, it was good enough to knock your socks off. The crowd must have agreed, as the restaurant took home the audience prize.

But it was Kingsborough Community College's two entries that had everyone asking "That's a brisket what?" In sizzling pans, students fried risotto brisket balls that proved the right combination of beefy, starchy and delicious. The ante was upped, however, with a brisket "shots" pairing, made with brisket consomme, vodka, orange bitters, red pepper flakes, and finished with a celery salt rim. Innovative and strangely satisfying, they took home the not-so-ironic "Best Brisket Cocktail" award.

The judges showed an appreciation for both innovative cuisine and loyalty to more traditional fare when awarding the remaining prizes. Fette Sau took home second place for its virtually unadorned, but admittedly fantastic, smoked brisket. While The Kitchen NYC's Wagyu beef brisket (pictured at top) lingered longest on the judges palettes, and eventually won their hearts—and stomachs! Chef Adam Banks spent the afternoon meticulously slicing the tender beef that had been braised in duck fat, using tweezers to garnish it with pickled radish and yuzu marmalade. His precision paid off, winning the restaurant a unanimous first place selection.

This most recent foray into the mouth-watering world of brisket only confirmed what I already knew. Once the prizes were handed out and the competitors had packed away their tables, a friend turned to me and asked what I thought. Almost too full to answer, I took a deep breath and then let out with a smile: "Brisket is good."

Looking to braise or barbecue some brisket of your own? Browse our best brisket recipes.

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