Daniel Delaney likes food. He’s been writing about, thinking about, and eating food, professionally, for nearly six years. In 2009, he launched VendrTV, a weekly web series about street food, and last year he started Eater’s Digest, an email newsletter listing all food-related events in and around New York City. Delaney’s newest project is Brisketlab, an attempt to develop a collaborative “underground smoked meat guild.” Working under the assumption that it’s always a good idea to be tight with the guildmaster, I asked Delaney a couple questions.
What is an underground smoked meat guild?
What I really want to do is bring really serious craft barbecue to New York –– I want to bring Texas barbecue to New York. So I went down to Austin and I brought this giant smoker back with me, but the problem is the smoker is huge. It smokes just pounds and pounds of meat, more than I could eat at once. So the idea of forming a guild is to form a group of folks who want to try this product, but who are also interested in watching something grow, and watching something develop, and in offering feedback and suggestions. The way that I imagine is that it’s not recipe development. I kind of have that down. It’s much more about technique. When you get super serious about this kind of smoking, details like extending your chimney by two inches can dramatically change the product. A lot of the process will involve a lot of physical changes. The event at the end of the process will involve a lot of tasting, obviously, but also a lot of fun. I want there to be live music, hopefully a liquor sponsorship. But I really do want people to be hooked into this as not just a one-time event, but also as something they can continue to enjoy and contribute to.
So why barbecue? Why brisket?
I love stories. I love lore. So I look at barbecue, and it’s kind of our national food –– the way jazz is original American music, barbecue is kind of our original national food. I’m also really attracted to the idea of craftsmanship. I never wanted to be a chef, but I look at coffee roasters, and artisans, and it’s kind of like they do this dance between science, and art, and craft. I find that very alluring. Why brisket? Well, if you go to Texas, you’re not going to find whole hog barbecue, and if you go to New Orleans, you’re not going to find brisket. It’s only in the North that we lump it all together under this umbrella of “barbecue.” I like the idea of focusing on one thing, so the way I’m looking at it is by going with one region, central Texas. And brisket, well brisket is this really bizarre thing where one side is just not fatty at all, but the other side has got this thick layer of fat and all this connective tissue. So brisket is really the benchmark. It’s easy to make good pulled pork, it’s easy to make good ribs, because they’re very forgiving. But I’d rather push myself and focus on the hardest thing. Then, when that’s out of the way, everything else will be a little easier.
Tell me a little about your meat. Where’s it from?
That’ll be part of the lab. It’s still something we’re exploring. What I can tell you is that it won’t be conventional, industrial beef, but it also won’t be grass fed beef. It’ll be a natural product. I’m 95% sure it’ll be Angus. It’s hormone free, it’s usually free range.
And the wood?
That’ll be part of the lab, too. It’ll probably be oak. I have about four cords of oak that I brought up with me from Texas. It’ll last a while.
What makes great brisket? I know you’ll be collaborating with other members of the guild, but what do you think makes great brisket?
I know what I want. I know what it’s going to taste like when we nail it. The biggest thing with brisket is the texture. It’s so hard to really nail the texture. When you really start to get the fat to melt and coarse through the meat, you get this really silky, velvety texture. It coats your mouth. It’s so impressive when you actually have it. I mean, I’ve had great brisket maybe three times in my life, and I’ve been to 100, 120 barbecue places in my life. When you don’t have it, it’s just dry meat. It’s gross. I think that’s what the majority people have had. That or their Jewish grandmother’s brisket with tomato sauce all over it. But when you get the fat to gelatinize, it’s this heavenly, sexy feeling. I’m not interested in innovating. They do it well in Texas, and I’m just trying to honor the tradition, and pay homage to that.
First you were writing about food, now you’re making it. Why the switch?
This is the direction I’ve decided to go into. I’ve produced a lot of content, and I realized I was growing envious of the people making the food. So I’ve really decided to move in this direction.