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Did New York Magazine Just Reveal The Secret Of The Umami Burger?

“New York has some okay burgers,” says Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman to New York restaurant critic Adam Platt in a 2,641 word profile of the Los Angeles burger chain that is poised to disrupt NYC’s Shake Shack–dominated grilled patty ecosystem.

Having taste-tested Umami burgers on several occasions, including at the last two Googamooga festivals in New York and at Umami’s Death Star — a sprawling restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called Umamicatessen — we’d say the burger is pretty much okay too. Some would disagree. As Platt notes, the chain has won a crazy following, including celebrities (hi Blake Lively and Leo DiCaprio lunch date) and celebrity chefs like Michael Voltaggio alike.

 

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This year’s festival is not only about BBQ, it’s also about participating in games that, well, don’t necessarily require a whole lot of athleticism or experience (or even an average IQ). Redneck Games are scheduled to include:

  • Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest
  • Dead Lawn Mower Races
  • Beer Pong Tournament
  • Arm Wrestling
  • Hub Cap Hurling Challenge
  • Bobbing for Pigs Feet
  • Pie Eating Contest
  • Horseshoe Tournament (with toilet seats)
  • Redneckiest Tattoo Contest
  • “Rock Out With Your Dentures Out” Eating Challenge
  • Mullet Beauty Pageant
  • PDaisy Dukes & Cowboy Boots Pageant
  • Best ‘Stache Contest

It is a day filled with food and fun. This year, festival attendees will be able to participate in Redneck games!

A Tireless Connoisseur of Texas Barbecue Gets Ready for the Main Course

DALLAS — Daniel Vaughn stood at the counter at Lockhart Smokehouse here, ordering dinner. Lockhart serves smoked meat the way butchers serve raw meat — wrapped in a large rectangle of butcher paper — and its customers are encouraged to eat it the way cowboys used to, or maybe Neanderthals, without sauce, forks or even plates.

Mr. Vaughn, 35, gave polite but direct instructions to the man with the knife: a few slices and burnt ends of beef brisket, pork spareribs, jalapeño sausage, an end-cut pork chop, some of the clod (beef shoulder), three slices of smoked turkey. Before long, a $50 pile of Texas barbecue held together by sheets of butcher paper sat before him on the counter — he was ordering for himself and three others — and the cashier asked if he wanted any sides.

“No,” he replied. “We got pork.”

Mr. Vaughn had eaten barbecue for lunch and planned to eat barbecue for lunch the following day; he also planned to spend part of the weekend at the inaugural Houston Barbecue Festival.

Asked at the counter if he ever got tired of barbecue, Mr. Vaughn replied, without hesitation, “Not good barbecue.”

He was wearing a pair of custom cowboy boots emblazoned with charts that show the various cuts of meat from a cow and a T-shirt reading “Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em,” which had nothing to do with cigarettes. His Twitter handle is BBQsnob. His blog is Full Custom Gospel BBQ. Most important, he had just decided to take a sizable pay cut and quit his job as an architect at a respected Dallas firm to devote all of his time and gastrological energy to writing about Texas barbecue.

On Thursday, Mr. Vaughn became a walking milestone in the history of Texas barbecue when Texas Monthly announced that it had hired him to be its first barbecue editor, a position that exists at no other magazine in America. National barbecue experts said Mr. Vaughn would be the only full-time barbecue critic on the staff of a major newspaper or magazine. He will be part of Texas Monthly’s ever-expanding barbecue franchise — the magazine has its own dedicated barbecue Web site, a barbecue finder app for cellphones and a once-every-five-years behemoth issue that lists the state’s top 50 barbecue joints. It holds the annual BBQ Festival in Austin, which last year drew a crowd of 3,000.

“It speaks to the extraordinary explosion and interest in barbecue over the last five to eight years,” said Jim Shahin, a freelance journalist and associate professor of magazine journalism at Syracuse University who also writes about barbecue and grilling for The Washington Post. “Even in Texas, where you already had a major barbecue culture, it has only grown. It’s surprising that Texas Monthly hadn’t done something like this years ago.”

Mr. Shahin and other barbecue writers said Mr. Vaughn — a native of Ohio, resident of Dallas, husband of a woman who does not particularly care for barbecue and father of two toddlers — was the right man for the job. Mr. Vaughn estimates that, since he began keeping track in 2007, he has eaten at more than 600 barbecue joints in the country, with more than 500 of those being in Texas. In five days last week, he had eaten barbecue at six locations.

Barbecue experts, in Texas and outside, said the state was experiencing a kind of “golden age” of barbecue, as evidenced by Mr. Vaughn’s new position. Some of the best places used to be out-of-the-way rural outposts, but now their artistry and time-consuming techniques can be found in Dallas, Austin and other cities. Restaurants in New York City and Washington have imported the Texas style to the East Coast, and national accolades are pouring in. In 2011, the magazine Bon Appétit declared Franklin Barbecue in Austin the best barbecue restaurant in America.

Mr. Vaughn had a kind of epiphany in 2006, five years after moving to the state, while on a three-day, 16-joint barbecue trip through Central Texas with a friend. One Saturday morning, they headed to Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor.

“We got there right as they opened,” Mr. Vaughn recalled. “We had this pile of meat in front of us. I took a bite of the brisket. We were sitting across the picnic table from one another and we just looked at each other like, ‘Oh wow, this is what they’ve been talking about.’ ”

That meal, and others after it, led him to start his barbecue blog in 2008. The blog led to assignments for D Magazine in Dallas and other publications, including Texas Monthly.

Mr. Vaughn’s last day as an associate at Good Fulton & Farrell is Tuesday, and he starts his new job in April, a few weeks before the release of his book, “The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue.” He spent six months exploring the state’s barbecue spots and collecting pitmasters’ recipes, eating at up to 10 restaurants a day and logging 10,000 miles.

Standing at a table at Lockhart, with his dinner scattered about the oily butcher paper and not a plate in sight, he pulled apart the brisket, which had been smoked for 14 to 16 hours. Lockhart opened in 2010 seeking to replicate Central Texas barbecue, using the same techniques, wood — post oak — and down-home style that is both anti-fork and anti-sauce.

“They leave some fat on,” Mr. Vaughn said, brisket in hand. “If you go to East Texas, you’re going to get basically just gray slices of brisket. The saddest thing you can see is for them to pull out a fresh new brisket, slap it down and it’s got this nice jiggle to it. Then they’ll take the back of the knife and scrape the fat off in one fell swoop and throw it away. They love the fat in Central Texas.”

Both Mr. Vaughn and Jake Silverstein, the editor in chief of Texas Monthly, said they did not discuss any sort of fitness program as part of his new job. “We have not discussed the health implications of being the Texas Monthly barbecue editor,” Mr. Silverstein said. “He’s figured out how to make the barbecue lifestyle compatible with staying above ground.”

One of Mr. Vaughn’s co-workers at the architecture firm wanted to plan a goodbye lunch for him and asked him where he wanted it. His answer: Kalachandji’s, an Indian vegetarian restaurant. “I gotta eat my veggies,” he said.

Magic in Smoke (No Mirrors)

“BARBECUE,” Daniel Delaney said, opening a smoker filled with briskets, some wrapped in shiny brown paper, others sporting thick black crusts, “is about mastering the art of being reactive.” He targeted the slab closest to him, working two fingers inside the wrapping and holding them there, as if taking a pulse.

“Brisket is a temperamental product to cook with,” he said. “You have to be agile, you have to feel them to know what they’re doing. You don’t use thermometers. You pinch them, juggle them. If filet mignon has the most uniform composition, brisket has the least. One side has an inch and a half of fat, and the other has none. It’s the hardest of the proteins to cook. It’s unforgiving. And easy to ruin.”

That hasn’t stopped Mr. Delaney from staking his livelihood on it. This New Jersey-born 26-year-old believes that he is going to make better Texas barbecue than they make in Texas — smoking it in an empty lot in Brooklyn and serving it at BrisketTown, his new Williamsburg restaurant that was to have opened on Wednesday but is now scheduled for Nov. 15.

This delay seemed predictable enough a month ago, when I met him at what was essentially still a construction site. The restaurant, which will sell diners meat by the pound, is to seat 40 and serve six nights a week. For three months last summer, Mr. Delaney fine-tuned his product by staging what he called Brisketlab, pop-up sites around Brooklyn, where customers preordered their meat online. He sold 3,200 pounds of brisket at $25 per pound, earning $80,000. He then presold more than 4,000 pounds for BrisketTown to give himself a guaranteed customer base and money to open. Additional help from investors allowed him to rent a permanent space at 359 Bedford Avenue.

Mr. Delaney, who plans to be in-house nightly, cutting meat, seemed relatively calm, given the chaos surrounding him. With his upwardly mobile hair — it seems literally to be standing on end — his cherubic face and his laser focus, his optimism appeared to outweigh his fear. Though once we sat down for coffee at the nearby Marlow & Sons, the facade started to crack.

“That double chocolate brownie is staring me down,” he said, carting it to a table. “I’ve been craving chocolate. Maybe I’m pregnant.”

“Only one thing worries me,” he continued. “Nothing about the Department of Health or zoning or liquor licenses, that’s all problem solving. But I had a dream the other night that people came, and they were not happy with the quality.” He bit into the brownie. “Texas barbecue is salt, pepper and smoke, that’s it. But with rigor, precision and dedication, you can produce something wonderful. It’s the most flavorful of all barbecue by far. Pork needs a lot more assistance. Other regions rely on sauces and rubs, they use a lot of crutches. But even though I’m not in the motherland, I still want to be the best.”

Mr. Delaney found his passion for barbecue through a circuitous route. He grew up in New Milford, N.J., the only child of an oncology nurse and the owner of an industrial supply company. He was interested in magic and spent summers at French Woods, a performing arts camp. He also commuted to Manhattan to take improv classes at Chicago City Limits. “In North Jersey, a lot of people wanted to hang out in front of the 7-Eleven,” he said. “In camp, there were a lot of people like me.”

He graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2008 with a degree in multimedia, doing his thesis on how the design of mobile vending relates to marketing. “I amassed an enormous amount of obscure knowledge of street vending in the United States,” he said. With the advent of food trucks and Twitter, he started producing a Web video series about street food called VendrTV. For two and a half years he traveled around the country, filming up to five episodes a day.

During his trips south, he bonded with Wayne Mueller, the third-generation owner of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Tex. “It’s a lifelong pursuit, and still they were learning their craft,” he said. “Wayne’s father had been smoking brisket for 60 years, and he’d say, ‘The briskets are acting funny today.’ Nothing about it is automatic. I found it intimidating and mysterious, in the way playing an instrument is mysterious.”

Mr. Delaney started learning with a small smoker more than four years ago and worked his way up to the monster he now owns in South Williamsburg. It is outside the old Pfizer building, which has become something of an artisanal food kibbutz recently; McClure’s Pickles and Brooklyn Soda Works are in residence, among others. The smoker is housed in a shipping container as a hedge against bad weather; the meat, which comes from Creekstone Farms, needs to be tended around the clock.

The plan, Mr. Delaney says, is to serve the brisket with homemade white bread, pickles and raw onion. “The protein is very rich,” he said. “The bread is sweet and can absorb the fat, the crisp onion is a palate cleanser, and the pickle adds a level of acidity that cuts through the richness of the brisket. It’s a cast of characters well positioned.”

He pulled a brisket from the smoker and cut a piece for me to taste, pointing out the red line running through the meat. “People think it’s not cooked, but that’s from the smoke,” he said. Normally, the briskets rest, so the moisture redistributes to the lean side. In this piece, the lean side was still dry, the tang of pepper too sharp. However, the fat side was like riding a cloud to heaven.

“If I told you I had 100 percent of the answers, I’d be lying,” Mr. Delaney said. “But I have a passion for challenge. I want to make the best barbecue in the country.”

He actually thinks he can pull that off? Though he survived Hurricane Sandy with his smoker — and gratitude — firmly intact, what about winter snowstorms, vicious online know-it-alls, employees who come and go, bad plumbing and whatever competition opens three months from now?

He squared his shoulders and stared me down, while still managing the hint of a smile. “I think,” he said, “that it would be un-American to think otherwise.”

 

Myron Mixon Bringing Serious BBQ to New York City’s East Village: BBQ News BiteIt looks like Myron Mixon is going to be opening one of his Pride & Joy BBQ Joints in the heart of New York City and it plans on opening in May of 2013.

In addition, Myron opened a Pride and Joy Bar B Que restaurant in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in September 2012. His line of sauces and seasonings, custom-built smokers, and other products are featured at the restaurant. He will also continue his cooking school that he hosts to sold-out classes in Unadilla, Georgia four to six times a year. [Click here to read Rich’s Meet the BBQ Pro Interview with Myron Mixon.] Myron Mixon Bringing Serious BBQ to New York City’s East Village: BBQ News Bite

Well known for being a judge and also a contestant on the very popular Barbecue Pitmaster Show, Myron competed in his first competition in Augusta, Georgia, in 1996, where he took first place in whole hog, first place in pork ribs and third in pork shoulder. Since then, he’s won more barbecue competitions than anyone else in the world. [Click here to see all of Rich’s Summaries of Destination American’s BBQ Pitmasters]

Since then he’s won over 210 grand championships resulting in over 1,700 total trophies, 30 state championships, 8 Team of the Year awards, and 11 national championships. Myron’s team: “Jacks Old South” has taken three first place whole hogs at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbeque Competition; has been the Grand Champion at the World Championship in Memphis three times: 2001, 2004 and 2007; and, has also taken first place in the Whole Hog category at the World Championship in: 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007. And, his team is the only team to win Grand Championships in Memphis in May, Kansas City BBQ Society and Florida BBQ Association in the same year

Remember the Alamo, but go deepThe co-founder of a popular Church Hill barbecue joint is moving west.

Paul Hubbard, who in 2009 started Alamo BBQ, is about to launch the Deep Run Roadhouse. The restaurant, located in the West End’s Crofton Green Shopping Centre, should be open by mid-February.

Hubbard said he’s been thinking about the move for about a year. Six months ago, he decided to sell his ownership stake in Alamo to business partner and co-founder Christopher Davis.

He settled on a location at 12379 Gayton Road and started the build-out about a month ago.

“I grew up out here, and I still have a lot of ties to the area,” said Hubbard, 30. “And I haven’t seen a concept like this anywhere else.”

The 3,000-square-foot space used to house the Ipanema Grill but has been vacant for several years.

Hubbard leased the space from the Wilton Companies, who will reimburse Hubbard about $15,000 for the build-out. He said he’s invested about $70,000 overall.

“This was a lot more difficult than getting Alamo up and running,” Hubbard said. “There, we just had to move in kitchen equipment and we were ready to go. We had to paint every square inch of this place and install a new floor.”

The fare will be similar to what Alamo offers: a mix of barbecue, comfort food and Tex Mex. But Hubbard said the there’s a big difference in the potential clientele.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in this market between the ages of 20 and 24,” Hubbard said. “It’s pretty much all families out here, and we’re looking forward to serving them.”

Recipes

Did New York Magazine Just Reveal The Secret Of The Umami Burger?
“New York has some okay burgers,” says Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman to New York restaurant critic Adam Platt in a 2,641  Full Story
Arizona Barbecue Festival - 2013
This year’s festival is not only about BBQ, it’s also about participating in games that, well, don’t necessarily require a whole lot  Full Story
A Tireless Connoisseur of Texas Barbecue Gets Ready for the Main Course
DALLAS — Daniel Vaughn stood at the counter at Lockhart Smokehouse here, ordering dinner. Lockhart serves smoked meat the way butchers serve  Full Story
Magic in Smoke (No Mirrors)
“BARBECUE,” Daniel Delaney said, opening a smoker filled with briskets, some wrapped in shiny brown paper, others sporting thick black crusts, “is  Full Story
Myron Mixon Bringing Serious BBQ to New York City’s East Village: BBQ News Bite
It looks like Myron Mixon is going to be opening one of his Pride & Joy BBQ Joints in the heart of  Full Story