Meet the Brisket Whisperer: Billy Durney
Fulfilling a life-long dream, Billy Durney joined New York’s formidable barbecue brigade in 2013 when he opened Hometown-Bar-B-Que in Red Hook. The former security specialist and Brooklyn native is an unlikely barbecue hero. Not a son of the South, he learned to barbecue at his grandparents’ cabin in rural Pennsylvania and was mentored by Wayne Mueller, a Texas barbecue legend. Billy was one of the “brisket whisperers” I interviewed for my book, The Brisket Chronicles. Find a link to the recipe he created for me below. On September 19, Durney quietly opened a Miami outpost at the Allapattah Produce Market. I can’t wait to pay Hometown Miami a visit.
Excerpted from Steven Raichlen’s The Brisket Chronicles (Workman Publishing, 2019).
Billy Durney remembers the exact moment he took barbecue as the true religion: “I walked into Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. One bite of brisket and I knew—this is who I want to be and this will be my life’s work.”
So the security expert (a former bodyguard for Oscar-nominated actresses and Grammy Award–winning musicians) found a century-old former woodworker’s warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn—vacant for decades—and turned it into a cavernous dining room fitted with timbers and paneling from an antique barn. He installed an Ole Hickory carousel smoker in the back corner and parked an oversize Lang barrel smoker by the front door. He perfected his brisket recipe and hired local bands for entertainment.
Then Hurricane Sandy struck, flooding his dining room with 6 feet of water. The restoration took more than a year, and Hometown formally opened on September 12, 2013. By the end of the week, they had waiting lines and were selling out of meat.
Like most of the new wave pit masters, Durney takes an ecumenical approach, cooking his ribs St. Louis–style and his pork shoulders in the manner of North Carolina. He powers the house hot sauce with Thai sriracha. He serves barbecued lamb belly Vietnamese banh mi–style—with house pickles on a crusty baguette.
But the heart and soul of Hometown is the brisket. Coal-black slabs of steaming meat so smoky it smells like a fireplace and so moist it squirts when you cut into it. Tender? Let’s just say you can cut it with the side of a fork.
The secret? “We start with Niman Ranch natural briskets and use only two seasonings: salt and pepper,” explains Durney. “We burn white oak in our pits. We cook hotter than most restaurants—275°F—and we smoke for up to 15 hours.”
Of course, great brisket is made not just with seasonings and wood smoke, but with the dozens of personal touches developed over time and experience. Durney cooks his slabs on rectangles of perforated cardboard—a way to protect the lean meat of the flat from drying out or burning on the hot grate.
“Resting the meat is one of the most important things you can do to ensure moist, tender brisket,” says Durney. Hometown’s rests for 5 hours in a professional meat warmer called an Alto-Shaam. At home, Durney recommends a minimum 2-hour rest in an insulated cooler.
So how do you know when the brisket is ready? “We never use a meat thermometer,” explains Durney. “It’s all done by touch and feel. Poke each slab (wear heatproof gloves) and watch how it jiggles. Imagine Jell-O comprised of animal protein and beef fat. That’s how a properly cooked brisket should feel.”
Billy Durney’s Brisket Steamed Buns
Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn normally packs steamed buns with barbecued lamb belly or short ribs. He created the following brisket steamed bun for The Brisket Chronicles. Think smoky beef, sweet-salty barbecue sauce, and pickled cucumbers for crunch. In other words, think heaven on earth on a steamed bun.
Want more brisket?
It all starts with the big kahuna: an authentic Texas barbecued brisket, aka 18 pounds of smoky, fatty, proteinaceous awesomeness. And from this revelation of pure beefy goodness comes burnt ends. Corned beef. Ropa Vieja. Bollito Misto. Pho . . . and slowly it dawns on you: Brisket must be the tastiest, most versatile, and most beloved cut of meat in the world.
In The Brisket Chronicles, Steven Raichlen shares his 50 best brisket recipes while showing us step-by-foolproof-step how to ’cue it, grill it, smoke it, braise it, cure it, and boil it.