IT’S no secret that Aussies love to barbecue.
Throwing a few snags on the hot plate on a summer’s day is an Australian tradition.
It’s the way most meat eaters like to approach barbecue in this part of the world but in the US – particularly the south – barbecuing is all about cooking low and slow.
The process of taking a cut of meat – usually brisket, ribs or pork butt – and smoking it at a low temperature over several hours is fast gaining popularity in Australia.
Instead of a quick lunchtime barbecue of steak and sausages, Aussies are embracing the American way of barbecuing, which is all about putting in the time and reaping the reward of succulent smoked meat.
Hunter Valley Premium Meats owner Tim Perram has been in the business of selling meat to restaurants and the public (order online at huntervalleypremiummeats.com.au) for the past 12 years and has noticed a shift in the way customers are choosing their barbecue cuts and the way they cook it.
“When I first started in business, not many people would particularly know what a brisket was,” Perram says.
“Now it’s one of the most popular cuts. If it’s cooked right, and smoked, and given the love, it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of meat.”
Perram, who operates from premises on Industrial Drive at Mayfield East, says there has been a noticeable increase in demand for classic American barbecue cuts such as brisket, ribs and pork butt from both hobby enthusiasts and competition entrants.
“I think it’s a lot to do with the therapy of it itself. The whole process is one that takes time, you’ve got to take the time to cook it,” Perram says of the barbecuing style.
“It’s even just an excuse to have a gathering, so I think the social side of it is big part of it too. If you’ve got a good group of friends or you want to invite someone over and put the smoker on, you can whack on a brisket that’s gonna take a few hours, and kick back with a club soda and enjoy it.
“I think people find they reap the rewards for their efforts – it’s not something that just happens – and I think that’s why it’s become so popular.”
As well as backyard barbecues, the cooking style has found its way on to menus across Australia, including Newcastle and the Hunter where smoked meat is the star at places such as The Falcon in Newcastle East, Yellow Billy Restaurant in Pokolbin and food truck Smokin Hot & Saucy.
A two-day festival dedicated to barbecuing featuring cook offs and four-time World BBQ Champion and host of the TV show BBQ Pitmasters, Myron Mixon, debuted on the Central Coast earlier this year.
Port Macquarie held a barbecue festival last month which attracted almost 100 teams to compete in a cook-off, and in June the Hunter Valley hosted its own barbecue event with Smoke in Broke.
ONE LONG GREAT DAY
IT’S just shy of 7am on a Saturday morning when Lee Green makes a start on dinner.
Not long after the sun has appeared for the day, pungent curls of smoke waft from the vent of his barbecue as it begins to do its work in preparation for the 2.6kg of beef rib that is about to make its home on the grill for the next eight or so hours.
He says it is mostly about patience.
“What I like about this style of cooking is the process, finding a good cut of meat – whether it’s pork, beef or even lamb – then figuring out how I’m going to cook it, and then the result,” Green says.
Green, from New Lambton, began experimenting with low and slow barbecuing 18 months ago.
He chose a Kamado Joe – an egg-shaped ceramic barbecue – because it offered more versatility than a traditional smoker.
It can smoke, grill, sear and bake, but it’s the process of slow cooking that initially appealed to him.
He does a low and slow cook every weekend.
“If I’m to serve dinner, I’d start at 7am and expect to have something on the barbecue before 9am,” Green says.
“I top up my lump charcoal, light my fire and then trim the meat while the barbecue is coming up to temp.
“I am aiming for around 225 and 275 Fahrenheit if I’m cooking low and slow. Next, I put chunks of hickory smoking wood in, apply the rub to the meat and put it on the barbecue.
“The first three hours is when your meat takes in the smoke flavour and then it’s really just about checking it every hour or so and making sure the temperature is still OK.”
Beef short ribs are the favourite for Green.
“I like cooking for people who haven’t tried that type of barbecuing before,” he says.
“The flavour and the look of beef short ribs – like big dinosaur bones – they are almost impossible to get wrong.
“There’s a good amount of fat in them and that breaks down and becomes gelatinous so they’re really tender and juicy.”
Texas is famous for the low and slow tradition of smoking meat.
Beef is number one in Texas barbecue, while pork tends to be the most popular protein in other US states.
In Texas, it’s not about smothering ribs in barbecue sauce but instead about using dry rubs or simply seasoning it with salt and pepper.
Sides and sauces are considered secondary to the meat in Texas.
For those that are starting out, the good thing about smokers is they don’t have to be an expensive purchase.
The most important thing is that what you are cooking on can hold a fire and a place to cook the meat, so that the smoke does all the work, not the direct heat.
Wood is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to smoking.
It is what will determine the flavour of your meat, so using the right wood is as important as selecting the best cut of meat – for example, fruit woods such as apple add sweetness, while oak adds a mellow flavour.
Once you have decided what to cook, select a good quality cut of meat.
If you skimp on the cost, you’re most likely skimping on the quality and that will put you on the back foot before you’ve even begun.
Then it’s about trimming the meat.
Invest in a decent knife that allows you to slice with precision – it makes the job quicker and easier.
If you’re using a rub (store-bought or homemade), get that ready and prepare your meat with it.
What I like about this style of cooking is the process, is finding a good cut of meat - whether it’s pork, beef or even lamb - then figuring out how I’m going to cook it, and then the result.Lee Green
Then it’s a matter of firing up the smoker, adding the wood and getting it at the correct temperature (invest in a thermometer to keep check of the heat level when the meat is cooking).
Allowing the meat to rest at the end of the cook is vital.
American barbecue master Aaron Franklin – who has had the likes of Barack Obama and Kanye West eat at his famed restaurant, Franklin Barbecue, in Austin, Texas – has written an entire book on the art of barbecuing (A Meat-Smoking Manifesto).
There is a lot to learn but, as he points out in the comprehensive smoking “bible”, the amount of variables in barbecuing – wood, quality of fire, meat selection, type of cooker – means there is no single way to get it right.
“It’s one of those ‘it takes a weekend to learn but a lifetime to master’ type things,” Green says.
“You are constantly tweaking and trying things.”
THE TEXAS WAY
ONE person who knows about barbecues is Trey McCrary.
The Toronto-based, Texas-born and raised owner of Big Daddy’s BBQ food truck (find it every Sunday the Newcastle City Farmers Market) has been cooking barbecue his “whole life”.
“It’s just a lifestyle – a family lifestyle. My father, my grandfather, my uncle – barbecuing is just a thing we all did,” McCrary says.
“People have taken it [Texas barbecue] and they sort of fused it, but the barbecue we do is really authentic and really the way it’s meant to be, the way it’s meant to taste.
“It takes a while finessing and, you know, our brisket is cooked over 20 hours. It’s the right spices and then it’s just waiting and taking a look it it every now and then.
“It takes a lot of love.”
A traditionalist when it comes to Texas-style barbecuing, McCrary says that with the right cut of meat, wood and temperature, the product should speak for itself.
“A lot of people around here watch shows on TV where they add all these different types of rubs and even inject the meat with different stuff, but the Texas barbecue is basically you’re meant to taste the heat, the flavour of the wood and it’s just basic salt and pepper,” he says.
“It’s the right type of wood, the right heat and it’s very little – if any – barbecue sauce.
“When people put barbecue sauce on the meat it’s sort of insulting a little bit [laughs].
“In Texas, you’d have your barbecue without barbecue sauce. You put so much into the meat and so much into the flavour and making sure it’s juicy and moist.”
Big Daddy’s BBQ – which also operates as a catering service – offers classic barbecue staples such as brisket, pulled pork, ribs, as well as a slow cooked smoked sausage and smoked burger patties for their cheeseburger.
His advice for those starting out?
“I would say just play around – just find a good big cut of meat. A big cut of beef or a big cut of pork, it doesn’t matter what cut it is,” McCrary says.
“You could use pork shoulder or pork butt or brisket. Brisket can be kind of expensive though but you can use any kind of roast, any type of beef and just put it on and get the fire going. Don’t get it too hot and let it cook.
“You’d be surprised at how long you can just leave it on. You can literally go to sleep and wake up and it’s going to be tender and juicy because it’s cooked so slow.”
And don’t worry too much about a fancy smoker.
“It doesn’t really matter too much. In the past – in America – I built smokers out of, like, beer kegs [laughs], I've built them out of old filing cabinets ...
“As long as you can keep the heat enclosed, you’re good.”
WHAT TO BUY
Depending on your budget, you can spend anything from $3999 for a top-of-the-line Traeger Timberline 1300 smoker to a more modest $139 for a Billabong Barrel Barbeque.
A Kamado Joe ‘Big Joe” which allows the user to smoke, grill or bake (pizza oven and rotisserie accessories are also part of the range) retails for $2995 while the smaller version, the classic Kamado Joe, will set you back $1999 (prices include a cart for the barbecue to stand in).
Items and prices from Barbeques Galore. Visit barbequesgalore.com.au