It may not have originated in the United States but America has embraced the humble BBQ. Not to be confused with grilling, a style by which meat is cooked quickly using direct heat from charcoal or a gas source, American-style barbecuing incorporates indirect heat imparted by the smoke of a wood-fuelled fire tended over an extended period of time. The low and slow method of cooking is particularly popular in the south of North America, home of four distinct styles – Carolina whole hog, Kansas City ribs, Texas beef brisket and beef ribs.
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen American BBQ appearing on menus throughout Australia – a pile of pulled pork here, some smoky brisket there – but all of a sudden it is everywhere, with restaurants, pop-ups and food trucks specialising in this meaty goodness. So why the boom?
Lance Rosen of Melbourne’s Big Boy BBQ says one of the main reasons is because we’re travelling to the region more. “There’s a core of people who have always been interested in BBQ, but I think more and more people are travelling through the US, whether for business or pleasure, and have discovered it that way,” Rosen says.
This is how the man himself came to open his Kansas City style BBQ joints (the first in 2011) after feasting on sticky sweet ribs at Paul Kirk’s NYC dive eatery, Rub BBQ. “The minute the tray of BBQ was put in front of me my jaw just dropped,” Rosen says. “It was just unbelievable.”
Known as Kansas City’s “Baron of BBQ”, Kirk’s style inspired Rosen to follow suit as he admits, “You never forget your first love.”
Mike Patrick, half of the Fancy Hanks BBQ duo, agrees. “As a nation Australia has always been interested in barbecuing. I’ve made it my career cooking with fire the last 10 years. We went through the South American thing, then the Mexican thing; I think it’s just a natural progression really.”
Using three offset Texas style barrel smokers and a custom made grill, Fancy Hanks offers a range of BBQ using low heat for a long time to take their meat to the next level.
“We don’t ever want to say our style is from one region in the South,” Patrick says. His love for American BBQ so strong he and fellow Hanker, Kent Bell, don’t play regional favourites. “We cook Texas style brisket, Kansas City style glazed ribs and Carolina style whole hog over live charcoal.”
Backyard barbecuing has taken off too with more and more Australians honing their skills on a Weber Smokey Mountain, Yoder Smoker or custom made cookers. The Aussie BBQ Forum is dedicated to all things BBQ where enthusiasts can research the best types of cooker for their needs, wood pellet types, charcoal and upcoming events.
Just as with the US where BBQ competitions mean serious business (North Carolina, “cradle of the cue”, has its own competition sanction, The North Carolina Barbecue Society, while the Kansas City Barbecue Society is the official sanctioning body of competitive barbecue), Australia is stepping it up and competing.
In October 2012 Adelaide played host to the Redheads Gourmet BBQ Festival, celebrating the great Australian BBQ, incorporating Australia’s first BBQ Grill Master Competition. The following March, Melbourne hosted the inaugural Redheads Melbourne Pro BBQ Cook Off with winners, Southside Smokers, invited to compete at the 25th Annual Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational BBQ Competition, aka, The Jack, in Tennessee.
The Australian barbecue has always played a big part in our culture, so much so that we’ve made it a national pastime. Given our love for good food and quality produce, the natural progression from charred snags to smoked brisket was inevitable.
As Rosen says, “It just suit the Australian palate.”