It turns out the great Aussie barbeque tradition is a bit of a farce compared to barbequing in the USA. Hang on to your tongs; there’s an art to American barbeque that has infiltrated Perth’s barbeque community…you just have to follow the smokey waft of barbequed meat.
Every few weeks in Perth, hundreds of carnivores and American barbeque enthusiasts form into teams for a weekend of low ‘n slow barbeque. In typical laid-back Western Australian fashion and on first impression, it appears like a friendly cook-off. However, it’s anything but as these guys and a few hardy women compete against the stringent Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and KCBS Australia rules. No one simply throws a snag (or a crocodile) on the barbie because that would be considered grilling, no matter how lovingly you marinate and hover your high-grade meat over a direct source of fire.
To be taken seriously and to even have a hope of being accepted into Perth’s hard-core barbequing community, you’ve got to adopt the technique of American barbeque. To truly barbeque is to cook over an indirect low heat for an extended period of time, causing a chemical reaction between the smoke and meat, creating a blackened skin, known as bark. As the smoke deeply infiltrates the meat and turns it pink beneath the bark, the flavour is so rich and robust that this low n’ slow barbequing style is ideal for any type, grade or cut.
Western Australia’s world-class meat elevates the results to the point where Perth teams have gained international acclaim for the last decade. I played witness to this phenomenon when I travelled to Lexington in North Carolina in 2012 for the annual Capital BBQ Cook-off (28th – 29th April, sadly cancelled in 2017) when my husband, Stephan Jenner, was hailed WA’s tongmaster champion when Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) ran a BBQ competition across the country. Sizzling beef was broadcast live on radio stations and judged by industry experts. Stephan joined a motley crew of Australian barbequing enthusiasts – a butcher, bricklayer, beer connoisseur and business analyst to form the Australian Tongmaster team. Along with Kevin, the blow-up kangaroo, the team met in Sydney for a practice run before landing in Lexington in a haze of jetlag and excitement.
Low ‘n’ slow barbequing in the US isn’t just a pastime; it’s a lifestyle if the palatial RVs that rolled into town were anything to go by. The annual Capital BBQ Cook-off, just one of many in the US, is the barbequing version of Woodstock as the tiny town of Lexington heaves with enthusiasts passively smoking beef brisket, ribs and chicken over two days. North Carolina’s Lexington is deemed the barbeque pork capital of America, and with 24 barbeque restaurants in 2012 (that’s one per thousandth person), the Tongmasters competed in the beef brisket category showcasing grain-fed Wagyu with an eight-grade marbling, sponsored by MLA.
This premium piece of brisket was selected from the breast section and rubbed in its unique secret Australian spice blend in preparation for its sacrificial burning in a mammoth Lang 84-inch smoker fired up with hickory and apple wood. For 14 hours, the Tongmasters tended to the fire at a constant 107 degrees while babysitting the tender flesh throughout the night. The result produced an ideal 6mm smoke ring beneath the crust, and a feeding frenzy soon formed around our tent, hungry for the spoils. Judging by the groupies requesting photos and risqué autographs from chagrin Australians, the Tongmasters won the unofficial public vote.
Lexington might be on the other side of the world, but soon enough, low ‘n’ slow barbeque restaurants and overnight festivals have induced meat comas in Perth ever since. In 2013, Stephan formed the Smokin’ Charity BBQ Competitions (formerly Smokin’ in the City) to raise funds for the Mondo Community Warriors charity. Brew N Que Australia is another Perth barbeque festival to have emerged, and there are at least a dozen restaurants and food trucks, including Porkies BAR-B-Que, Side Door Barbeque and Caveman BBQ, serving authentic American barbeque in Perth. Cooking classes, judging workshops, catering companies, specialty cuts of meat and merchandise such as rubs, sauces, smokers and t-shirts soon followed.
So back to Lexington 2012, after a marathon of barbequing and festivities throughout the night, even Kevin seemed a little deflated, and it has to be noted there appeared to be a few fewer eyelashes hooding many a red-eye. But there was little hope of rest as the finale of the TV series The Pitmasters began rolling while the band belted out tunes to the brutal hangovers of the sleep-deprived.
The winner was announced and awarded the $15,900 prize money. The Tongmasters scored a decent 37th place out of 50 teams – after all, we did show up with beef in a town that loves their pork, claims to be the barbeque capital of the world and competed against contestants who were born with a pair of tongs in their hands.
Elated, we celebrated in a clandestine bar served by a bartender donning a gun holster. It took a long time to wash away the smoky aroma from our clothes and hair, but the Australian Tongmasters barbequed us proud.
Ten years on, the Jack Daniel’s ‘Smoke in the Hollow’ World Championship Invitational BBQ takes place on 14th and 15th October 2022 in Lynchburg, Tennessee. More than 60 BBQ teams from around the world will be competing, including the only Australian team Ribs n Pig BBQ, reigning from Perth with Steve Carter at the helm, and team member Stephan barbequing full circle.