How to cook American barbecue: it's just a matter of time
Where there's smoke, there's fire, but in many backyards this summer – there's meat.
Backyard barbecue is about as Kiwi as the jandal, however Southern American low 'n' slow barbecue is a relative new-comer and its popularity is billowing.
A completely different beast to the classic gas barbecue most would use across the country, there are several variables making it much more than a quick click and turn of the dial.
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There's the fuel, the wood, the meat and rub, then there's the temperature and the time, to name a few. There are a lot of boxes that need to be ticked.
That surge in popularity has seen a 9000 member-strong Facebook group NZ Barbecue Pitmasters come into fruition – they're making the most of being able to bounce ideas off each other – all having rediscovered pride in their new style of labour-intensive barbecue.
Previously the only taste New Zealanders could have hoped for was during a visit overseas or experimenting in their own backyard, now there are barbecue joints popping up in the country's main centres – Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.
Auckland's Morepork American Barbecue is one of those spots.
Chef and owner Clint Davies is confident that barbecue is about to really take hold of New Zealand, and that there will soon be plenty of aspiring cooks across the country.
"We've just got to keep building on that momentum, coming into Meatstock" Davies says.
Meatstock will be one of the first smokey-barbecue dedicated events to come to the country in February, where his restaurant will compete against 34 other teams at Barbecue Wars.
He hoped that the event would help propel barbecue into the limelight, so more people get involved.
Davies moved back to the country to open his Ponsonby joint, having worked as a chef in the United States.
"I came back to New Zealand with one goal, and that's to make New Zealanders understand what real barbecue is."
Jay Beaumont, the president of the Australasian Barbecue Alliance, who runs Meatstock, says anyone can cook barbecue – no matter how much money they want to invest.
One of the main challenges facing aspiring pitmasters in New Zealand is the availability of cuts of meat that are used in the US.
Pork ribs are often too lean and full cuts of beef brisket are often quite difficult to find, he says. So the best thing is to find experts behind the counter who are willing to help.
"Find a butcher, ask for a neck or a shoulder."
The next step is to get a good spice mix, or rub, for the meat. Beaumont says he recommends starting with store-bought mixes for inspiration.
"From there, you get yourself a barbecue."
"With a bit of scrap, you can definitely get [a barbecue] up," Beaumont says.
While there have been plenty of stopgap barbecues shared on the Facebook page, as well as intricately built barbecues, it's as much about how people are using their tools.
Barbecues range in price, as people can use $50 kettle barbecues or invest thousands of dollars into ceramic barbecues or offset cookers.
But there are also many people making the most of what they already have, smoking in old oil drums or filing cabinets.
And the final two parts are the crucial ingredients to get your barbecue up and running: fuel and temperature.
Different types of fuel, such as charcoal or purely cooking with wood, vary a lot, but from there it's all about experimentation, Beaumont says.
In fact, he says, teams won with meat cooked on Weber barbecues in the first year of competitions in Australia.
Until recently, Beaumont himself was cooking with a run-of-the-mill Weber kettle barbecue.
Arguably the most important instrument other than the barbecue itself is a temperature gauge.
"From there, it's just a matter of time."
Morepork cooks exclusively with apple wood, opting over the ever-popular manuka wood, and uses an off-set smoker.
However Davies says it's also about trial and error.
"Think about what you started with and what you got at the end, and how you can make it better."
Having done plenty of barbecuing in his time, he's certainly pulled a few dry briskets out of the smoker.
And when anyone has questions: "ask the right people", Davies says.
Iowa-based Ponderosa BBQ owner Big Moe Cason is well known across the US for his competitive role in TV show BBQ Pitmasters.
Cason will be in New Zealand for Meatstock this year, hosting a masterclass and having a look at how New Zealand's barbecue scene is going.
Competing across the US in various competitions, Cason made a name for himself as a dungaree-clad, cigar smoking, big personality.
When it comes to advice for the virgin barbecuer, he has plenty.
"Gauges are a very important part.
"Depending on where you cook, guys are putting gauges where they don't need to be. You need to have your gauge where your meats going to be cooking."
But it's not going to happen overnight, Cason says.
"It's still a feel game. There's a short window."
"If you stay true to the game, you are going to make adjustments [and] keep at it.
"I think it makes you a better cook when you get out there in the trenches."