I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. My son has the same plague/gift. Ask him who stole the lolly off the bench and see it written on his face. Ask me about my BBQ or my journey so far and I’ll tell you. In fact, I won’t shut up.
I’ve never seen BBQ as competitive. It’s always been about sharing. About connecting people and food and building a community. When I first ate BBQ in 2002, visiting my now wife in the South, I fell in love – with BBQ (and her along the way). As I learned more about the tradition, of how it brought people together, family stories and history, I was hooked. It did, and continues to, consume my thoughts. A biopsy would reveal a section devoted to wife and family – the rest (much larger part), devoted to meat, smoke, wood and fire.
When we moved to Australia in 2005 I tried to recreate that sweet lick of smoke. I was desperate for information. Looking for any book on bookstore shelves on BBQ, all I could do was have family in the US send some over, Australia was barren. Before the days of Facebook BBQ groups and Franklin on Youtube, I searched and read and spent every opportunity stuck in – playing with BBQs, smokers, wood, chips, sauce and meat.
The lengths I would go through to source meat was extraordinary. I spent countless hours tracking down experienced butchers, meeting with them, printing out animal diagrams and description info to try to get the meat to the ‘American-style’ specs I couldn’t find. In 2012, when I began smoking for our weekend BBQ business, I used to get briskets and pork butts delivered to my old work place. Colleagues would open the staff room fridge and be shocked to see it transformed into a meat locker – all in aid of practicing on the weekend. This odd occurrence went on for years until I finally devoted myself entirely to BBQ and left all ‘real work’ behind.
While I struggled with passion and desire but lack of info, there were people that extended a hand of friendship and knowledge. In 2012, when I approached Paul from Silver Creek Smokers to build my first pit he astounded me with his skill, his generosity and friendship – he continues to do so. Across the next years many of the early crew – those men and women I stood next to at the first BBQ festival in 2015 – Fancy Hanks, Big Boy, Bluebonnet and Burn City Smokers have been friends and supports over the years – we’ve shared stories, pits, gigs and meat.
In 2016, as we were opening the restaurant, I took a detour when visiting family in the US and spent some time at Southern Soul BBQ on St Simons Island, Georgia. Harrison and the team were so generous with their time and knowledge. I was like a sponge, watching, taking notes, asking questions. This amazing experience gave me a glimpse into not only what it’s like running a bricks and mortar joint, but the way this place reached out and connected the community and the camaraderie between the local BBQ joints.
I know the pain of an all night cook. Only to see your brisket turn out tough and smokeless. I know what it’s like to haul wood and lift metal doors until your joints ache. I know what it’s like to fight a pit fire, fuelled by grease and heat, after little sleep and physical exhaustion and then to see all your hard work and money go into the bin.
We people who chase the perfect BBQ are a passionate bunch. Out to impress others yes, but much more so, ourselves. I don’t see those other BBQ folk as my competition but my brothers and sisters in arms. Our war is fought for the love of BBQ and in search for the perfect smoke. Our weapon is metal, fire, wood and meat.
It is for this reason we had our first Pitmaster Masterclasses at a pop up venue in early 2015. And why they continue to feature as a core offering of our business. I get your passion. And your deep, desperate need to perfect your BBQ. I continue to love these classes and the opportunity to speak to a passionate group of either new or experienced BBQ enthusiasts.
Over the years I’ve had calls or visits from people starting out – with their BBQ business or home projects. If you have ever caught me at the restaurant and wanted to chat BBQ you’ve more than likely been on the receiving end of me talking your ear off. It’s now been two years of running monthly classes in our function room at Red Gum, and I feel extremely humbled that folks want to hear me talk about something I love in the restaurant that I built.
These days, BBQ in Australia is a very different, much more diverse space. Where we used to explain to our friends at backyard BBQs what the pulled pork was, it’s now a staple across menus. I still spend my days and nights thinking about meat and playing with recipes at Red Gum – but also teaching this art to our in-house Pitmasters and to visitors to our Pitmaster classes.
So I go to youtube to share. For those same reasons that I am grateful to those who have reached out to me over the years and to give back. To build community. To hand over some lessons where I can that have been hard fought and hard won. To share my secrets – what’s in my brain is yours, for whatever it’s worth. In the hopes that we can learn from one another and create an even wider, more passionate and more connected BBQ community.
I hope you’ll join me on this smoking journey and share your secrets too. It’s all about #sharingthebbqlove
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