August 8, 2014

BBQ Wars

It was the great migration. From all over our fair sunburned country they did trek.

They came in camper vans, enormous blackened iron pits in tow. They came with their WSMs, ProQs, ceramic grills and even homemade pits crafted from “borrowed” beer kegs.  They brought their mates, wives, kids. They brought their excitement and their enthusiasm. And they all descended upon Port Macquarie, Australia in late March to form the teams that competed in the first Australian BBQ Championships.
Smoking and traditional barbecuing continues it’s incredible surge in popularity in the land down under, as evidenced by the 20 teams that competed at the Blues & BBQ Festival – by far the largest gathering of professional barbecue competitors this country has ever seen.
Held at the picturesque waterfront Town Green, the competition ran over two days and was complimented on the final day by a fantastic blues music concert, market stalls and food trucks serving delicious smoky treats to the public .
The teams revelled in the spirit of camaraderie that formed at their campsites. Stories were shared, secret ingredients were guarded and you could sense the electric atmosphere of the teams finally being able to participate in the type of competition that they had previously only seen via TV screens or overseas travels.
To bring competition BBQ to Australia was not without challenges. Mesquite, Hickory and Post Oak are not native woods, and if you can find them, they are prohibitively expensive (as are many fruit woods). Most Aussie butchers wouldn’t know their baby backs from their rib tips, and since Australian bacon is taken off the ribs/loin, most available rib racks are usually “shiners” with a meagre amount of meat left of. Our brisket cuts are different, we do not use the Boston Butt cut and, on top of all of this, we slaughter our animals at a far younger age than they do in the US, so all the cuts are generally smaller.  So depending how good you are at finding a butcher who will cater to your needs, you may already be at a disadvantage before you even step up to the starting line.
In an attempt to define Australian competition barbecue for the future, the organisers chose to broaden the individual categories where unless specified, any form of that particular protein could be presented. Competitors were ultimately asked to submit in the categories of Beef, Chicken, Pork Rib, Pork and of course, Lamb – the quintessential Aussie meat. Any form of smoking device/pit was permitted, as was any form of presentation or garnish, as long as the entry fit within the traditional competition-style boxes as provided to the teams.
The competition commenced at 3pm on the Friday afternoon, with the first category turn in due at 9am the following morning, and the other submissions every hour thereafter. We saw everything from traditional briskets and pulled pork to chicken satay, porchetta and smoked eye fillet, all of which were tasted by an army of over thirty judges.
When the smoke cleared, it would be The Meat Sweats, an amateur hobby team from Brisbane, who would walk away with the grand overall title, having dominated in the Pork and Lamb categories. Second place went to Jesse and the team from Big Poppa Smokers who achieved an incredible score with his pork ribs, and third place was claimed by team Yoder Smokers.
Feedback from the Championships was nothing but positive, and organisers were able to glean an incredible amount of information, future direction and suggestions from the event. As such, they have moved forward with setting up the first Australian society for competition barbecue – Australasian BBQ Alliance (ABA). I myself have been invited to participate in the creation of this historic association, and have recently completed several different Head Judge accreditations in the United States, including KCBS and CTBA, to assist with creation of ABA judging criteria. The Alliance is the process of writing a more refined and defined set of rules that will inevitably become the Australian standard, allowing them to sanction many more competitions nationwide. It’s the beginning of a beautiful thing.
To find out more or register as a member of the Alliance visit
Jess is best known by her “hardcore carnivore” alter ego, BurgerMary. She has been writing, tasting and about BBQ for many years now, spending several months out of every year in Texas and produces the internationally acclaimed Carnivores Ball. She is an accredited Central Texas BBQ Association and Kansas City BBQ Society judge and is the Head Judge for the ABA. Her favourite barbecue item is a perfectly cooked beef rib.


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