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A Pitmaster’s Top Tips For Cooking American-Style Barbecue

Smoked meat that falls off the bone is actually overdone – who knew?

The Yaks Barbecue Festival is on its way to Melbourne and Sydney and in preparation we asked festival organiser and barbecue whisperer Matt Vitale about his take on American-style barbecue and why it’s  here in Australia. 

Matt: There is a passion for barbecue in the United States, and increasingly in Australia, that no other cuisine has. I’ve seen fights start between people arguing over which restaurant serves the best barbecue in Kansas City (Q39 by the way). But what I really love about eating barbecue in the United States is how every place seems to have its own cool story to tell, whether it dates back generations or just a few years.

The passion for barbecue extends to America’s largest smoked meat festivals, like Memphis in May and the American Royal, where barbecue is the hero that brings people together. The excitement and energy surrounding these events is similar to what you’d experience during the Flemington Spring Racing Carnival, except the guys are wearing the big hats, and it’s the food that people are getting amped up about!

These expert tips are from Jesse Rogers of Eureka Smoke – this year’s winners.


#1 Smoke like seasoning

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Think of smoke like salt. Too much can ruin a dish but the perfect amount elevates it. Aim to keep the balance with the flavours from your ingredients.


#2 Inject, don’t marinade

Flavour particles in marinades are too big to penetrate dense meat, even after days. To get flavour and moisture edge to edge, pros use a syringe-like meat injector to baste their barbecue from the inside out as it cooks.


#3 Strive for thin blue smoke

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The holy grail of smoke appears light blue, because the fire burns off most of the light blocking impurities that makes smoke grey. Blue smoke has a delicate and complex flavour that builds up in food over many hours. To achieve it, you need to burn wood with a flame and prevent it smouldering.


#4 Cook it ’til it’s done

Barbecue often looks ready long before its tender. If you want that unctuousness, give it time to breakdown the tough connective tissue into gelatine.


#5 Apply sauces at the end

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Most sauces have a lot of sugar which can burn or create an unpleasant toffee-like texture that can stick to the back of your teeth if added to barbecue too early. Wait until the very last stages of cooking to add your sauce, or wait until it’s done.


#6 Moisture helps smoke

A humid smoker helps smoke attach to meat and helps prevent the meat from drying out. I always use a pan filled with water in my smokers.


#7 Falling off the bone is overdone

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Contrary to popular belief, ribs should not be cooked until they’re falling off the bone. Perfect doneness for ribs is when you can bite into a rib and the meat pulls cleanly from the bone, without the rest of the meat coming with it.

(Photos: Melbourne Barbecue Festival 2015/Facebook)

The Yaks Barbecue Festival happens at The Domain  in Sydney on Saturday January 30 and in Melbourne at Flemington Racecourse on Saturday February 6. Tickets for are on sale now from Moshtix.