For the typical Australian, barbequing generally entails throwing a couple of supermarket-bought snags on the barbie and grilling on high heat, but Southside Smokers take it a whole lot more seriously. Going against the grain and bucking the trend of Aussie BBQ, these bootleggers are changing the way that Aussies do it, honing and perfecting their own take on American style down under.
Husband and wife duo Matthew and Margaret Vitale formed Southside Smokers to compete in the inaugural Redheads Melbourne Pro BBQ Cook Off in March of this year in Melbourne, bringing two passions together.
“Matt and I have always shared a love for cooking and competitions so we were excited when we found a way to combine the two,” Margaret says.
Despite being a regular fixture in the US, this was the first time a competition of this calibre has been held in Melbourne, so in preparation, Matt and Margaret spent last summer honing their barbeque skills on a Weber Smokey Mountain; a bad-ass bullet shaped barbeque with an internal water pan to generate steam.
Following the competition’s specific rules and guidelines the duo embraced the “no gas” policy and tricked out their kettle DIY style, adding an extra ring and extending the height to fit a pork loin - which was to become a signature dish (with a couple of unusual additions – read on). They soon learned the key to great barbeque is time plus trial and error so, with their family and friends as willing test dummies, they set about trialling different cuts of meat with a bunch of dry rubs.
“There’s no one specific formula,” Margaret says. “Certain ingredients work better with certain cuts of meat. You need to be prepared to trial and fail.”
“As a child I always liked to play with fire,” Matt grins, a glint in his eye. “I never burnt anything down, but I’d happily sit and watch my grandfather burning off his rubbish in the incinerator for hours. It’s a similar thing I think; watching BBQ is just watching things cook.”
Those few months of hard graft paid off with dividends when Southside Smokers took home first place at the first ever Redheads Melbourne Pro BBQ Cook Off for their spread of tomato, honey and cider vinegar glazed beef ribs, pulled pork sliders, pork ribs and porchetta stuffed with salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary and garlic flakes. And what’s more, before their smokers had a chance to cool, the duo received even more exciting news: an invitation to compete at the 25th Annual World Championship Invitational BBQ Competition.
“That was a big deal,” explains Matt. “Heading off to the United States of America to represent Australia, competing against some of the best barbeque pitmasters in the world at one of the most prestigious barbeque competitions in the world...it was a really big deal.”
“Matt and I are really hoping to raise the profile of barbeque competitions in Australia,” Margaret adds, “and get more people interested in the low and slow movement.”
To prepare for the elite event Matt and Margaret purchased their very own Kamado Joe - a bright red ceramic smoker that can grill, sear and smoke, but most importantly, is the spitting image of the cookers used in the US of A. In keeping with the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) competition guidelines, they mastered chicken, pork ribs, Boston butt (pork) and beef brisket (no snags), and an improvised ‘frankenporchetta’. Stitched together using pork belly with a loin stuffed inside, the crazy cut returned for the chef’s choice, a category of the competition for entries that leaned a little more on the wild, anti-established side. When the smoke cleared, Southside Smokers’ ‘frankenporchetta’ finished 10th in its category, and placing 89th overall. Even more importantly, they created a buzz in Tennessee about our Aussie backyard bootleg barbequers.
“I established some strong relationships with some key people at the KCBS, the governing body for competitive barbeque,” Matt says. “They are really keen to get an event up and running in Australia, Melbourne especially.”
Now they’re back on home soil, Southside Smokers are busy experimenting with their bad-ass barbeque equipment and quality cuts of meat. As for the all-important sauces, Matt and Margaret agree that they’re keen to play around with time-proven ingredients like bourbon and rye whiskey, as well as other left-of-centre ingredients. “We’re looking forward to experimenting and finding the right flavours for the right cut of meat for our next barbeque.” Not bad for a couple of Aussies.
Broadsheet and Bulleit Bourbon have partnered to explore the underground culture of American BBQ.