If you take a trip to Texas, America’s rouge state, there’s one particular cuisine you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid: barbeque. Now I’m not talking about buying a few dozen snags from Coles, chucking them on the barbie and slathering them in dead horse. I’m talking smoked brisket, beer-can chicken and sticky ribs, complimented by a selection of piquant sauces.
Melbourne is slowly acquainting itself with this Texan tradition, and catering company Smokestack Lightning BBQ is happy to play host.
A trio of barbeque lovers, Smokestack’s founders Pat Lillicrap, Chris Stockley and Nick Keeling hail from Melbourne, Sydney and Austin, Texas, respectively. They bonded over their appetite for smoked meats and have spent years perfecting the art of cooking brisket, ribs and chicken Texan style – that is, cooked in a ‘pit’ or Texan smoker overnight then transported and served at private functions across Melbourne.
Barbeque is generous and traditional; it’s Texas on a plate, except there is no plate. Instead, meat ordered by the pound is served on butchers’ paper with a stack of white bread, dill pickles, coleslaw, potato salad and sauce. The Smokestack boys aren’t sure that Melbourne is quite ready for the rustic presentation, but they’re certain this town will drool over their meats and sauces.
The basic tenet of the barbeque belt – which runs through Austin and into Texas hill country ¬– is that the flavours should incorporate smokiness, tang, sweetness and a little spice, and Smokestack stays true to this creed.
However, the most popular component of barbeque is brisket and finding this American cut (taken from the breast or lower chest of the cow) in Melbourne proved to be more difficult than expected.
“Brisket messes with Australian cuts,” says Keeling, the American of the group. “We had to do our research and show a butcher how to cut it.”
That obliging butcher is now the boys’ supplier, and brisket is a staple on their menu. It’s prepared “100 per cent Texan style,” according to Keeling. The meat is marinated in a “secret” rub, then cooked in a pit for 14 hours, during which time it must kept at a steady and moderate temperature. By the time it’s ready to be served, the brisket is succulent, smoky and subtly spiced.
Then there’s the slow-cooked, spice-rubbed, beer-can chicken, which might break with tradition (poultry doesn’t have much of a place on the white paper plates of a traditional Texan barbeque) but is a guaranteed crowd favourite wherever the boys serve. But for the punters with a predilection for pork, a sweet and sticky serving of Carolinian-style ribs, cooked for six to eight hours, will surely satisfy.
No southern barbeque is complete without sauce and this is another Texan tradition the boys have brought to Melbourne.
“Barbeque sauces should complement the rubs that the meat has been marinated in,” says Keeling. “And you’ve got to pour the sauce all over the meat. I’ve noticed that in Australia people don’t like a lot of sauce on their meat.”
The boys expect this attitude to change once the locals sample their three homemade sauces: Bold (their traditional sauce, which incorporates the four main flavour elements of barbeque), Carolina (a sweet and sour-style sauce that sets off the pulled pork) and for those who like a bit more spice, the Chipotle (which sings with smoked jalapenos as its base).
So if you’ve got a hankering for something you can really sink your teeth into, the southern charms of Smokestack Lightning BBQ just might be for you. And at $20 a head for meat and sides – coleslaw, potato salad (Keeling’s mum’s recipe), pickles and more – served up in your backyard, you’re in for a treat.