The best pitmaster is only as good as their meat. That’s why, when you’re planning a cook up or a hoedown, the man to speak to is Chris Watson.
Watson ran the kitchen at Cutler & Co before he decided to down tools and trade his cotton chef’s whites for a leather butcher’s apron at Meatsmith. Having a view from both sides – that is, a deep understanding of meat both before and after it’s cooked – Watson is in a unique position to advise on the best cuts for barbeque.
Every mountaineer wants to scale Everest – even if they struggle up Collins Street in a stiff wind. Likewise, most barbeque chefs want to summit the brisket, barbeque’s most troublesome cut, before they can rub two sticks together.
Watson advises aspiring chefs to think twice before dropping a couple hundred bucks on an eight-kilo disaster. “A brisket isn’t a great option unless you’ve got 15 people coming around to your house (which probably isn’t happening right now),” he suggests. “It’s pretty easy to do some damage to a brisket, and end up with dry spots or hot spots or drying out underneath. A whole brisket is way less forgiving than a rack of ribs or a whole pork shoulder.”
Let’s circle back to that rack of ribs Watson mentioned: “In terms of beef, I would always direct people to short ribs,” he says. “If it’s you and a couple of mates, a plate of ribs can serve three or four people. It’s got bones in it, so ultimately with short rib you’re cooking it to the same temperature as brisket, but the bones on the underside will protect the meat.”
The sure-fire winner for a disaster-free barbeque is pork. Thanks to their sedentary lifestyle and generous feeding regimen, pigs have a wonderful layer of delicious fat that protects the soft pink meat from drying out while cooking.
“Pork shoulder is great. It’s got bones in it, so it’s more forgiving than smoking brisket and there’s more fat coverage,” Watson says. “Recently I smoked a whole pork neck. Shoulder’s tasty, but some of the muscles are long and stringy. But because the muscle structure in the neck is much finer, it’s got a more even distribution of fat. It’s a bit smaller, and it’s more manageable. And it’s fucking delicious.”
That’s hard to argue with. Meanwhile, Watson advises that pork is an ingredient that can handle a sauce (like Bull’s-Eye BBQ Sauce). “If you’re talking about pork in an American style, often a rub will have a lot of sugar in it or there’ll be a really sweet sauce with maple syrup. And with an Asian vibe, those sweeter sauces work really well – whether it’s honey or hoi-sin or whatever. Pork’s great for that, the combination of smoke and sweet.”
Marinades like Bull’s Eye Sweet Whiskey Glaze specifically pair well with pork. “Pork really pops with a sweeter flavour profile,” Warson says. “I always add a little sugar to spice rubs for pork not just for the flavour, but to help the formation of the ‘bark’ - the crispy and slightly chewy outer crust that's a hallmark of correct barbecue technique. To add a final layer of flavour, glazing with a sweet sauce spiked with whisky helps bring it all together.”
Not all chooks are born equal. For instance, the rare-breed birds stocked by Meatsmith taste better than the chickens you might find at the back of the fridge in the servo.
“Obviously, you want to use free-range chicken, something with decent fat coverage. Some of the different breeds have fattier skin, which is good,” Watson says. “Chicken, in terms of barbeque, is really generous. It takes on flavour really well. When I’m cooking barbeque, I tend to do just salt and pepper, but with chicken I think a more complex rub is appropriate – more glazing and sauce, that sort of stuff.”
The problem with chicken, however, is the breasts, which can become dry and tasteless if not cooked correctly. But Watson has a solution.
“I always do whole birds,” he says, “but I actually butterfly them and semi-debone the legs. The thing with chicken is that the legs need more than the breast. Generally, by the time you cook the legs, the breasts are horrid and dry. So I split them and remove the spines, lay them open and cut the hipbone, but leave all of the rib plate intact. Because the leg meat is exposed it cooks more quickly, but it’s still protected. I find that doing that you get both leg and breast perfect.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Bull’s Eye BBQ Sauce available at major supermarkets in the sauce aisle.