The ever-popular Burleigh BBQ competition is back in 2017, with North Burleigh Beach playing host to a round of the National Australian Barbecue Championships. This year, organisers have arranged for US barbecue celebrity and multiple championship winner Andy Groneman of Smoke on Wheels to run some masterclasses for eager smoke and ‘cue fans. We shot him a few questions ahead of his trip Down Under.
Do you notice a big difference in style and technique between Australian and American BBQ?
I would say initially there was a large difference in style and technique; There were no cuts such as the briskets, butts, and ribs readily available, and the woods available were also different… it was a totally different scene than US BBQ. Aussie BBQ culture was more of a grilling culture – amazing sausages, and the like, but you wouldn’t find a full brisket or pork shoulder unless you were having it cut to order at the butcher.
Over the last few years it has gotten easier to find cuts, and the best local woods have made themselves known. Things like briquettes have given way to lump charcoal, and even “hot and fast” style BBQ has made its way into the AU BBQ Culture. So lots of growth in just a short time. The Competition scene continues to grow; and you see parallels to some of the same issues we have had over the years. And some of the same benefits grow, such as having local BBQ organisations and events bringing communities together.
How did you first get into competition BBQ, and how long have you been doing it?
I guess I am what you could call a “2nd Generation”. I started by helping my Dad, Uncle and their BBQ team – the HoDeDo’s , to spend time with Dad I am thinking 1991-92 is when I actually started doing things with the team. By 1996, I was wanting to cook more than the HoDeDo’s could schedule, so Smoke on Wheels was born. So that would put me at around 25 years of BBQing!
Without giving away too many trade secrets, can you tell us just one “must do” when it comes to making the perfect rib?
For the best ribs, you have to peel the membrane off the inside of the slab. Without doing that, you will keep them from taking on all the smoke and seasoning they can. That membrane is also tough, and won’t chew when they are done cooking. So take the extra step and remove it before you cook.
You’re a 30+ time US Grand Champion. That’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears put into competition BBQ. Where do you think you get your drive and passion for it?
Once you get that first award you are hooked; you want to hear your name called for a better one, then eventually you want to hear it as the LAST name they call – the winner. It means you did well in all categories – didn’t bomb in any one. That is the hardest thing to do, cook all four categories well, and make all four sets of judges feel like your food was exceptional. No one shows up wanting to lose! What keeps the passion going though, for me, is the people. All of the other teams, organisers, and random people you meet. We’ve build a worldwide network of friends that I couldn’t have without our BBQ Adventure. And after doing classes for the last decade, it’s almost more exciting to hear our students names called! I love to see people that we have helped move up the chain and get the awards they were hunting for.
Can you tell us a little about the classes you’ll be running while you’re here?
We are going to have three classes – and the goal is to help folks learn how to not only cook great BBQ but do it in a way that will produce consistent results for them.
We’ll talk about fire management, flavour directions you can go, smoke (and how to use it), and even some of the science – why the meat does what it does… for example, “the stall”. Different methods, and how they impact the final product (lots of ways to get good BBQ, no “one way” is just right). In one of our classes – we’ll be looking at how to drive some volumes, and maintain quality and consistency — in addition to trying to manage process to keep the labour time and food processes in check.
Are you planning on holidaying a little on the Gold Coast as well?
I hope to get a little time to check out the Gold Coast – I like to “travel like a local” when I can — so I am trusting Greg to point me in the right direction. I am pretty low key, so looking forward to the cool vibe in Burleigh.
I understand that your wife and children like to join you in cooking. Do you think you have some future BBQ champions in the making?
I can brag on them already! My daughters have a competition team called “Reckless & Brave BBQ” and compete in the “pro” division. They have won category calls, and have both won youth events. My youngest want the American Royal Kid’s Que, and my oldest won the Junior World Championships in Lake Placid, NY competing against 16 yr olds at age 11! Now I just have to keep them from beating me… I couldn’t live it down if they did. (ha)! And my wife is the better half of Smoke on Wheels for sure. She keeps the wheels on the bus!
What is your favourite meat, cut and style of cooking to eat?
There isn’t one… So many good cuts and ways to eat them. From a hot grilled Korean style cut short rib to a smoked and beer braised full short rib! A reverse seared culotte steak… Pork Carnitas… fresh BC Spot Prawns. Too much good food to be able to pick just one! And one of my favourite dishes when over there is a roasted pork belly with that amazing cracklin’.
Burleigh BBQ runs over two smokin’ days on 5 and 6 August at North Burleigh Heads Beach. Andy Groneman will be running a Rib Academy, Brisket and Pork Shoulder Academy and a 6 hour BBQ boot camp for local Caterers and Restaurateurs. To grab tickets for the masterclasses, visit Gold Coast Tickets or the Burleigh BBQ Facebook page.