Finger licking deliciousness: it’s everywhere. We check out Melbourne's new masters of low-and-slow smoked meats, and all things rib-related. Bib up...
Words from the pros
What goes into a great rack?
Wood: According to Jim Barry, pitmaster at Smokin’ Barry’s, you want wood that smells delicious and burns slow. “Hickory is the king of woods when it comes to smoking, but it can be really strong and overpowering – and hard or expensive to get. Fruit woods like peach, apple and even pecan are very popular. Even Aussie hardwood is good if it’s dry and very low in sap.” The boys at Burn City Smokers have been messing around with gnarled old grape vines, which produce a sweet smoke, once the acrid outer bark has been burned off.
Technique: If you’re talking beef ribs, the prep is stupidly simple – you just want good, marbled meat, which you liberally rub with salt and pepper. The magic is all in the long, slow smoking process. The smoker is a big barrel with racks inside, and an external heat box which feeds in the warmth and smoke from your fi re. We picture a lot of whittlin’ and harmonica jams during the 8-12 hour downtime, but smokers fret harder than new parents. They’re constantly checking and prodding the coals to keep things an even 250-270 degrees Fahrenheit. Sauces Dry rubs work best – fat leaches out of pork to make things saucy and you can embellish with smoky/vinegary hot sauces post-fact. But keep it simple with beef, says Steve Kimonides of Burn City Smokers – “the meat should speak for itself. You only need something like a light salsa verde to balance the rich fl avours of the rib.”
A word on texture: A lot is made of ribs that fall apart, but that ain’t how they do it Stateside. “I’ve been to Memphis,” says Barry, “and ribs have resitance unless held warming too long.”
Feats of the southern wild: The best of the US
Here's where you can get US-style ribs: on demand, on wheels, on the double
Burn City Smokers
Steve Kimonides and Raphael Guthrie are men to trust with meats. Guthrie’s dad used to barbecue in a wheelbarrow so he could move the party with the sun. Kimonides drinks Fernet Branca by the glass. They’re a roving operation, towing their competition-grade smoker (from Georgia, USA) wherever there’s a need for red gum and grape vine scented meats. These boys know flavour – they’re both sommeliers at Italian restaurant Il Bacaro in the city – so right now they’re experimenting with anything – ducks, ox tail, tomatoes. But Kimonides is all about the beef. “Pork is malleable, forgiving, accepting. Beef highlights your weaknesses, allows you nowhere to hide from your mistakes,” he tells us. Beef ribs from O’Connor farm get a simple salt and pepper jacket and 12 hours in confinement. Take yours with pickled jalapeños and a straight back.
Dave Barran and Paul Hammond are versatile guys. Barran designed their wood-fired smoker from scratch, and the pair do a sideline in leather aprons if you’re a hard-out nose-to-tail fan. It’s at the Worker’s Club where you’ll find them applying Texan barbecue techniques to their meats, with their own UK flavours thrown in. The beef rib is classic pound of salt-and-peppered flesh, but we’re all about the lamb – meaty, pink and sweet with smoke, they’re lifted with a minty vinaigrette and put up a fight against your teeth. Get them with ’tater salad turned Scottish with whisky worked through the creamy dressing and toasted oats on top.
Fancy Hank’s has had people chasing a smoke trail from pub to bowls-club carpark since 2012. These days, you can get your beef shorties and barbecued pork ribs on at their set-up outside the Mercat in Victoria Markets. If you’re lucky, there might even be some banjo action. But these suckers, charged by the 100g, don’t need musical embellishment. Not when there’s a rainbow of sauces to consider. A coffee-molasses number has a savoury charred edge and pours out thick like delicious tar. Or there’s the piquant punch of a vinegary Kansas-style sauce. Load up with garlicky pickled okra, beers and fluffy cornbread (it’s the sweeter kind) and claim victory over Saturday.
Smokin’ Barry’s Food
Truck Jim White is pushin’ all-American deliciousness on wheels. A house-made apple ’slaw is the main concession to vegetarians at this food truck. He starts his pork rack with a paprika, sugar and herb driven dry rub, and then lets five hours in a hickory smoke filled hot box do the rest. The slow cooking sees the fat leach out and mix with the rub to form a caramelised sugary glaze. Amp ’em up further with Texas-style vinegar-chilli hot sauce.
Best of the rest
Other meats, other cuisines: get a good ribbing at these bars and eateries
Debate rages over lamb ribs. There are those who argue the fatty cut provides too much flab, not enough chew, while others hold that being able to pluck clean bones out of tender meat is the task your hands were built for. At Ombra, the natural wine bar and snackery arm of Grossi Florentino, they conquer all. Lamb ribs are separated then braised in a stock to render the fat out, before being chilled, flash fried, and coated in parsley, lemon and salt. The result is crisp, crunchy skin and tender meat, with no flubber.
We’re big fans of the chicken rib. It’s actually a juicy cut about the size of half a wing, taken from the scapula, not the tiny rib cage. For some pretty hardcore saltandpepper action with fresh garlic and chilli, Rose Garden (435 Elizabeth St, Melbourne) does a banging lunch set that is a handful of salty, flashfried ribs on rice. They might even throw a ladle of duck juice on the rice to moisten it. If the need comes calling at 3am, you can rely on China Bar to deliver on the high fat, soft meat and strident chilli.
Cured and smoked pork ribs
Hanging up among the salumi at Tina’s Deli at Queen Victoria Markets you’ll find whole racks of cured and smoked pork ribs. The meat is brined as usual, and then hung up for cold smoking, rendering it deep crimson, and really firm. It’s practically jerky on the bone. Do whatever you want with it – throw into soups or soften and reheat and eat as is. We just like to have them hanging around as an emergency snack for the zombie apocalypse.
Tira di asado
It’s the cut Argentinians can’t get enough of. You’re looking at a cross-section of beef short ribs, so you get a long piece of meat polkadotted with ovals of bone. At San Telmo, they get crisped up on the giant charcoal-fuelled parilla grill that equally crisps the chefs working it, cut into little segments for manhandling and served with a bone-handled knife. Slick them with chimichurri – oregano, garlic, parsley, vinegar, dried chilli and oil – the fix-it-all flavour saver of South America.
After hosting the Bluebonnet team’s smoked meats for a few months, Dave Kerr has turned the whole back room of nautical dive bar the Beaufort into Ike’s Rack Shack. They’re doing triple-stack boards of lamb, bourbon-glazed pork and beef ribs – a whole pound of certifieddelicious beef, clinging for dear life to a foot-long bone – on a competition-grade smoker, with solid advice from Bluebonnet’s Chris Terlikar. But they’re also bringing it for the vegan crowd. Sticks of fried taro stand in for bones, while a quinoa, jalapeño, corn and vegan cheese mixture forms the body. It’s the tastiest fake going.