The secret to barbecue isn’t in the technique. It’s in the ingredients. In partnership with Bulls-Eye Sauce, Broadsheet gets some expert advice from Meatsmith butcher, Chris Watson.
The best pitmaster is only as good as her meat. That’s why, when you’re planning a cook-up or a hoe-down, the man to speak to is Chris Watson.
Watson ran the kitchen at Cutler & Co before he decided to down tools, trading 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 barbecue.
Every mountaineer wants to scale Everest - even if they struggle up Collins Street in a stiff wind. Likewise, most barbecuers want to summit the brisket, bbq’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 fifteen 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 it dries 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 barbecue 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,” explains Watson. “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 while pork and chicken usually demand a dry-rub, pork’s an ingredient that can take the sauce.
“If you’re talking about pork in an American style, often a rub will have a lot of sugar on them or there’ll be a really sweet sauce with maple syrup. But, 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...”
Watson trails off into silence.
Not all chooks are born equal. For instance, the rare-breed birds (who weren’t tortured) 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 haven fattier skin, which is good,” Watson advises. “Chicken, in terms of barbecue, is really generous. It takes on flavour really well. When I’m cooking barbecue, 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, are the breasts. For time immemorial, barbecuands have suffered through dry, tasteless ‘white meat’ in order to enjoy the delicious, fatty bum. But Watson has a solution.
“The other thing that I’d say with chicken - and everyone’s got their own way - in my opinion, I always do whole birds, but i actually butterfly it and semi-debone the legs,” he says. “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 hip-bone, but leave all of the rib-plate in tact. 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.”