Welcome back to: Chew the Fat. This regular series will feature interviews with a range of folk involved in the BBQ scene as well as anything to do with my other loves: bacon, dude-food and beer.
This edition features Jay Beaumont, President of the Australasian Barbecue Alliance.
Jay is the creator and organiser of the Port Macquarie Blues & BBQ Festival, the largest national BBQ Championship ever held in Australia.
On the 28th of March the Port Macquarie BBQ competition will be celebrating its first birthday, running for the second time; and with over 45 teams registered to compete it’s sure to be an amazing day.
Living on the other side of the country it’s not possible for me to get over there this year but Jay was kind enough to allow me to ask him a few questions about the competition, the Alliance and all things BBQ.
How did the Port Macquarie Blues & BBQ Festival come about?
I had travelled to the states a few times and subsequently fell in love with BBQ. I thought that Australia was ready and jumped in, without even knowing what events had happened in the past or any organisations that already existed in Australia.
I found all that out the hard way but still managed to host a competition with 20 teams, which became the biggest barbecue competition ever held in Australia.
I have a good friend, Simon Luke who manages a tourist park and with the support of our local council it all came together.
Jess Pryles of Burger Mary takes us behind the scenes at last year’s comp.
As a result of organising the Port Macquarie BBQ Competition you decided to form the Australasian BBQ Alliance – what was the main driver in forming this organisation?
In putting together the original competition I approached a few organisations including KCBS to sanction the event. KCBS were really approachable and very professional.
I was committed to having the biggest Barbecue Competition in Australia and needed to make sure it was judged fairly and professionally.
But there was some sticking points. Lamb for one wasn’t included. Plus as a promoter you had the added expense to fly a head judge out from the states for each competition.
I decided that Australia wasn’t quite ready for KCBS and designed the whole judging formula and process from scratch. I took some cues from the US style and added my own touches, including allowing all sorts of alternative cuts that wouldn’t be allowed in the US.
I was convinced that I got it right and the results speak for themselves.
Our overall winner from last year was the Meat Sweats, who went on to compete at the Jack and become the highest placed international team. Plus our second place team has since won the Melbourne KCBS event, which I think proves we had a good judging process in place, right from the start.
After Port Macquarie a group of us got together and decided it would be great if barbecue competitions could grow in Australia by having a local association, that was more focused on the grass roots and tailored to Australian needs.
We improved on the process that was used in Port Macquarie with Jess Pryles help and experience, and that’s the process we will be using in 2015.
But the big thing is, we really wanted to grow an Australian community of ‘low and slow’ and we are doing that. 5,000+ fans on Facebook. 1500 members on our group on Facebook. 600 members on our website and 90 judges on our database. We’ve done dozens of newsletters and this year we’ll have more than a few ABA accredited events in 2015.
We’re putting in the hard yards to build Barbecue in Australia and we hope teams and sponsors can support what we’re doing.
Prior to competitions and associations what kick started your love of barbecue?
In 2008 I travelled to the states and some friends threw us a party, which they had catered by a local Barbecue restaurant in Denver. At the party there was all this amazing smoked Pulled Pork, Links and Brisket. They also had a bunch of different sauces and all were amazing.
My idea of Barbecue before then was the same as most Australians. T-Bones, sausages, chops, rissoles … all cooked over a gas grill.
I couldn’t believe that I had never tasted anything like it before and from that moment on I was addicted.
For those have never heard of competition BBQ – how does a BBQ competition work?
Teams compete in categories that can include Beef, Lamb, Pork, Pork Ribs and Chicken. All teams are given 9“ hand-in Boxes in which they place the meat. They are given about 12-18 hours to cook, depending on the protein and the meat is served to the judges who score on Taste, Texture and Appearance.
There is a algorithm that is used to weight certain scores for importance to form the winning places.
All the scores from each category are added up to form the overall winner.
Do the flavours differ to restaurant BBQ?
Yes I think so. A typical ABA judge has to taste 24-30 portions in a day. So needless to say, they don’t eat all of everything. They take a bite and if they like it they might take a few more.
So teams really have to pack a punch when it comes to flavour to get the judges attention, without going overboard. Some BBQ the judges might score high in competition might not be so palatable after eating a whole plate, but that’s the difference between what you might get in a restaurant and as a judge.
Flavours tend to be a bit more in your face, bolder and sweeter to get the judges attention.
What are yor top 3 tips for someone entering their first competition?
- Don’t be intimidated. It’s ok to not win your first event, or not show up with the biggest and best equipment. Some of the best barbecue from last year was cooked on a UDS and Kettle.
- Feel free to walk around and talk to the other teams, most if not all are really friendly, happy to share and give out some friendly advice.
- Get some sleep. A lot of teams get caught up in the atmosphere, drink a bit much and by the morning they haven’t had much sleep. It always shows in the BBQ they end up serving to the judges. Get some sleep!
Favourite BBQ food?
I’m a big fan of beef ribs. Done right I can’t go past them.
The competition BBQ scene in Australia is still in its infancy – what are some things we can learn from the US BBQ competition scene and what things should we do differently?
I think one big thing is the professionalism. The KCBS sanction a crazy amount of events each year and manage to do it professionally. So that’s what we’ll be aiming towards.
It’s important to note there are around 40 sanctioning bodies in Barbecue. All do things slightly differently.
As to what we here in Australia should do differently. We need to embrace the local culture, build up a local fan base, embrace social media, provide regular Australian based newsletters and support events big and small. We need to support barbecue at the grass roots and build up everyones knowledge and understanding of competitive Barbecue here in Australia.
Any teams who go on to compete in the USA will be well ‘acclimatised’. We’ve been very proactive in trying to educate our member base and you can see all the effort we have done on our website.
But a few things are not negotiable. Lamb must be on the agenda, it’s an Australian mainstay and is amazing on the smoker.
And we should have local contest representatives based here in Australia, who can sanction and support smaller events that will grow the sport.
There are already 30 odd teams in Australia with a great understanding of competitive Barbecue that could hold their own against US teams, but we want to grow that number.
If we can get all that right, I think it’s achievable to have over 100 teams registered to compete in the future.
After the competition is done and dusted what’s in store for the rest of 2015?
There is a few more confirmed events on the ABA calendar, Creekside BBQ Competition for one and a few more in the works, which is exciting.
A big thank you to everyone who has supported the ABA.