Pleased to meat you: Wes (Hillbilly) Griffiths talks barbecue
Oz pitmaster Wes (Hillbilly) Griffiths is coming to Auckland to run demos at upcoming barbecue festival, Meatstock. He chews the fat here with Bite
Wes (Hillbilly) Griffiths really loves barbecue. To prove it he has the word tattooed across his knuckles. It was done on one of his many trips to Austin, the home of Texas barbecue, but even there the tattoo artist was surprised.
“‘There’s someone here who wants barbecue tattooed on his knuckles,’ he called out, and the other guy there replied: ‘Why don’t you just get beer tattooed, Man?’
“They thought I meant BBQ but I am very fussy about how it’s spelled.” And that’s barbecue, four letters on each hand, with a ‘c’, not a ‘q’.
Wes is a purist. He doesn’t take shortcuts when it comes to meat and fire. After working with fellow pitmaster Anton Hughes at Vic’s Meat Market in Sydney’s Pyrmont, the pair opened Newtown barbecue restaurant Bovine and Swine last year. It won Best Cheap Eat in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Awards for 2017.
It takes passion and skill to arrive at work at 5am and, on a typical day in the weekend, smoke 180kg of brisket, lamb, pork and chicken slowly over 12 hours, barbecue it all and sell it to the salivating hordes who queue up at the door to get their hands on those large, charry, smoky platefuls.
“Depending on the day, there can be big queues outside,” Wes says, “and there’s only limited seating, so we do a fair bit of takeout, but generally people come in, they order, they eat and they go. They know how it works.”
Bovine and Swine closes when the meat runs out.
“I like to stick with the essential-style barbecue,” says Wes, who was drawn to the flame in Austin before going on to work in several restaurants there to hone his skills.
“There are those out there who like to chevy things up a little bit. That’s cool but, for me, the simplicity, the basic principles are where it’s at. And the basic principles are fire, meat and seasoning.”
Aucklanders will get to see, and hopefully chew the fat with, the man himself next February when Wes arrives here, along with Moerlando “Big Moe” Cason from BBQ Pitmasters, to demonstrate and run classes at two-day festival, Meatstock. The inaugural Auckland event follows Meatstock’s launch in Sydney earlier this year.
The name says it all — Meatstock promises to be a carnivore’s dream, with food trucks, restaurants and a barbecue competition, along with generous side orders of beer and music.
Wes has no idea what will be on his menu yet, nor indeed what wood he will be using in New Zealand. In Sydney it’s ironbark, a native hardwood, that goes into the grunty 2.5 metre x 750mm Texas barbecue the former mechanic built himself.
Brisket, then pork, are the most popular orders and brisket is Wes’s favourite meat to cook.
“Brisket is very complex. It consists of two separate muscles and you need to cook it the right way. It takes a fair bit of patience and skill. I also love to cook whole hog for the fun of it. We generally barbecue forequarters in the restaurant, not whole hog. We take our Radar Hillhog cooker to events. It’s an impressive thing.
“Depending upon the day, I really enjoy eating chopped hog and a good piece of brisket and our housemade sausage as well. Essentially, for Texas-style barbecue, a dry rub is used. For other styles, it can be a marinade or sauces applied doing cooking. For our ribs in the shop I put a wet rub on them and another coating later on, but the brisket is just salt and pepper [served with house-made barbecue sauce on the side]. We use a flavoured dry rub on chicken and beef short rib and lamb.
“Generally, I can’t eat competition barbecue,” Wes admits. “It doesn’t sit well with me, but that’s okay. There’s too much other stuff on it, whether it’s a sauce or injection. Too much added flavour, not letting the beef speak for itself. In a competition you’ve got to wow them with one bite and that’s it, but with my sort of food you sit down and eat a big plate of it.
“I taste nearly every cut I cook, to ensure it’s right. Essentially I don’t have plates and plates of it in one sitting, but I probably do have plates and plates over the course of the week!”
And, no, he doesn’t rush to the salad bowl after long days at Bovine and Swine (open Thursday to Sunday), and says that occasionally he still barbecues at home using his pit barrel Weber. Whatever he cooks over, it will never be gas. “Never,” he says and that’s as far as that conversation is ever likely to go.
For inspiration for your own outdoor grills, see our barbecue recipe collection.
Wes’s tips for wood or charcoal barbecuing
- Buy the best quality meat you can afford. Season it well. For beef, just salt and pepper.
- Take your time. Be patient — that’s the biggest thing you can do.
- Learn how to control the heat.
Meatstock, February 25 and 26, 2017, ASB Showgrounds, Auckland. See here for more information and to buy tickets.