Butchers at the Australian Meat Emporium take their protein seriously. So seriously, in fact, that their days off are filled with more meat, but of the slow-cooked, smoky variety.
The Alexandria butchery will field a barbecue team alongside fellow contenders Scotch & Smoke from the northern beaches at this weekend's Meatstock festival, a homage to all things barbecue, barbers, bands, bourbon, beer, and, dare we say, blokes.
Fifty barbecue teams will be competing in the event's cook off, with groups flying in from across the region with their smokers, tongs and grills in tow – or as much as long-distance travel will allow: the Singaporean team is not able to bring its meat into Australia and the Perth contenders cannot cross state borders with their favourite wood chips. Twenty butchers and 15 barbers will also carve and chop in competitions at the Sydney Olympic Park site.
Best in show is likely to go to four-time world barbecue champion and undisputed global 'cue king, Tuffy Stone, from Richmond, Virginia who will not compete but will deliver cooking demonstrations to the crowd of 10,000 over Saturday and Sunday.
The Cool Smoke "pitmaster", a classically-trained French chef, says interest in meats slowly cooked over wood has exploded in the past decade. Over the summer, Sydney has at least three boutique festivals dedicated to the art of barbecued or cured meat, a trend that neatly curtails with craft beer, long beards and all things hipster. But Stone believes the fascination taps into something a little deeper.
"I think the reason why, in such a fast-paced, immediate gratification day-in-age, we're not waiting for letters in the mail anymore, it's a text, a tweet, an email. When you light a fire and cook barbecue, it's a time when you slow down a bit," he told the Herald.
The Australasian Barbecue Alliance, the only sanctioning body for competitive barbecuing in Australia, has "opened" the ancient cooking technique to include Asian flavours, lamb and seafood said Stone. With traditional barbecue centred upon less expensive cuts, however, part of the challenge is to coax the best from even the humblest meat. When done properly, the results should be meltingly, smokily tender, with an aroma that is unmistakable.
"I do think that barbecue brings a spirit," he said, "we can all think of someone cooking on the grill – or barbie, here – and someone burning some chicken. It connects to memories, family and friends – and it makes the whole block smell so good."