Big Boy BBQ
BLACKENED snag fans, hang back - this is barbecue as you don't know it. At Big Boy BBQ, American barbecue aficionado Lance Rosen slow-cooks meats in smokers on the premises, where burning hickory pellets create gentle heat and fragrant smoke. The low, indirect heat creates succulent, tender meat that would make any pit boss proud. Saucy ''pulled'' chicken and house-made pastrami sandwiches are tempting, but don't go past the Kansas City-style dry-rubbed ribs. A traditional spice mix (featuring brown sugar and paprika) forms a tasty crust, while the meat is smoky and luscious. At $29 for a half rack, they don't come cheap, so grab some buddies and order up a good-value platter or head in before 3pm for a $21 lunch special.
Big Boy BBQ, 764 Glenhuntly Road, Caulfield South, 9523 7410; half rack ribs $29; ribs lunch special $21, bigboybbq.com.au
AS THEY tend a mammoth's worth of meat strewn across a gargantuan iron grill, it is almost a surprise the happy Latino chappies at Senor BBQ are not wearing animal skins. This is hungry-caveman territory. Fired by glowing charcoal underneath, the bounty might include traditional Argentinian cuts such as slow-cooked beef brisket, chicken wings or statuesque chorizo bangers. The beef ribs are ever-popular. A small serve gets you four chargrilled hunks of meat on the bone, with plenty of crisp, yellow fat curling around the muscle. They are only lightly seasoned, so perk them up with dollops of tangy, parsley-rich chimichurri sauce. While gatherer types might find Senor BBQ heavy going, hungry hunters will be in protein paradise.
193 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 9531 3138; beef ribs $12, argentineanbbq.com
IF YOU are planning to go to a show straight after Wooga, be warned. You will smell so tempting you might find a curious neighbour nibbling your shoulder right in the middle of intermission. This wood-lined meat cave is heady with the scent of sizzling beef, grilled at your table on a brazier full of white-hot charcoal. Nimble, black-clad staff will help you grill your own butterflied beef rib, unfurled from the bone like a pennant, as well as marinated topside and brisket. There's unlimited banchan or side dishes, such as just-cooked bean sprouts or delicate cabbage salad, plus warming bean paste soup full of chunky tofu and vegetables. While Wooga specialises in barbecued beef, sister restaurant Donwoori next door excels at charcoal-grilled pork.
Wooga, 270 Victoria Street, North Melbourne, 9328 1221; banquet for two $39
Oriental Charcoal BBQ
WITH a spread of salads and cumin-rubbed skewered meats, Footscray's Oriental Charcoal BBQ turns assumptions about Chinese food on their head. This is fare from north-east China, where wheat and potatoes dominate and dishes are simply seasoned with vinegar and soy. Order unusual cold dishes such as tomato slices with sugar, but don't miss the skewer menu. Delicate silver spikes come threaded with meat, vegetables, and even sliced steamed buns rubbed with garlicky seasoning. The lamb is the stand-out - small pieces burst with fatty crackle - while vegetarians will be content with a good range of vegies including green capsicum, onion and enoki mushrooms. Don't miss the house-made chilli oil on each table.
Oriental Charcoal BBQ, 110 Hopkins Street, Footscray, 9687 0421; skewers $1.50-$2.50
YOU have heard of a sushi bar, where you perch and watch the chef carve jewel-like slivers of seafood. Well, head to Maedaya to experience a sumiyaki bar, where Japanese skewers are cooked in front of you over a superheated charcoal grill. The house special is tsukune, or minced chicken balls, threaded onto stubby bamboo skewers and sprinkled with seasoning (perhaps garlic chips or spicy miso mayonnaise). There's much-loved yakitori, or grilled chicken with jammy teriyaki sauce; or branch out with yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls). Head upstairs for yakiniku, DIY Japanese barbecue on a tabletop charcoal grill. Attentive staff will happily offer sake-matching tips that might include authentic unfiltered sake, served chilled and with a pleasantly viscous, soothing texture.
Maedaya, 400 Bridge Road, Richmond, 9428 3918; skewers $2.60-$6.80