New Zealand

‘A flavour you can’t replicate’: Competitive BBQ heats up in NZ

Blood, Sweat and Beers competitive barbecue team.

Blood, Sweat and Beers, a competitive barbecue team.
Photo: RNZ / Luka Forman

Competitive barbecuing is firing up in New Zealand, with more Kiwis spending their weekends perfecting their charcoal- or wood-smoked brisket and ribs, and testing themselves against other keen cooks.  

At one such cook-off, amid clouds of smoke and delicious aromas, there are teams tinkering with slow-cooked cuts of meat and trying to create the perfect smoked chicken. 

They’re members of the New Zealand Barbecue Alliance, a fast-growing group of grill enthusiasts who take the practice very seriously, even competing against others.  

James Takarangi, whose team is called Blood, Sweat and Beers, reckoned this kind of slow, smoky cooking was unbeatable.

“It’s a flavour that you can’t replicate in an oven – you have to do it over charcoal and wood.”

For husband and wife duo Nikita and Scott, it was all about good food and good company. 

“We love feeding people, we love hanging out, and cooking barbecue. We love ribs, and probably eat too many but… it’s all good food right? 

It is an expensive hobby, with top-of-the-line equipment costing thousands of dollars. But Scott said it was all worth it. 

“We’ve put everything into it because we enjoy it. It’s our happy place and if you can’t spend money on happiness, you’re going the wrong way.” 

Carl Grainger, who helps to organise the New Zealand Barbecue Alliance cookoffs, said competitive barbecuing had caught fire in the last few years. 

“Back in 2017 when we first got involved, just trying to find charcoal was a challenge. But now when you go into a hardware store, most of the barbecues there now are woodfired.”

Grainger admitted competitive barbecuing had often been male-dominated. 

“You come along to these competitions [and] there’s a lot of guys in black T-shirts; there’s a lot of beards.” 

But Nikita said that was all changing. 

“Honestly, there are a lot of girls coming into it now, and we actually kick arse,” Nikita laughs. 

After the teams submit their smoked chicken, the judges give their verdict. 

A competitive cook checks the temperature of his team's smoked chicken.

A competitive cook checks the temperature of his team’s smoked chicken.
Photo: RNZ / Luka Forman

Among them is Glenn Watson, who explains they only eat one bite from each team to make their decision. 

“We’re looking for really good consistency, really good taste. But the ultimate ethos is the meat should speak for itself. Anything else, whether it’s a rub or sauce, is in addition to that.”   

Once the food’s been judged, they are allowed to eat the leftovers, but Glenn said this could be a trap for young players.  

“Don’t eat everything on your plate – that one bite is absolutely vital. Meat sweats are real.”

Regardless of the judges decisions, Scott Matthews said he would be happy as long as he was barbecuing. 

“At the end of the day, a bad barbecue meal is better than a good, not barbecue meal.”

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