While health-conscious dietary trends continue to emerge and food fads come and go, a large portion of your diners are still on the hunt for a hearty steak. That’s why meat lovers are driving chefs to create fresh, exciting twists on their proteins.
True charcoal grilling is returning to favour due to superior, smoky flavour and crusty caramelisation. Perfect for full-flavoured sirloin, grilled chicken, roast pork or seared wagyu, more venues are installing charcoal-fired grills and rotisseries alongside the usual hot-plate.
The biggest meaty move continues towards designed-to-share meat cuts. Large rib-eye, T-bone and tomahawk cuts are replacing the 200-250 gram fillet, as they produce a better result and bang for the buck, when cooked on a larger scale. "Chefs have embraced that eating steak isn't about individual serves, because that means compromising on quality," Anthony Puharich, chief executive of Vic's Meat, who supplies beef to many of Australia's best restaurants, recently told goodfood.com.au. "28 to 30 months of age is the right amount of time to let cattle mature [and develop flavour] and butchers can't cut an animal that size into small serves." Even interesting large non-primaries, such as lamb shoulder or pork neck are hitting the table as filling share-plates. And creative sides and sauces make the perfect finishing touch.
Well ahead of the hot-smoking curve were the Porteño boys, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate, who fired up more than a decade ago with their Argentinian-inspired pit barbecue. Based in Sydney’s Surry Hills they have not only inspired with their meat methods, their sauces and pickles are hot, too.
In Brisbane, the newest arrival on the scene is Proof BBQ & Booze at Windsor. This is a pitmaster’s paradise with an outdoor smoker and menu bristling with a “meat-by-the-pound” selection, including beef brisket and short rib, pulled pork and pork ribs and a tomahawk to share. On the technical side, low and slow has always been a key component of the trend, but these days point of difference is achieved by cooking over a mix of wood and charcoal for at least 12 hours, while the ribs are cooked until so tender that the meat slides neatly off the bone.
While the Porteño boys were inspired by the Argentine experience, chefs such as Luke Powell, at LP’s Quality Meats in Chippendale, invested in equipment such as Southern Pride Smoker shipped straight from Tennessee to create quality, smoked meats and treats.
The Paper Mill development in Liverpool, in Sydney’s southwest, meanwhile installed two custom-made charcoal and wood-burning grills and charcoal rotisserie to accommodate two of their four venues under one roof.
Charcoal Joe’s caters for their Lebanese charcoal chicken offering while the aptly named Firepit turns out steak and seafood on the chargrill and over flame in the a la carte restaurant. Meaty menu items include the shareable 300g Jack's Creek Angus rump, an F1 rump cap 300g from the Darling Downs, and Angus rib-eye steak on the bone at 400g.
In Brisbane, at Brewsi, they offer a range of plates piled high with meaty treats, including a BBQ platter that serves four, and features St Louis pork rib, Cape Grim beef cheek and pulled beef. For quality non-primary, a prime example is Jervois Steak House in Herne Bay, Auckland, which features a grass-fed bavette (MBS 4) 250g, from Firstlight Wagyu, in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay.
Chefs are also looking to cold smoked non-primaries, such as flank and its close cousin the bavette, plus skirt and picanha (aka rump cap). Big-selling non-primaries favoured at popular restaurants include lamb shoulder (Chiswick, Sydney) and pork neck (German Spoon, Adelaide). Non-primaries can take a lickin’ in the oven, plus take on lots of flavours and are usually a lot less expensive than primary cuts, so are ideal for lowering kitchen costs and the overall P&Ls.
Savvy chefs who can’t rip out half their kitchen are still getting on board with clever innovations. If space is at a premium, consider handy tools such as the Japanese binchotan, yakitori grills, konro barbeques and hibachi, such as that offered by the Lucas Group’s Kisume in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane.
For a fraction of the cost – and minus a chargrill – a hand-held smoker can infuse a variety of flavours into meats which have already been seared on a traditional grill or pan. By using different store-bought wood chips, such as apple, cherry, mesquite and hickory, or even teas, hay, or dried flowers you can give meats a hugely different flavour.
Even a conventional oven or combi can be turned into a smoker. Here’s how:
- Start by soaking wood chips for a couple of hours. Drain but reserve the liquid.
- Place the chips in an aluminium roasting pan in a single layer, pour just enough of the soaking liquid over the chips to make sure they don’t catch fire then place a roasting rack on top of the wood chips, making sure there’s plenty of room between the chips and the rack for smoke to build up.
- Place your meat on the rack and use aluminium foil to create a large tent over the top, making sure there is plenty of room for the smoke to build up, but no smoke can escape.
- Pop into an oven at 100C and cook for 2-3 hours, depending on the cut, but make sure you top up with the reserved soaking liquid when needed.
So powerful is the emerging meat push that Rockpool Bar & Grill, which boasts one of the world’s leading beef programs, holds steak masterclass dinners with Head Chef Corey Costelloe. Patrons can taste their way through five various cuts as Corey discusses the provenance and differences in taste and texture between grass and grain-fed beef.
So maybe it’s time to get in for your own slice of the action, and stake your claim on the return of meat as a mainstay on your menu.