Bare Knuckle BBQ

A few Sundays back I battled freakishly horrendous traffic (even for Auckland) to get to Quarry Bar on the North Shore, temporary home of Bareknuckle BBQ’s pop up restaurant. The stressful congestion of the northern motorway gave way to an oasis of $5 beers, sunny bar-leaners and meat. Glorious slow smoked brisket, pork ribs, beef short rib and pulled pork. With its roots in southern USA, “BBQ” here does not fall under the classic kiwi definition of “cooked on a grate over a gas or charcoal fire.” It means cook indirectly, slowly and with astonishing care using the smoke of a wood fire.

For Pitmaster Jimmy, BBQ had always been a passion with dreams of making it a profession. One day his wife Tam challenged him; “Is this just something that you’re going to talk about or are you actually going to do it?” Shortly afterward they set off on what must have been the greatest business trip ever, 6 months of immersion in the Texas BBQ scene. They learned from greats like Aaron Franklin and finished their road trip in Uvalde on the Mexican border, where they had their mighty 16ft BBQ pit smoker custom made.

Of course, Jimmy has nothing but respect for the tradition of BBQ but using local meat and wood puts a kiwi twist on the classic recipes. Jimmy can’t source the traditional American oak in New Zealand and he thinks manuka, the kiwi go-to, burns too hot for slow smoking. “I believe that, wood to wood, the flavour is very similar but the burning temperatures are very different.” After experimenting with a number of local woods, Jimmy settled on pohutukawa which he reckons gives him smoke that’s just the right temperature to break down the tough connective tissue, but keep the meat juicy. Its constraint’s like these that gets him up in the middle of the night to tend the fire and check temperatures.

I can testify that Jimmy’s sleepless nights pay dividends. Brisket with a smoky, flavourful exterior (known as “bark”) and a juicy interior that simply melts in your mouth after 15 hours in the smoker. The ribs have a more complex flavour that departs from the traditional Texas rub of salt and pepper, and are great fun to try to get every scrap of meat off. Even macrobrew American beer tastes good with food like that!

Thanks to Bareknuckle BBQ for letting us take photos and ask (way too many) questions.