Get your bibs and appetite ready because the Melbourne Barbecue Festival is rolling into town. 

In the summer, parts of Australia can feel like you’ve just walked out of your air conditioned home into an oven where you become the chook and the person controlling the temperature is craving golden, crispy chicken skin; it can be stifling.

But one thing’s for certain: it’s impossible to experience an Australian summer and not crave barbecue, regardless of how sticky and uncomfortable it may make you feel.

Get your bibs and appetite ready because the Melbourne Barbecue Festival is rolling into town.

Inspired by the growing popularity of traditional US-southern style barbecue in Australia, the festival is modelled after the many successful American barbecue festivals staged annually across the United States and will be a celebration of local produce and the great Australian tradition of summer barbecues.

We sat down with co-founders, Matt and Margaret Vitale, and John Curtain, to hear more about what to expect at this year’s festival.


We’ve got our bibs prepped and ready to be tucked into our collars for the Melbourne Barbecue Festival in February – what can locals expect on the day? 

We’ve got a fantastic lineup of Melbourne’s best pitmasters and culinary talent including Bluebonnet Barbecue, Fancy Hank’s, Silver Creek Smokers, Meatmother, Ike’s Rack Shack, Smokin Barry’s, Red Gum BBQ, Burn City Smokers, Leonard’s House of Love, Southside Smokers and more.

The festival features a range of cooking demonstrations and talks from local and international barbecue experts including Chris Lilly of Big-Bob Gibson (Alabama), Jim Johnson (Tennessee), Noah Glanville creator of the Pit Barrel Cooker (Colorado), Joe McClure of McClure’s Pickles (Detroit), local gurus Bob Hart, Lance Rosen, Gary McBean and others.

We will be exhibiting some of the latest in barbecue equipment and related products including smokers and grills from around the world.

Children under 16 receive free entry with a paying adult, and there will be a range of activities to keep them entertained on the day too.

There will also be a barbecue cook-off sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the world’s largest organisation of barbecue enthusiasts.

What will the Melbourne Barbecue Festival cook-off involve? And how many teams do you expect to take part?

This year we have 35 teams from around Australia, and a few international teams, battling it out for more than $25,000 in cash and prizes, and the all important barbecue glory. The contest is sanctioned by the KCBS, so teams will compete in the categories of chicken, pork ribs, pork and beef brisket. The Grand Champion will receive $2,000 in cash and a Yoder Wichita smoker valued at over $5,000 thanks to Yoder Smokers.

The best performing Australian team will receive an invitation to represent Australia and compete at one of American’s most prestigious barbecue contests: the American Royal Invitational, The Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue, or the World Food Championships. And thanks to our major sponsor Yak Ales, a flight to get there is included in the prize as well.

How would you describe the momentum of the Melbourne barbecue scene right now?

It’s really amazing how much interest there has been in barbecue in recent years. American barbecue is a big part of that. I think the strength of the Aussie dollar a few years ago made America a much more affordable destination than it had been previously, and exposed Australians to the rich and deep American barbecue culture on their travels. But as we do, Melbourne has started to put it’s own spin on this cuisine, which has been really interesting to observe.

It’s no secret that Melburnians love to embrace food trends. Why do you think barbecue has really taken off here?

It’s surprising that it’s taken so long! Melburnians love food, and being outdoors, which are two essential components of good barbecue.

Would you say Melbourne has developed its own distinct style of barbecue?

I think we’re on our way to developing our own distinct style. The brisket in Melbourne is excellent, and favours more of a Texas-style rub and no fuss approach, rather than the burnt ends in sauce you get in Kansas City. Also, pork ribs in Australia are smaller and not as meaty as those in the States, but we have amazing beef and lamb, so I think you see more beef short rib and lamb ribs here than overseas.

Where are some of your favourite places (other than your own backyard) to pop on a bib and get stuck into a big plate of smoky, sticky ribs in Melbourne?

Bluebonnet Barbecue at the John Curtin Hotel, and Ike’s Rack Shack, both in Carlton, are two of our favourites.

For those of us who struggle to barbecue a steak, what’s your top cooking tip when it comes to barbecued meats?

Starting with good produce is a given. With such great produce and talented butchers here in Melbourne, there really is no excuse for cooking with sub-standard meat. Our favourite butchers are Gary’s Quality Meats at Prahran Market, Ralph’s Meat Co at the South Melbourne Market, and Troy Wheeler at Meatsmith in Collingwood.

If you’re cooking a steak, take your meat out of the fridge, season with salt and let it rest for a few hours before the cook. You should try to cook over charcoal whenever possible. For thicker cuts of meat, push the coals to one side of the barbecue and place the steak on the other (for indirect heat) – when you are almost done, move the steak directly over the coals for a beautiful finish. And resting the steak once cooked, for a good ten minutes, really helps.

What advice can you offer to some of our readers who may be dreaming of graduating from grilling supermarket-bought snags on the barbie to competing against some of the best barbecue pitmasters in Australia and beyond?

Don’t wait, get involved! Competing and getting involved in the growing barbecue community is the best way to learn some new tips and tricks you can use to impress the judges, or your neighbours.


Tickets on sale from Thursday 8th October 2015 12 noon (AEST) from, 1300 GET TIX (438 849) on your mobile and all moshtix outlets
Saturday 6th February 2016
Flemington Racecourse


Win: 2 x tickets to The Melbourne Barbecue Festival. Enter by signing up to our newsletter via the link below.

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