As Christmas Day draws closer at a rate of knots, the sound of barbecues waking up from their Winter hibernation can be heard across the country in preparation for this great annual event. Traditionally the time where families gather together to feast on the magnificent produce this country has to offer, the Queen Victoria Market is the place to head to for a huge range of seafood and meat, as well as the freshest fruit and veggies.
As a backyard barbecue fanatic, I’m in my element at this time of year as I carefully formulate my plan of attack for the big day. As past decades have taught me though, don’t leave it to the last minute to order that particular cut of meat from your favourite butcher or seafood from your trusty fishmonger.
To feed the hoards this year, it’s a full rack of locally sourced pork, from Alec Watson’s at Queen Vic, generously coated in a specially formulated dry rub and gently roasted in my charcoal-fuelled kettle barbecue over a couple of hours. I love to cook large joints of meat in this way as it allows me to add some hickory chips to the roasting process, therefore creating a subtle smokiness to the whole piggy experience.
Along with the obligatory vegetables and salads that compliment this traditional xmas bbq dish, I like to serve it with thinly sliced apple and whole-roasted pineapple, both of which are readily available from the market at this time of year and go beautifully with pork.
Replicating this dish in a conventional oven or standard issue hooded grill is definitely achievable, although the charcoal adds a whole different level of tastiness and it’s almost impossible to effectively smoke anything in the above-mentioned equipment without going to enormous amounts of trouble.
So, to business.
Barbecued Pork Rack.
Recipe by Andrew Richardson.
Serves 8-10 hungry folk.
• 1 large 8-point pork rack, frenched and scored.
• EV olive oil
• 10 ground whole star anise (approx.)
• 3 tablespoons sea salt flakes
• 2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
• 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1 teaspoon chilli powder (chipotle or ancho)
• 2 tablespoons of finely chopped sage and or pineapple sage
Firstly, I should say that achieving the perfect crackling is an often-debated topic in cooking circles and can often lead to disappointment depending on the attempted method. Let’s stick to a tried and true technique, which is to pour a small amount of boiling water (to open up the cuts that have been made) over the scored skin and rub with oil and salt 10-15 minutes before roasting.
If you’re not confident scoring the skin yourself, ask the butcher to do it at the same time he’s frenching the bones on the rack. Ask them to also remove the chine bone, as this will allow you to slice the cooked rack with ease when serving.
A note on Hickory chips for smoking food in a charcoal barbecue. They’re readily available from BBQ retailers and need to be soaked in water for at least 3 hours before throwing on to your lit charcoal/briquettes just before placing the food into the barbecue. Less is more though so start off with a small handful so as to not overdo it and make everything too smoky.
1. Pre-heat barbecue to blistering (approximately 250 degrees C).
2. If using the recommended kettle style charcoal/briquette fuelled barbecue, place a large foil tray on the bottom rack (in between the burning fuel) and fill to half with water. When ready to cook, the meat will sit on the top stainless steel rack directly above the water tray.
3. Oil and salt the skin of the pork rack as outlined above. Mix dry rub ingredients together in a bowl. Portable coffee grinders are great for reducing spices such as star anise to a fine powder but a mortar & pestle is a good alternative.
4. Rub extra virgin olive oil all over the meat of the rack excluding the already salted skin.
5. Apply the dry rub to the meat, covering as much of it as possible. The applied olive oil will help it stick.
6. Once all the fuel is fully lit and burning, place meat in the barbecue, throw some soaked hickory chips on the charcoal/briquettes and put the lid in place.
7. Use a reliable digital meat thermometer to test cooking temperature along the way. The pork rack is ready to be removed when the temp reads anywhere between 70-75 degrees C.
8. Place the meat on a wire rack preferably in or on top of a baking tray, cover loosely with aluminium foil and rest for approximately half the cooking time or the amount of time it takes to roast a large whole pineapple. (Which brings me to my next dish…)
And finally, a brief technical explanation of the above barbecue technique. Kettle style barbecues (Weber are my brand of choice) are designed to circulate the heat around the food so by completely opening up the top and bottom vents during the cooking process, this in turn creates very high temperatures that will blister and crackle the skin beautifully in the first 15-20 minutes. At the same time the water filled tray steams the meat and prevents it from burning. After that initial blast of heat, the natural decrease in temperature as the barbecue stabilises allows the perfect conditions for slow roasting. Try to avoid lifting the lid to peek at your masterpiece for the first hour or so if you can help it as continued blasts of cooler air can affect the end result.
Hickory-smoked Barbecued Pineapple.
Recipe by Andrew Richardson
As this dish goes hand-in-hand with the Barbecued Pork Rack, ideally the pineapple should be roasting while the meat is resting. For those lacking a charcoal fuelled bbq, this dish can be cooked in a conventional oven. It’s also great when sliced and thrown straight on the grill.
• 1 large pineapple (preferably the variety sold with their tops still attached)
• Raw cane sugar
• Desiccated coconut
• Small handful of soaked Hickory chips (for smoking)
1. Place pineapple in the barbecue on the same spot where the meat had been cooking.
2. Throw soaked chips on the burning fuel and replace barbecue lid.
3. Move the pineapple around every ten minutes approximately so the entire surface has a chance to cook.
4. Remove and slice once cooked. Serve with the raw sugar and coconut if eating as dessert or plain as a compliment to the now ready-to-eat pork rack.
Note: A large pineapple takes around 30-40 minutes to cook depending on the remaining heat in your barbecue. It should feel slightly soft but springy to the touch when it’s ready to eat. If you can push your finger right into it, you’ve gone way too far! And get ready to add one of the easiest and tastiest barbecued dishes to your repertoire… your family and friends will be impressed beyond belief.