Stefan Pizzardi didn’t have a background in hospitality but always loved to cook and frequently found himself hooked on a ‘flavour of the month’. But one day he decided to try his hand at American-style barbecue and suddenly the flavour of the month became an obsession.
“I started smoking meat in my backyard, then started cooking it for friends and they liked it. A few people asked me to do catering for them and the business just kind of started from there,” he told Region.
The backyard hobby became The Brisket and Brawn BBQ Co: a mobile American-style barbecue business that has led Stefan to quit his mechanical engineering degree and focus on meat. He joked that his degree had no transferable skills for cooking, but the engineering skills did help him to build his own smoker!
American-style barbecue is a unique style of cooking that is distinct from the barbecue you’d see in an Aussie backyard. Rather than quick hotplate grilling, this is a slow process.
“American-style barbecue is definitely a labour of love. It’s a very long and slow cooking process: most of our cooks range between 10 and 14 hours at low temperatures,” says Stefan.
“Over that time you take a very tough cut of meat and break it down into something very tender.”
Typical cuts of meat for barbecue are the eponymous brisket, beef short ribs, or pork shoulder. But Stefan has also taken inspiration from a classic Aussie Sunday roast.
“Lamb shoulders aren’t a very traditional American barbecue cut because they don’t eat so much lamb, but it’s very well suited to this style of cooking.”
Rather than having a brick and mortar store, Stefan’s smoker is on wheels so he can have a pop-up business that moves around festivals, events, and often partners with craft breweries in Sydney. Over the past few years Stefan has been amassing a steady following of fans in Canberra and regularly drives his smoker down the highway.
“I used to compete in powerlifting which is where I met John, who owns the Burley Strength gym. I started coming down when he had big competitions and over time I’ve built up a customer base down there.”
When Stefan sets up out the back of the gym he usually cooks three to five different cuts of meat which are served in a few ways. Loaded tater tots have become a favourite: a bed of crispy fried potato gems is topped with chopped brisket, Stefan’s homemade barbecue sauce and chopped spring onion. Or people who want to try a bit of everything can also opt for the barbecue plate which features a few different cuts of meat along with condiments and pickles, which Stefan makes himself to complement the flavours of the meat. American barbecue traditionally comes with a range of sides such as pickles and coleslaw which help to cut through the fattiness of the meat with acidity.
Stefan says that when he started the business five years ago, most people weren’t familiar with American barbecue but popular TV shows like BBQ Pitmasters have popularised the style of cooking. For anyone wanting to try it out themselves, Stefan warns that it’s an expensive hobby because a good quality smoker can cost thousands of dollars, and the process is harder than it looks.
“Keeping temperatures at that low range for an extended time is the hard part. I’d probably say it’s 99 per cent art and 1 per cent science.”