Simon Day, Al Brown and Sophie Gilmour tuck in to Carolina ribs (non-meat-eater Alice Neville opted for a Sicilian stuffed pepper skewer) following recording of the great lost podcast (Photo: Tina Tiller)

The lost tapes of our Al Brown barbecue (plus ribs and pork rump steak recipes)

In which Al Brown praised Simon Day’s grillin’ skills and we got it on tape… and then disaster struck. But don’t worry, the recipes survive. 

If legendary chef Al Brown demands you cook his own recipes for him, you spend all night in the kitchen. And when he tells you how delicious everything is and the moment is recorded on a podcast, but no one gets to hear it due to technology erasing its existence – did it ever happen?  

Al Brown was the guest on the summer barbecue edition of The Spinoff’s food podcast Dietary Requirements, and we hoped he was going to cook for the staff. But apparently Al finds it hard to talk shit and cook at the same time, so instead he sent me his favourite barbecue recipes and suggested I cook, and he would critique. When I received the recipes for Al’s Carolina-style ribs and jalapeño cornbread from his book Stoked, I was inspired and intimidated. I added my own pork rump steak recipe to show off a little.

Cooking for one of my culinary heroes was a simultaneous dream and nightmare. And when you’re still in the kitchen at 1am the night before your big day, you’re inevitably going to make mistakes. I made two key ones. I hoped Al wouldn’t notice. He did.

Proof it happened (Photo: Tina Tiller)

I marinated the ribs in the spicy southern rub the night before I slow-roasted them, before finally barbecuing them for Al (and The Spinoff staff, who initially had been told Al Brown would be cooking for them). This was where I made my first mistake, which in my opinion turned out to be a happy accident. I read two teaspoons of cayenne pepper as two tablespoons. And then I chose to up the chilli quantity a little because I like spicy ribs, and I added three tablespoons of cayenne to the spice rub – more than five times Al’s recommended amount.

*“Whooooooo!” said Al Brown, as he ran his finger through the marinade. “That’s pretty hot. How much cayenne did you put in there?”

But once they’d been on the grill and the cayenne had mellowed, they had real heat that hit you upside the head. If you ask me, it was exciting, not unbearable.

“You’ve made the recipe your own,” Al said. “It’s your recipe now.”

Rib selfie (Photo: Sophie Gilmour)

For years I’d been left disappointed every time I’d eaten ribs. They seemed perpetually dry and lacking in meat. The meat that did exist you had to work hard to get off the bone. There are two key solutions to this problem. First, use a good pig. The Freedom Farms baby back ribs are long and thick with meat. Second, slow-cook them a day or two in advance of the barbecue – but not for too long. You want them moist and tender, but still holding onto the bone so you can have that experience of tearing the meat from the rib with your teeth. Al’s tip is that after an hour and 20 minutes of the ribs braising in the oven, check them every 20 minutes or so, until you can feel the meat is soft and moist but still holding the bone. “You don’t want it to shake off.”

(An additional tip from Drew at Freedom Farms: scrape off the sinew from the back of the ribs to allow the marinade to penetrate even further.)

On to pork steaks. It’s essential you cook your pork steak medium rare. Too many people are afraid of pink pork, but there’s absolutely no danger in serving barbecue pork rump steaks charred on the outside, and juicy, tender and rare in the centre. Let the grill get super hot before you drop the steaks on the barbecue to let the fat render and the meat colour. But get them off sooner than you think. Let them rest and don’t let anyone send them back for more cooking.

Us again (Photo: Tina Tiller)

It’s exciting to see barbecue culture in New Zealand evolving. The concept of outdoor cooking over fire has always suited our Kiwi psyche. “It fits our nation’s personality. No matter what the style, it evokes the same sentiment: informality, casualness and unpretentiousness,” Al said.

But for decades, that meant sausages on hot plates over gas. While that’s an essential piece of the Kiwi cooking canon, barbecuing over coal is becoming more and more common. Even our vegetarian managing editor of The Spinoff has the highly popular Big Green Egg Kamado barbecue and a bag of coal. The flavour it adds is significant – it takes the food to a primal place.  

Al hates the idea of a secret recipe. “Food is made to be shared,” is his ethos. So he’s been kind enough to share the recipes for his ribs, cornbread and salsa. They’re fucking delicious, I know because Al told me so (even if he did notice straight away that I forgot to add the salt to my cornbread. Mistake number 2).

“This is so, so, so good,” Al Brown said with a mouthful of rib he’d just torn effortlessly from the bone. I couldn’t hide my grin. Al Brown loved my food. You’re going to have to believe me.

Al Brown’s Carolina-style ribs, as cooked by Simon Day (Photo: Simon Day)

AL BROWN’S CAROLINA-STYLE RIBS WITH JALAPEÑO CORNBREAD AND TOMATILLO AVOCADO SALSA

Serves 6

These ribs are super moist, and the jalapeño cornbread is a recipe Al has been using for over 20 years. It’s not dry like a lot of cornbreads, as it has good amounts of cheese and buttermilk in it.

Tomatillos are around from mid-summer onwards. They are a relation of the tomato, as the name would suggest, and also the cape gooseberry, hence the lantern-style husk that this green fruit grows in. They can be hard to find but are worth seeking out: keep an eye out at farmers markets. You treat them like a tomato and they can be used cooked or raw. I really enjoy their savoury and slightly sour flavour. If you can’t find them, use tomatoes instead.

STEP 1. Carolina rib rub

  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons regular paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (or 3 tablespoons, if you like it spicy…)
  • 3 slabs of pork ribs, cut in half (about 500g per portion)

Mix the spices together in a small bowl to make the rub. Sprinkle a liberal amount over the ribs, massage in and marinate for at least a day. Refrigerate until required.

STEP 2. First cook of Carolina ribs

  • 2 cups medium-diced onion
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrot
  • 2 cups medium-diced celery
  • 8 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup American “ballpark” mustard
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco

Preheat the oven to 150℃.

Put the marinated ribs in a suitable-sized roasting or braising dish. Pour all the rest of the ingredients in a suitable-sized saucepan, set over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved, then pour over the ribs. Cover with tin foil and place the pan on the high heat for 5 minutes before carefully placing in the oven.

Check the ribs after 1 hour 20 minutes, then at 20 minute intervals after that. Remove when the pork is soft but not falling off the bones. Remove the ribs and cool then refrigerate until required for the barbecue.  

Allow the braising liquid to cool a little before pureeing until smooth. Pour back into a saucepan then place on medium-low heat and reduce until thick. Cool then refrigerate until required. This becomes your barbecue sauce to brush on as you grill the ribs.

Cornbread: delicious, even without the salt (Photo: Simon Day)

STEP 3. Jalapeño cornbread

  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onion
  • ¼ cup tinned jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
  • 4 cups corn kernels, roughly chopped
  • 3 cups fine-grain cornmeal
  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 2½ cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 9 eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 160ºC.

Line a large skillet with baking paper or greased tin foil, or use two loaf tins.

Place a sauté pan on medium-low heat. Add the olive oil, chopped onion and jalapeño. Sweat for 15 minutes until the onion is transparent and soft. Place in a large mixing bowl along with the corn, cornmeal, buttermilk, grated cheddar and salt. Set aside.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until creamy. Put the whites into another clean bowl then whisk to soft peaks. Now fold the egg yolks into the whites to create a light, airy egg mix.

Fold this into the corn and onion mix until fully combined then pour into the lined skillet or two loaf tins.

Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes until the cornbread is golden and firm to touch. Take a toothpick or similar to check if the centre is cooked.

Remove from the oven and let the cornbread cool a little before turning out.

Cornbread on the grill (Photo: Simon Day)

STEP 4. Tomatillo and avocado salsa

  • 2 roasted red capsicums (skins, seeds removed), cut into medium dice
  • 2 cups medium-diced tomatillos (or use tomatoes)
  • 1 avocado, cut into medium dice
  • ⅓ cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, finely diced
  • ⅓ cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • ½ tablespoon freshly ground cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika (dulce)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 12 drops chipotle Tabasco (or use regular Tabasco)
  • ½ tablespoon sugar

Put all the ingredients in a bowl except the salt and pepper. Mix to combine then season accordingly. Refrigerate until required.

STEP 5. The barbecue

Get your char grill (or your gas barbecue if it’s your only option) to a high heat.

Lightly oil the ribs then place on the heat. Brush with the marinade as you heat through. Remove the ribs once they are golden and nicely charred.  

For the cornbread, cut in thick slices and brush with a little oil before cooking on the grill for a couple of  minutes to get golden and slightly crunchy.

Serve the ribs on a platter with cornbread and tomatillo salsa on the side.

Rump steaks are beautiful for the barbecue (Photo: Supplied)

SIMON’S MEDITERRANEAN BARBECUE PORK RUMP STEAKS

Serves 6

Rump is beautiful for the barbecue. It’s got lots of beautiful fat that caramelises as it burns over the coals, and injects so much flavour into the meat. Don’t be afraid of serving it medium rare.

This marinade has delicious aniseed notes from the fennel and influences from all around the Mediterranean. If you’ve got time toast cumin seeds, fennel seeds and coriander seeds then grind them in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t, the pre-ground packet stuff is pretty damn good.

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  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • good olive oil
  • 6 Freedom Farms pork rump steaks

At least a day in advance, mix the spices, salt and pepper with enough olive oil to give you a paste consistency. Rub the paste over the steaks and keep them in the fridge.

Use coal if possible, and then get the barbecue as hot as you can. Sear the steaks until they start to blacken and the fat starts to caramelise – max three minutes each side.

Rest and slice into strips to reveal the glistening medium-rare pork meat.

This content was created in paid partnership with Freedom Farms. Learn more about our partnerships here


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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