Red Gum BBQ
A sprawling barbecue joint on the Mornington Peninsula serving local meats cooked low-and-slow over local wood.
Red Gum BBQ's pit master, Martin Goffin dreams about meat and wood nightly, such is his obsession with all things barbecue. A far cry from what he envisaged growing up in Great Yarmouth, on England's east coast, Goffin and his wife Melissa own and run a barbecue joint of epic proportions in Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula.
It was a visit to a barbecue restaurant just out of Melissa's hometown of Miami in 2005 that sealed Goffin's fate. And from the first bite, he was hooked. But it wasn't till 2012 that Goffin took his low-and-slow cooking on the road. "I was on paternity leave with my son in 2011 and got bored, and had a real think about what was going on in my life, what I enjoy doing and what I wanted to do," Goffin says. "Essentially, it was barbecue." He then started working markets and local events with a three-by-three metre marquee and a trailer with a Texas offset smoker.
A couple of years later, in 2016 — just before they signed the lease on the Red Hill venue — Goffin went back to the States and did a week at Southern Soul Barbeque in Georgia. Here, he learnt how to take what he had been doing to the far-larger scale of a restaurant.
Red Gum BBQ has just celebrated its second birthday in a space that used to be a truck mechanics, and is now filled with recycled wooden picnic-style tables and bench seats, a bar, and, down the far end, three massive smokers built specifically for Goffin."A guy called Paul, over at Silver Creek Smokers, built them for me," says Goffin. "They're old, five-metre-long LPG tanks, and they all have date stamps from when they were originally built — so there's one from 1982 and another one from 1970. They're magic, and I love them."
Red Gum BBQ is, according to Goffin, the largest barbecue restaurant in the country, and it implements a range of sustainable practices, including sourcing free-range and grass-fed meats from exclusively ethical and local producers. Drinks are from the area, too, with all the wines and most of the beers coming from the Peninsula. Hop fans can try a selection of local brews (five to be exact) on a beer and cider taster paddle ($25).
As for the food itself, the concept is simple. As at most American barbecue joints, you choose your barbecued meat: fall-off-the-bone beef rib with a salt and pepper crust (market price); beef brisket ($19); slightly spicy, slightly sweet pulled pork ($18); pork ribs (market price) or half or quarter chicken ($19 or $10); add your sides: coleslaw, mac 'n' cheese, broccoli salad, fries, potato salad or cornbread (all $8–12); and dig in.
Even the wood used to cook the meats — which, for most, is between twelve and sixteen hours — is local: red gum. Goffin explains his local-is-best mantra by comparing it to barbecue in the States. "Barbecue in America is traditional. It's traditional in the sense that everything is local," Goffin says. "I'm trying to recreate what they've done in the States, but by using what we have available here."