Barbecue's Global Love Letter to Meat

Matthew Salleh chronicles the world’s obsession with barbecue



It's bold to premiere a documentary about barbecue in Austin, but after traveling to 12 countries to chronicle the world's obsession with meat, there's no place director Matthew Salleh would rather unveil his film. Featuring cameos from locals like Louie Mueller in addition to segments filmed in far-flung places like the Syrian border, the movie takes a global look at the methods and cultures that spring up around preparing meat. In advance of the premiere, we interviewed Salleh about his favorite bite of meat, the hazards of filming around fire, and authentic Mongolian barbecue.

The Austin Chronicle: What began your interest in barbecue?

Matthew Salleh: I'm from Australia, so obviously we love our barbecue. But a couple of years ago, we shot a short film about the barbecue joints in Central Texas where we got to meet the pitmasters and hear their inspiring stories. Then we started chatting to other people, and it turns out everyone in the world thinks their country has the best barbecue. That's when we realized this was a global story.

AC: What should people expect from the film?

MS: It's more than just a film about food. It's a story of how the world does this very simple thing, but it's a simple thing that shows how we all come together. And it's told from the point of view of people that live in these cultures, in 12 different languages.

AC: What was the most remote place you traveled to?

MS: The one that felt the most remote was Mongolia. We were a good thousand miles out from anywhere. Plus Mongolians are nomadic people, so by the time we arrived, the family we organized a shoot with had moved 20 miles away.

AC: Do your cameras permanently reek of smoke?

MS: We had to constantly clean them. It was partly the smoke, and partly the grease from your hands, because the families were so hospitable they want to feed you. Rose Tucker, my partner who shot the film with me, she burnt her boom mic on the last day of filming at Louie Mueller. She really wanted the sound of that fire!

AC: Did you have a favorite bite of food you filmed?

MS: Not just saying this to play favorites, but we love Central Texas-style barbecue. It's just really hard to re-create elsewhere. But one where we didn't know what to expect was in Armenia. There's this tradition where as soon as the meat is ready, the men standing around the barbecue have to take a bite with a shot of vodka before it goes to the table.

AC: Was there anything that was a challenge to eat?

MS: In Mongolia, the way that they prepare their meat is very different from here. Their meat has what we'd call a rancid taste, but they love it. They basically gut the animal, use the outside skin as a sack, and put hot rocks and the meat back into it and let it steam. In Western civilization we usually bleed our meat first, but they don't. It was as farm-to-table as it gets.

AC: Did you have any other favorite cooking methods?

MS: One that I really loved was in Japan, the yakitori process. It really shows the difference between the countryside and city. In the countryside, they make the charcoal called binchotan very peacefully over a month. Then they ship it to the city and it's fired up every night to use on some very epic bar snacks.

AC: What universals did you find across cultures?

MS: I believe in this concept that cultures have more similarities than differences. That's what the film shows, that these ways of doing barbecue are wildly different, but the reason people do things is the same, it's family and community. And whenever something good happens to people, they want to gather around a fire and eat meat.


Barbecue

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT

Friday, March 10, 5:30pm, Stateside
Sunday, March 12, 5:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Saturday, March 18, 2pm, Stateside

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Unleashing the <i>Hounds of Love</i>
Unleashing the Hounds of Love
Director Ben Young on his serial-killer couple drama

Richard Whittaker, May 12, 2017

Ben Wheatley  Catches <i>Free Fire</i>
Ben Wheatley Catches Free Fire
Director on making his U.S. action debut

Richard Whittaker, April 21, 2017

More by Dan Gentile
<i>Clerk</i> Follows Kevin Smith From Quick Stop Anonymity to Podcast Fame
Clerk Follows Kevin Smith From Quick Stop Anonymity to Podcast Fame
Turns out he was supposed to be here today

March 12, 2021

The Beach Bum
Fear and loathing in Florida with Korine and Matthew McConaughey

March 29, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Barbecue, SXSW 2017, SXSW Film 2017, Matthew Salleh

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle