Kiwis and Kansas Citians share a passion for barbecue. We love to grill bangers, burgers and other edibles over gas, wood or charcoal-fueled flames.
A major difference between Kiwi and Kansas City barbecue, however, is that Kansas Citians do more slow smoking than is currently done in New Zealand.
“Slow smoking is starting to take off here, with the hardware stores selling more sophisticated grills and smokers,” Kansas City native/ex pat Kiwi Mike Oxley, told me. Kamado ceramic barbecue cookers, the iconic international favorite Weber kettle, plus local Kiwi brand smokers are gaining in market share.
I credit Mike Oxley for introducing thousands of Kiwis to the irresistibly satisfying flavor of slow smoked Kansas City style barbecue. When Kansas City Star food editor Jill Silva told me about Mike, my first question was why would he move to New Zealand and open a Kansas City style barbecue restaurant, especially after more than two decades of success in the highly competitive Los Angeles restaurant industry?
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Easy answer: A year after Mike’s sister and brother-in-law moved to New Zealand, they sent pictures of beautiful landscapes, followed by a compelling invitation to be a Kiwi.
“My sister says to me, ‘There is not one American barbecue in the entire country.’ She said ‘Let’s do it!’ We were the first American barbecue in the country, and are still the only Kansas City barbecue in the country.” Uncle Mike’s Kansas City BBQ has met with great success since opening in 2008.
Although hickory is Mike’s first choice for smoking, hickory is not grown extensively in New Zealand. Thus, Mike chose applewood. He said, “There are apple orchards nearby, and apple adds a nice mild flavor which goes well with my rub and sauce. I wanted to be authentic American so we decided not to use native woods such as Manuka.”
Mike does not offer classes yet for Kiwis wanting to add the slow and low barbecue method of cooking to their skill set, but he does give kitchen tours. Customers on tour get a firsthand look at Uncle Mike’s Southern Pride cooker while Mike explains regional seasoning and cooking method differences along the Tennessee/Texas/Carolinas/Kansas City slow smoke spectrum.
Uncle Mike’s formula for success is a combination of applewood smoke with Mike’s secret recipe rub and sauce, along with Mike’s barbecue expertise. His thick tomato base sweet smoky and slightly spicy barbecue sauce complements the flavor of Uncle Mike’s barbecue meats. Mike learned early on that “Most Kiwis prefer a milder sauce.”
Uncle Mike’s offers traditional Kansas City barbecue brisket, burnt ends, chicken, pork chops, pork spareribs and pulled pork, plus beef ribs, smoked duck with house made cranberry sauce, burgers and salmon, smoked low and slow in Mike’s imported Southern Pride SPK-500 double wall insulated smoker. Meat is served sauced unless requested on the side.
Uncle Mike’s sides include slow smoked barbecue beans laced with chunks of smoked pork and meat drippings, hand-cut/skin-on fries and tangy coleslaw.
Vegetarian options are falafel, mushroom burgers, grilled portabella mushrooms and salad.
Flame grilled ribeye steaks from grass fed New Zealand beef are also on the menu.
Uncle Mike’s current top seller is the Half and Half: one large barbecue beef bone smoked for 8 hours, with a half rack of pork spareribs smoked for 4 hours; beans and fries on the side.
What to drink at Uncle Mike’s? Surprisingly, but of comfort to Americans, Uncle Mike’s is one of very few Kiwi restaurants that serves iced tea. Arnold Palmer’s and old fashioned lemonade round out Uncle Mike’s non-alcohol beverages. Mike says the best beer to match with his barbecue is Uncle Mike’s dark ale from Lion Brewery. I’ll have that with an order of Half and Half, please.
When your travels take you to New Zealand in search of hobbits and stunning natural beauty, plan to treat yourself to a taste of home among friendly Kiwis at Uncle Mike’s Kansas City BBQ.
Uncle Mike’s Kansas City BBQ, 230 Jackson St., Petone, New Zealand