BBQ Hāngi

Most Kiwis will be familiar with the traditional Māori low ‘n’ slow method known as hāngi, which involves cooking food with steam beneath the ground. Combining modern low ‘n’ slow BBQ with traditional hangi techniques, however, is a relatively new phenomenon in NZ backyards. Kerren Packer is one passionate BBQer experimenting with this technique, and he shares what he’s learnt so far...

My BBQ hangi is still in its experimental phase, but I have knocked it out of the park on several occasions. Some well-seasoned hāngi aficionados have even given it their seal of approval with comments like, “That is the best non-hāngi, hāngi I have ever had,” “Authentic as” and “Is there enough for another plate bro?” So, that being said, here is my nine-step method for the BBQ hangi…

STEP 1: Select a variety of meats. In this example, I have used pork chops, beef brisket, mutton chops and chicken drumsticks. Trim away any excess fats, apply your favourite barbecue rubs or just simply season with salt and pepper. Place the meats in a foil tray to suit the size of the grilling area of your barbecue.

STEP 2: Select a variety of veges. In this case, I have used spuds, kumara, pumpkin, and cabbage. Peel and cut-up the veges into portion sized pieces and layer, finishing with cabbage on the top in a separate foil tray. I also added some traditional bread “stuffing” balls.

STEP 3: Smoke the meat and vege before wrapping tightly in foil to allow steam to cook the feast. I do this by lighting a small amount of coal briquettes (in this example I am using a Weber Kettle and using half a basket of coals), adding a few chunks of manuka for that authentic hāngi aroma and then placing a foil tray with a 50/50 crumble mixture of moistened clean soil and manuka sawdust directly above the coal to further create authentic flavour profiles in the finished meal.

Place the tray of meat onto the barbecue “indirect” (that is away from the heat source – the aim here is to not cook the food but allow the smoke to waft over meat and infuse the hāngi flavours), close the lid for 30mins, and then add the tray of veges on top of the meat tray. If dry, spritz the soil-sawdust crumble with plain water. Close the lid for another 30mins.

STEP 4: In this example I have used heated horseshoes in place of volcanic rocks to provide an even temperature throughout the cook. I first heated the horseshoes to red-white hot with the gas “flame thrower” in a coal starter chimney. Once hot, I then put the horseshoes on a lit pyre of manuka and coals inside our second Weber Kettle. I let it burn down to create a bed of embers and hot horseshoes.

Step 5: In a third foil tray I made another “crumble” of clean soil and sawdust and added several cups of water. The theory here is again to add authentic flavours to the meal, but also to create a shield between the “fire-pit” and the food to stop potential burning.

On top of the soil-sawdust tray, place the meat tray, and then on top of that, place the tray of veges and stuffing. Then wrap all three trays tightly in tinfoil together. I use multiple layers to ensure there are no holes – you want the whole lot to be airtight to not let any steam escape.

Step 6: Place the trays into the barbecue directly above the horseshoes and coals, cover the trays with wet hessian sacks and then close the lid.

I aim for a barbecue temperature of around 350f. Traditionally, now would be a great time to open a beer, have a yarn with the hāngi pit crew, sing a few songs when the uncles pull out the guitars etc, so if you don’t want to mess with tradition – do that!

Step 7: At approximately 1.5 hours in, I noticed the temperature had dropped to 320f, so I took the grill out of the barbecue and gave the horseshoes a tickle up with the gas flame thrower – it worked a treat! Adding a lit chimney of coals will serve this purpose also.

Step 8: At the three hour mark, it is time to take your hāngi from the barbecue (remembering to use heat proof gloves) and remove the layers of tinfoil. The room will instantly fill with authentic hāngi aromas and as the steam clears, your perfectly cooked hāngi will present itself. There will be juices collected in the meat tray – we pour this off and save it as the base stock for a hāngi leftover pie, which is next level! 

Step 9: Serve with fry bread (see recipe on the left) to your friends and whanau!

As far as satisfying cooks go, this barbecue hāngi rates very highly and is also a cost-effective way to feed a group. For more information or to ask any questions, jump on the Facebook page “The Hangi Pit”.

Article by: Kerren Packer