Is Big Don’s. Is Big Good. That seems to be the consensus among Perth eaters that zealously track the movements of Donovan Macdonald, the self-taught brisket whisperer behind barbeque pop-up, Big Don’s Smoked Meats.
A proponent of woodfired Texas-style barbeque – a cooking style synonymous with beef, dry-rub flavouring and slow, patient cook-times – Macdonald has set up shop everywhere from suburban bowls clubs to bottle shop car parks. Faithful fans patiently queue for hours for a taste of our man’s handiwork while ticketed events seem to sell out the moment Macdonald posts ticket links to Instagram. After five years of serving “underground barbeque” to the masses, Macdonald will be opening a permanent location. The really good news? Macdonald will also be opening a microbrewery and taproom next door.
If everything goes to plan, Big Don’s Smoked Meats and New State Brewing will open in Bayswater – or more specifically, in two neighbouring warehouses in an industrial area in Bayswater’s Ashfield neighbourhood – in January. As those that have attended a Big Don’s pop-up will attest, casual is the name of the game and this relaxed vibe will carry over to Macdonald’s new HQ. While the shop itself will be able to seat 20 people, the taproom will be able to accommodate 100, giving the compound a combined capacity of 120 dine-in guests. What Macdonald is especially excited about, though, is customers being able to park around the shop and enjoy takeaway tailgate-style off the back of utes – a casual eating style commonly found at North American sporting events and concerts.
Broadsheet Access members get special tables at busy restaurants, tickets to exclusive events and discounts on food, coffee, brand offers and more.Find out more
Best of all, Macdonald says the move into a permanent serving space will mean great things for his (already impressive) barbeque food, not least because he’s invested in four 4000-litre offset barbeques that recently finished their year-long journey from Texas to Perth. Not only will these barbeques be a source of theatre for guests – compared to most Australian barbeque joints that serve from kitchens, meat will be taken straight from the barbeque and cut to order in front of diners; or in Macdonald’s words, “The theatre will be unmatched for any barbeque joint in Australia” – they’ll also streamline the cooking process.
“I’m looking forward to not having to cook and transport 500 kilos of meat from one location to another or dealing with the logistics of moving seven loads of salsas and equipment to every pop-up,” he says. “Whenever you do that, you lose quality. We will be able to push the envelope in this space so much in terms of presentation and what we can cook.”
Or in more concrete terms, guests can look forward to more salsas, house-fermented sauces and other condiments gleaned from the Texas barbeque and Tex-Mex worlds. House-made corn tortillas will soon be offered alongside Macdonald’s flour-based tortillas.
New State Brewing, meanwhile, will be a joint venture between Macdonald and Joel Nash, an experienced brewer who was last seen brewing at Innate Brewers. At New State, the duo plans to keep things fluid and brew a constantly rotating range of beers rather than focus on core beers. In addition to being the perfect foil for Macdonald’s barbeque cooking, the beer will largely be sold on a direct-to-customer model and via subscriptions.
Just as Macdonald believes in slow and steady cooking, his shop will operate in a similar manner and only trade two days a week. Events will be a mix of both ticketed and walk-up events and Macdonald plans to release each week’s schedule on Monday. (Fans can rest assured, however, that pop-ups will continue, although on a monthly rather than weekly capacity.) Outside of Big Don’s trading days, the space will also be available for emerging pop-ups and food vendors to use. Not only is this two-day model good for the community, it’s also good for Macdonald.
“This feels like something that's much more sustainable,” he says. “I'm 37. I want to be able to do this for 20-plus years. The only way I would have the energy to do it while managing family life, and also maintaining a desire for the product, would be to only trade a couple of days a week but make sure that those days feel like a real party.”
Big Don’s Smoked Meats and New State Brewing are due to open in January.