022 Hillbilly Wes – Bovine and Swine

In Episode 3 of ‘Living the Dream’, Hillbilly Wes from Bovine and Swine takes me through all the steps involved in opening a bricks’n’mortar BBQ joint. Bovine and Swine is based in Enmore, Sydney and is one of, if not the, most popular BBQ joint in Australia. Please be sure to subscribe and leave a review of this episode.

Wes covers just about every topic you can think of in this interview. He discusses the pros and cons of going into bricks’n’mortar, the advantages and disadvantages versus catering, and what it takes to be successful. He also gives us all the details of his background and how this has helped him get to where he is. This is an episode not to be missed!

Much thanks and appreciation go to this episodes sponsors:

Clean Heat Charcoal

Harvey’s Kitchen

Pure Meats Robina

Still want more? Be sure to pick up your free ebook: 27 Lessons Learned from Competition BBQ

Show Notes
  • He got the name Hillbilly Wes as he grew up in the bush and he’s been wearing bib’n’brace overalls since he was 19 – he looks and acts like a Hillbilly
  • He got his iconic finger tats in Austin Texas when he realised that he was going to have to fully commit to BBQ
  • He started out cooking on Webers before discovering BBQ on a trip to Austin for a car show
  • Wes was working at Vic’s Meats before deciding to open his own place with Anton Hughes
  • At Bovine and Swine he averages between 100 – 200 serves per day
  • Brisket is definitely the most popular of what he serves
  • Cooks on a homemade offset stick burner
  • Wes prefers standard flow smokers as he cooks quite hot and he thinks that the heat plate in the bottom of a reverse flow will not give you a strictly traditional cook
  • The upside down logo was a happy accident
  • What makes Bovine and Swine unique is the way that they serve it
    • By weight
    • The Authentic style
  • He averages out his pricing and charges $9/100g across the selection of meats
  • He has a background as a mechanic, not in hospitality
  • He want to the States and did some work in BBQ joints over there
  • Getting the cut right is the most important part of any BBQ business – it governs if your customer will have a good time or a bad time. The person doing the cutting decides which bits are good enough for customers and which are not.
  • Got into catering for friends events, one of which was the Carnvivore’s Ball for Jess Pryles
  • He skipped the markets scene
  • The biggest difference between catering and running a shop
    • Running a shop is more expensive, but easier
    • You can prepare all your stuff in a proper kitchen, not working out of eskies etc
    • Catering is a much bigger risk, especially at events like market stalls
  • A day in the life:
    • He’s working on the shop every day, even though the shop is only open 4 days a week
    • He has a very trusty staff member who opens the shop for him
    • Gets there at 5 in the morning to light the fires and start seasoning the meats
    • Cook throughout the day
    • Set up for service
    • Clean up and go home
  • Don’t serve sub-par food, even if it means throwing out a whole brisket
  • He chose his site in the inner-West as it’s quite a trendy area near the Enmore Theatre
  • When picking a venue:
    • Get a big space
    • Check your development approvals – his place was already approved as a BBQ restaurant
    • He put in Smog Hog smoke filters
  • Unexpected costs
    • Smoke filters
    • Inspections – can be done on the spot and you have to pay a fee each time
    • Staffing costs
    • Meat price fluctuations
    • Quality of meat fluctuations
  • Licences and Insurances
    • Insurance companies need to know exactly what you’re doing
    • Places with deep fryers cost more for insurance coz higher heats and more fat fires
    • Must have the right development approvals re kitchens etc
  • Worst thing about being a BBQ restaurateur
    • You have no life
    • Can get sick from being so tired
    • Can affect people around you – partners etc
    • Not a huge financial return
  • Best thing about being a BBQ restaurateur
    • The feedback from people
  • Wes has a Radar Hill Hog Smoker mounted on his trailer, which he chose as cooking whole hog is one of his favourite things to cook
  • Listener Questions:
    • What were his biggest fears?
      • Would he make enough money, would he still enjoy BBQ after it became his job and would he be serving up good food?
    • How did he work out timing, time management and quanitity sizing?
      • You gotta know what you’re cooking and how you’re cooking it
      • Wes cooks a bit hotter to get a brisket done in 7-8 hours
    • Is there real money to be made in real BBQ?
      • No, not really – Wes isn’t making millions of dollars
      • Time management is vital – you have to be doing something at all times E,g, make sausage, beans, sauce, pickles etc
      • They don’t pre-cook anything – they get up early
      • He cooks at 275 – 300F to save time
    • How does he know how many to cook each day?
      • He cook 4-5 on a Friday, 9-10 on a Saturday and Sunday
      • Wes prefers grain fed – grass fed doesn’t seem to hold as well
      • He doesn’t like using Wagyu – he prefers using 3 score marbled briskets. He find the wagyu to be too fatty
      • He doesn’t particularly like beef ribs either
    • How many hours a day are the smokers running and how many kilos a day does he cook?
      • 5am – 7.30pm they run the smokers on a Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday they start at midnight the night before
      • They cook about 80 kilos of brisket, 40 kilos of pork butts, 10 – 15 kilos of pork ribs and a little more of beef ribs, 10 kilos of sausages and 15 kilos of chicken
    • How did he get into the restaurant business and what tips for newbie?
      • Don’t overestimate what you’re going to get out of it
      • If you get an estimate that 5,000 people are coming to a festival, budget for 2,000 as many festivals overestimate their crowds and realise that there will be other food vendors there too
  • Wes hates pork ribs because he feels ripped off and customers get ripped off as everyone pays for the bone
  • Wes’ top three tips for people wanting to open their own BBQ joint:
    • Make sure you’re putting out the right product
      • If you’re not, it affects everyone – punters will remember a terrible experience and avoid having a potentially good experience with someone else
      • Make sure your product is authentic
      • Keep it simple – salt & pepper and the right cut of meat
      • Be prepared to work a lot of hours for not a lot of reward
      • Enjoy it – if you don’t enjoy it you’ll lose focus and deliver bad products