The reason US Southern Style BBQ is taking off in Australia has more to do with economics than you think

In Melbourne, you can’t turn a corner without discovering some old Italian bistro or Chinese restaurant has turned into an American Rib joint.

There’s Ribs n Burgers, Le Bon TonThird Wave Cafe, Meatmother, and Big Boy BBQ. All of which are new, all of which are packed.

Image from Ribs N Burgers.

Sticky, delicious ribs aren’t the only State-side innovation taking over the menu.

There’s also Po’Boy Quarter on the Fitzroy side of Smith St, the Gumbo Kitchen food truck and the Sookie La La Diner where you can get waffles with bacon and maple syrup.

The whole city is suddenly buzzing with American cuisine – and just a few short years ago, that would have seemed like an oxymoron.

The reason is one restaurateurs almost grasp.

“Alabama-born, Dallas-raised Jeremy Sutphin, chef at Le Bon Ton, attributes it to adventure and awareness. ”I’ve been here eight years and the palates are searching for something different – and people are becoming more aware.” “

He’s right about that awareness. Australia’s knowledge of America is now a lot deeper and wider – we’ve now been to America enough that we’ve ventured beyond LA and New York.

And that has happened very recently.



Why the sudden interest? In 2008, airfares to the USA were around $2300. Ouch. Today, Virgin is offering Sydney-LA return from $1229. 

That results from a deliberate decision of the Australian government, to introduce competition into the market.

Here’s Labor Transport Minister Anthony Albanese talking about the “open skies” pact with the US in 2008.

“This agreement will be good for competition and it could … lower airfares.”

We’ll forgive him for not predicting the great barbecue explosion of 2012/13/14.

Of course, post-2009 also coincides with a much higher Aussie dollar. There were three good years there where you could buy a greenback for less than one Aussie dollar. Of course, those days are behind us.

ImageSo if travel predicts what we’ll be eating next, what’s the next big wave?

Fairfax food doyenne Larissa Dubecki is tipping Korean food to take off.  But the bibimbap futures index doesn’t look that frothy to me.

ImageMight a renaissance of Japanese cuisine be on the cards? Perhaps. But Japan’s post-Fukushima bounce back still looks modest compared to other places Australians love to fly.

There is one extremely popular destination still terribly under-represented at the fancy end of the food business. 




Indonesia’s surge is even bigger than America’s.  Looks like queueing up to pay $40 for a plate of nasi goreng cannot be far away.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

10 thoughts on “The reason US Southern Style BBQ is taking off in Australia has more to do with economics than you think”

  1. Good read! Rib places like Hurricane’s Grills and Ribs and Rumps in Sydney are South African inspired joints, with all that migration from there, they might be contributing to the trend and they do like their red meat. Ribs are really delicious though :)

    Indonesia stats are screws by Bali, don’t you think?


  2. The Southern barbecue tend is not due to cheap airfares to the US. It is because American food is extremely profitable for restaurants. The ingredients are very cheap and preparation is minimal. You don’t need skilled chefs, lots of exotic ingredients and a well stocked wine cellar.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nailed it! I have always wondered why American food has been popping up all over the place and the ribs food trucks at my uni campus. Next it will probably be some ‘Soul’ food that will be brought down under


  4. I would have thought the proliferation of US food shows on local TV (through Pay TV and increased free to air stations) would have also helped grow the market. This increased awareness of US cooking – Ribs and Burgers chains especially – could also be fueling the demand side.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article. Although my own experience would indicate that it’s the economy of the tastebuds that is the primary driver. I’ve never been to the US, but after I tried the ribs at a new American style place in Newcastle ( The Lucky Country hotel), I went back four times to have the same thing. Expensive, but exceeded the cost/deliciousness ratio. Great blog BTW.


  6. Same for American breakfast food: hard to go past hotcakes/pancakes or waffles and bacon and maple syrup with whipped butter (please, not cream or icecream, although creme fraish might be OK)


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