Secrets to a tasty Aussie barbecue
Barbecuing was first documented in the 15th century, among indigenous people in the Bahamas, but it’s fair to say it’s been an art form ever since hunting and fire were mastered.
A string of nations claim it as their own.
In France, the phrase "barbe à queue" -– meaning "from head to tail" -– has been used to describe a method of cooking a pig whole. In the United States, it’s been claimed the word is an acronym (BBQ) for old roadhouse signs that advertised “bar, beer and cues.”
Brazil and Korea lay claim to their unique styles.
And in Australia, where gas barbecues can be found in just about every backyard and balcony in the country, barbecuing is considered an inalienable right.
“Anthropologists in a few thousand years will excavate an Australian backyard and really wonder, ‘what was this kind of strange pile of metal attachment used for? What barbaric practices went on here?’” says Mark Thomson, author of "Meat, Metal and Fire –- The Legendary Australian Barbecue."
The "chop picnic" -- resting a mesh grill put over a fire with a few bricks to cook a few chops -- became part of the Australian vernacular and way of life last century.
In the mid-1970s, Hilton Mason welded a hot plate and grill onto a mobile trolley with a gas inlet. Not rocket science, but a national first and it became a suburban hit.
The franchise that grew out of the backyard invention is now called Barbecues Galore, which has 78 franchises in Australia.
“Barbecuing is almost a mythological thing for people in the city as it gives them the feeling of being in the country,” Peter Anderson, of Barbecues Galore. “It’s synonymous in Australia with the Great Outdoors.”
Basic kettle-style charcoal barbecues cost as little as $30. The sky’s the limit on the other side of the scale -- with radiant quartz technology units retailing for $1,000-$2,000, or stainless-steel modular units that can include everything from a spit grill to a fridge for as much as $10,000.
Keep it simple
The Australian barbie is a cultural phenomenon that transcends socio-economic groups.
“The key is not to try to gentrify it too much because its rustic nature is the appeal,” says Miccal Cummins of Gastronomy, who holds barbecue parties catering for up to 300 carnivores.
“But our beef is grass-fed,” he says. “And for sausages, I tend go for classic flavors like Italian pork and fennel.”
Gastronomy, 10/30 Beaconsfield St., Alexandria, Sydney, +61 0(2) 8332 1000, www.gastronomy.com.au
How to choose, prepare and cook that steak
So what kind of meat do you buy? The starting place is selecting the right kind of meat.
“It comes down to personal preference," says Daniel Hughes, head chef at Sydney’s Manta Restaurant & Bar. "But the basic rule is if you want a steak with more flavor, go for a scotch fillet. If it’s tenderness you’re after then an eye fillet is for you.”
“Or if you’re after a cut that’s both flavorsome and tender, then a T-bone is the obvious choice,” he says.
Hughes also counsels budding backyard chefs to keep meat preparation simple -- and the act of dripping your beer or wine on the hot plate is pretty close to the mark.
“Marinade with red wine or beer with olives and garlic."
The key to getting it right, Hughes adds, is to make sure your barbie or grill is really hot before throwing the meat on: “That way you sear the outside and the meat retains all its juices and flavor. If you start cooking the meat on a cold barbecue, it will basically boil it and a lot of the moisture and flavor will evaporate."
“Australians generally prefer their steaks cooked medium,” he says. “To prepare a standard steak of about 250 grams at medium, cook for about four minutes on either side."
"Make sure you turn it over only once so the meat cooks evenly.”
Manta Restaurant & Bar, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo, +61 0(2) 9332 3822, www.mantarestaurant.com.au
The finishing touches
Selwyn Schroder, a self-taught barbecue master, has been grilling and serving for 40 years.
His restaurant, Kelly’s Bar & Grill, serves really meaty stuff -- lamb shanks, or a full kilo’s worth of pork ribs.
But when you’re ready to place that meat on the plate, it’s all about the sides. Platters with mushrooms, corn on the cob, creamed garlic spinach, grilled haloumi and of course those spuds.
In summer, top it off with a garden salad of iceberg lettuce and tomato in a light vinaigrette and you’ve get the quintessential Aussie barbecue.
Kelly’s Bar & Grill, Level 6 Westfield Shopping Centre Bondi Junction, Sydney, +61 0(2) 9389 8288, www.kellys.net.au
And what about that sauce?
Miccal Cummins of Gastronomy says, “We go all out with the sauces: two kinds of chili, homemade mustard, and chunky tomato relish so you get all these really different flavors in the one meal.”