The Australian tradition of a barbecue — henceforth referred to as a “barbie,” as that’s what we Aussies actually call it — is a central part of Aussie culture. (Oh, and by the way, we use the word “barbie” to refer to both the event and the cooking apparatus.) I can’t recall ever living through a summer that didn’t include multiple barbies with family and friends. Barbies occur year-round, but definitely amp up in regularity during the summer holiday months.
We’re very much an outdoor culture, and almost every house has either a patio or shed with space for people to congregate, eat, drink, talk, and laugh. We throw barbies for birthdays, anniversaries, parties — and yep, Christmas! My poor English husband has lived here in Australia since 2007, and he still can’t get used to enjoying the heat, humidity, and blazing sun that Christmas day brings us here Down Under.
A Few Things You Can Expect to See at an Aussie Barbie
Someone will bring sausages, rissoles, and steaks. These will be beef, of course — our national meat of choice. Someone might get a bit crazy and bring some chicken, vegetarian sausages, or, even more rarely, some kangaroo steaks. Yep, we do eat our national icon, but it’s a rare thing, not part of the everyday Australian diet.
Someone will be crying from cutting up a huge bowl of onions to chuck on the barbie. These are a must — you can’t have a barbie without fried onion.
Someone will bring prawns (no, we don’t call them shrimp — thanks, Paul Hogan, for perpetuating that myth), especially in summer. Usually, though, we eat them as-is, rather than cooking them on the barbie; we’ll most often buy our prawns pre-cooked (boiled) and serve a big bowl of them chilled. People will top and tail their own, often as a pre-main-dinner snack. And, of course, there’ll be Thousand Island dressing to dip them in.
There will be tomato sauce and bbq sauce to slather over your meat. Big bottles of it!
There will be bread rolls or just pieces of sliced bread to wrap around your sausages. The most basic form of the barbie is the “sausage sizzle,” often found at school fetes and other community events, where you can buy a sausage wrapped in a piece of bread and covered with fried onion and your sauce of choice for 2 bucks.
There will be an Esky (icebox) or two, or ten… full of ice that will have melted by the end of the night. It will be filled with everyone’s drink of choice (you bring your own drinks to an Aussie barbie!) — usually beer galore with a bit of cider and soft drink in there, too.
You’ll usually find some veggie skewers, too, just to add a token bit of greenery to the meal.
Often people will bring along side-dishes, like a green salad or a potato salad or potato bake. Bring some ribs rubbed with a Summer Sweet Tea Rub to share with your new friends.
Most barbies are communal affairs, with people all bringing something to contribute to the whole.
The Ritual of the Barbie
The cooking will start after everyone has had a chance to chat and settle in a bit, often snacking on chips and other from-a-packet salty foods (and the aforementioned prawns!), and getting stuck into the drinks as they wait for the whole crew to turn up. The barbie usually takes place at lunchtime, but sometimes it’s a dinner event, too.
Generally, you’ll find the men hovering over the bbq, discussing various cooking techniques with beer in hand. Don’t be surprised if the host male is wearing a ridiculous apron of some sort. The women will be getting all the other food sorted, while the kids run around in the yard playing. Don’t be afraid to jump in and be part of the process — everyone’s welcome to pitch in and help out!
This is a long process; often at big gatherings, the cooking is done in stages because there’s not enough room on the barbie to fit all the meat at once.
Once all the meat and skewers and whatnot are cooked, everyone will line up to get a bit of something off the barbie, and whatever else they choose, stacked up on a paper plate. Then everyone sits down together — usually in a big circle, or around a table — and the eating will commence.
If it’s a winter barbie, chances are you’ll find a fire pit burning in the backyard, and everyone will sit huddled around that as they eat. In summer, finding a good patch of shade is the main aim of the day!
After all is eaten, the conversation done, and the party over, people will trickle off into the dark, full of food and good cheer — the latter of which is the real point of any barbie, after all. It’s a chance to spend time with your mates and chill out for a few hours.
Oh, a final tip – make sure you leave your leftover drinks behind, they belong to the host now!
Photo Credits: morganno, russavia, Alpha, Richard Symonds, and Enoch Lau