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You’ve heard the old cliche before: fail to prepare, and prepare to fail. Get ready for your guests by putting out your best plastic garden chairs, and lighting some citronella candles to keep the mozzies at bay. Stock the esky with ice for your guests’ grog, plus have a few cold communals waiting for their arrival. If it’s an Australia Day barbecue, lock the radio dial on Triple J for the Hottest 100 countdown, and if it’s any other day of the year, pay tribute to Australia’s rock gods with some Cold Chisel, AC/DC, Midnight Oil and Paul Kelly.
Check how much gas is in the tank – nothing takes the sizzle out of a barbie like having to dash up to the petrol station two minutes after firing up the grill – and clear enough room around the grill for all the men to stand around prodding the meat and disseminating advice on how to cook it to perfection, a time-honoured Australian display of masculinity. Set up the cricket bat and tennis ball for some backyard cricket, too – hit and run, six and out, and the back fence as automatic wicket keeper (or ‘electric wickie’) are non-negotiable rules, of course.
All of history’s great trios – Harry, Ron and Hermione, Moe, Larry and Curly, Simba, Timon and Pumbaa – don’t have anything on the culinary threesome that takes centre stage at every Aussie barbecue: a sausage, white bread and tomato sauce. There’s nothing wrong with onions, a splash of BBQ sauce or even mustard for that American flavour, but don’t get too clever with your sausage selection. Pork, fennel and apple? Tomato and basil? Chicken and cheese? No thank you. Stick to your beef and lamb varieties — when you start wandering down the pork and chicken path, you stumble into seriously un-Australian territory.
A succulent lamb chop, marinated chicken breast, fish infused with lemon and herbs in a foil pouch, rissoles, burgers, prawns (or ‘shrimp’ as Crocodile Dundee Paul Hogan told US audiences in the 1980s), or even one half of the coat of arms all have their place at a barbie. But let’s face it, quality snags are the name of the game.
Barbies are always BYO (‘bring your own’), but there’s age-old beer etiquette you must abide by. It’s good form to bring a whole case (a box of 24 bottles or cans) then leave whatever you don’t drink for the host… which, unless you’re planning a bender of The Hangover proportions, leaves a good few frothies for the host as a “good on ya, mate” for hosting.
The game of Tetris inside the fridge or esky to find a spare spot to pop your beers is almost as tricky as navigating the rules about what drinks you can trade – if your bottles have only just gone on ice, it’s permissible to take someone else’s then return the favour later, so long as you’re not upgrading to a superior drop, like a cheap domestic lager exchanged for some $8-a-can microbrew imported from rural Bolivia.
Fluffy white bread is the natural habitat of the sausage, but a few rolls and wholegrain options always get snaffled, too. Onions – cooked in fresh beer on the barbecue, of course – are a crowd-pleaser, and a deserving accompaniment of the sausage centrepiece. Baked potatoes and corn cobs soaked in butter are solid non-meat options but good luck trying to get anyone to touch a salad – the big bowl of lettuce really only sits there for mothers to pile onto their kids’ plates, and for adults to construct a facade of healthy eating by using a wall of green camouflage to conceal a plate packed with the meat they actually want to tuck into.
A successful Aussie barbie plays it safe with its savouries, but gets a little more creative with dessert, where anything goes if your guests still have any room left in their bellies. The classic pavlova – featuring a crispy meringue base, your choice of fruit and lashings of cream – is a reliable Aussie (or Kiwi?) favourite, as is a plate of chocolate crackles or a lamington. If that all sounds like too much effort, just pick up a Viennetta or a pack of Iced VoVos from the supermarket, or slice up some watermelon and mango and watch it get snapped up like seagulls swarming on unguarded chips. Hey, who ever said Australia isn’t at the avant-garde of global cuisine?