Australia Day 2016: the barbecue goes low and slow

Australia Day is approaching and as cooks all over the country prepare to fire up their barbecues in celebration, the burnt snag is definitely off the menu.

The Aussie barbecue has evolved. These days tong-wielding enthusiasts are embracing global influences, turning down the heat, and transforming the humble backyard barbie into another excuse to pit mate against mate in healthy competition.

Celebrity chef Adam Liaw says he loves the simplicity of the Australian barbecue.
Celebrity chef Adam Liaw says he loves the simplicity of the Australian barbecue. Photo: Nic Walker

"We've probably been brought up with the burnt sausage and well-done steak off the barbecue," Australasian Barbecue Alliance co-founder and general manager Adam Roberts said. "Whoever was doing the barbecue probably said 'That's the way I like them', when in reality they've just buggered it up."

The alliance was formed to promote and develop traditional barbecue and meat-smoking culture, and is the sanctioning body for competitions such as The Big BBQ, being held on Australia Day at Parramatta Park. Its members advocate the "low and slow" style of barbecuing – less heat, more time – usually using smokers and wood-fire barbecues. It's part culinary movement, part sport. 

Celebrity chef Adam Liaw says today's Aussie barbecue embraces global influences.
Celebrity chef Adam Liaw says today's Aussie barbecue embraces global influences. Photo: Nic Walker

"It's vastly different to chucking a steak or sausage on the barbie and burning it to a crisp," Mr Roberts said. "You have a large piece of meat – a whole brisket, or the whole back end of a pig – cooking for a longer period of time. You end up with a much more tender, flavoursome piece of meat."

Celebrity chef and Sunday Life columnist Adam Liaw​ said cooking over coals was another way to enhance the flavour of meat, and was increasingly popular as people looked to bring out the best in their barbecue.


"You're seeing more emphasis put on the quality of meat and less on marinades," the MasterChef winner said. "When I was growing up, there wasn't a piece of meat that went onto the barbecue that wasn't heavily marinated the day before." 

Liaw said he loved the simplicity of the Australian barbecue "and the fact that it does bring in other influences from around the world. You might have Asian salads on the side, you might have American-style barbecue sauces."

Chef Ben O'Donoghue says Australians are getting more adventurous with barbecuing.
Chef Ben O'Donoghue says Australians are getting more adventurous with barbecuing. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Chef Ben O'Donoghue, author of The BBQ Companion and star of TV show Aussie Barbecue Heroes, said Australians had grown "more adventurous in terms of cuisines they're doing on the barbecue".

"People are putting together a culturally refined menu," he said. "If they're doing an American-style one they'll do a funky slaw, a potato salad, sides that match the style of cuisine. Korean barbecue is very popular ... [with] marinades and ferments."

Food media and social media were also having an influence, he said. "There's a greater competitive element to cooking these days," he said. "Between mates, between friends, they're having barbecue-offs.There's some backslapping going on across social media."

O'Donoghue said he loved lamb on Australia Day: "a whole leg of lamb tied in a swaddle of rosemary that's been caressed on the inside with an olive tapenade and anchovies. That's always a real winner".

Sales of lamb lifted more than 35 per cent in the week before January 26 last year compared to the weekly average, no doubt helped by Meat and Livestock Australia's annual Australia Day lamb ad, which this year sparked an avalanche of complaints with a scene in which a SWAT team torches a vegan's kale

Adam Liaw's five Aussie barbecue tips

  • It's important to rest meat when it comes off the barbecue. Keep a resting tray next to the grill and scatter it with fresh herbs and olive oil to give the meat extra flavour while resting.
  • Hit your potato salad with an umami punch by mixing in a few tablespoons of finely grated parmesan.
  • Cook in courses. There's no need to throw everything on the barbecue at once. I like to start with seafood, then other meats, before finishing with sausages. 
  • Cooking for a crowd? Try the reverse sear method for perfect steaks. Slow-cook a tray of steaks in the oven at 125°C for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 55°C for medium rare. Rest them well then finish them with a couple of minutes on the barbecue. 
  • Forget lemons, scrubbing with newspaper or ice. The best way to clean a barbecue is to let it burn on its highest heat for 10 minutes then brush it with a stiff wire brush.

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