Confessions of a barbecue outcast

Confessions of a barbecue outcast

I have a secret to confess. I am an outcast among my kind. A traitor to my tribe. A SNAG in a world of snags. Overdone or underdone? Either way, I am done.

I am a piker on the Weber. A dill on the grill. In short: I am a man who doesn't know how to use a barbie. In the Ten Commandments for Aussie men, number two – after "Thou must love sport" – is "Thou must know thy way around a grill and a set of tongs".

I am an outcast among my kind. A traitor to my tribe.

I am an outcast among my kind. A traitor to my tribe.

Photo: rolfo

Last year, Roy Morgan Research reported that almost two-thirds of Australian households, some 5.8 million, owned barbecues, an increase of about 400,000 since 2011. They're particularly mad for them in market-leading South Australia.

Even with the growth of apartment living and the so-called demise of the Aussie backyard, our love of "outdoor kitchens" is only growing. "Along with beer, beaches and sport, the barbecue is central to classic (and, admittedly, clichéd) notions of Australian identity," wrote Roy Morgan's Andrew Price in relation to the report.

Australia doesn't have its own official cuisine, like French or Italian. But if we did, it would probably be called "barbie", a nod to the widespread belief that Australia hosts the best barbies in the world, thanks in no small part to Paul Hogan and those 1980s tourism ads.


Every Father's Day, Australia Day and rugby league State of Origin match, Aussie men must endure trial by fire. They must put on an apron that says "Kiss the cook" and man a barbie, VB in one hand and tongs in the other, gently turning over steaks and pork loins and seafood.

This need to command fire goes back to our caveman days. The bloke who couldn't provide prime mammoth cuts sizzled to perfection, each piece cooked according to the precise timing every man should have coded into his DNA ("No, no, no, yes, yes, get it off right now!"), was immediately suspect.

My own inability to command flames had not gone unnoticed among my tribe. First came the gifting of a high-end Weber, which, barely used, long sat in mute accusation in my backyard. Then came the gifting of a three-hour barbecue class. A foam beer hat and a book of cricket jokes by Max Walker were sure to follow. I was being tapped on the shoulder with the tongs. It was time I learnt how to put a shrimp on the barbie, Hogan-style.

And so it was that a dozen or so of us – mostly men, but also a few women with their partners – gathered in inner Sydney to learn the mysteries of the flame. The first thing I noticed was that no one was sporting an apron with a giant pair of novelty breasts (not that I had one in my backpack). Yet the secrets came quick and fast.

Lesson 1: you can get people to do anything using alcohol. Maybe that's why cooks and people watching the grill always have a drink in their hand.

Lesson 2: salt enhances taste. Pepper changes it.

Lesson 3: temperature is everything. Lesson 4: always watch your timing.

Lesson 5: Tasmania has some of the best meat in the world.

Lesson 6: a quality cutting knife is your new best friend.

Lesson 7: those cooking shows cheat. It takes me much longer to do my prep work than it does Jamie Oliver. (Jamie, you lied to me!)

Lesson 8: "sliders" are a fun alternative to burgers (providing you eat at least three of them).

Lesson 9: make friends with your local butcher.

Lesson 10: food tastes better if you cook it yourself.

We all had a turn at chopping up vegies and other ingredients, and at working the grill. Finally, we dived into massive plates of steak, chicken, lamb and salad in a feast worthy of Henry VIII (if he celebrated Australia Day instead of English Day or whatever the English do).

Now I feel ready to feed my extended tribe this summer, tongs in one hand, beer in the other, Maxie Walker joke on my lips, meat seared to perfection on the grill. Yes, I went into the class as a failure. But I left it as a man.

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