On Barbecuing

Australian’s have never had a barbecue culture.Unless you count burning cheap pink sausages while standing around drinking VB as a culture.

Attempts to get clever on the barbecue inevitably involve  the kind of foods that look fancy if you know nothing at all about food and cooking. Putting an onion and a piece of tomato on a skewer along with some tough old bits of steak is not the most sophisticated statement on cooking the world has seen. Trading those pink supermarket sausages for those skinless supermarket sausages is an incremental step on the sophistication scale so small you almost can’t measure it (with known sophistication metres). And just because you’ve swapped your VB for Corona, you still can’t convince me you’re not a backyard bogan.

(Mmmm. So pink.)

If anything, Australia’s pride in their barbecues serves as an example of just how inept and naive we really are. Ever seen the dude who can barely ride a bike trying to show off? Thinks he’s clever until he whacks his nuts against the top tube. Well that’s Australians and barbecues. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect on a national scale. The Dunning-Kruger effect is, to quote Wiki, “a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate”. Sounds about right.

You have only to look around at our neighbours to know how much our barbecues suck. Most south east Asian countries do awesome barbecues. They marinate meats and stuff fish with lemongrass. Once barbecued and served with sticky rice and a paw-paw salad you’ve got your own piece of heaven. (So long as you can manage with those tiny stools they seem to use over there.) Wash it down with your beer of choice and celebrate by ordering something you’ve never eaten before.

I haven’t been to Brazil but I know a few things about them by observing them in my town. They love living cheap and surfing. And they love barbecue. Thankfully not all Brazilians living on the Gold Coast these days are students and they’ve finally shared their love of barbecue restaurants with us. Japan and Korea have similar barbecue cultures (sorry to anyone from Japan or Korea who thinks I’m missing a whole world of nuance) that now supports dozens of restaurants within short riding distance of my home. People from Arab cultures nursing coals with shashliks disappearing in a haze of smoke can be seen as I ride through our parks. South Africans are taking over entire suburbs in our north and now their amazing boerewors is freely available in local shops.

Australians meanwhile, have the sausage sizzle at Bunnings.

(This guy owns this image.)

Really. The only thing that prevents Australian’s from cringing at their barbecue culture is looking back on where we came from. England. I wouldn’t trust those guys to light my gas barbecue.

There’s hope on the horizon though. Something is grilling on the barbecue and it ain’t a cheap pink sausage. It’s to the US that our burgeoning barbecue culture is turning. The food vans are leading the fray, with pulled-pork everything everywhere (including those moronic sliders; can someone please take those miniature taster burgers and shove them where the sun don’t shine, then come back with a proper burger when you’re good and ready to play with the adults) and US-style barbecues and smokers popping up all over town.

Real barbecues are back. Those emasculating and obnoxiously convoluted outdoor kitchens (really, if you want to play mother then go inside and cook in the real kitchen) are being replaced by desirable objects like this one:

(Barbecue Smoke King.)

Barbecues that smoke and grill and impart a barbecue flavour are being sold by new players like Barbecue Smoke King. Australian’s are realizing that barbecuing isn’t just cooking outdoors. Like people who turned to single-speeds, they’re realizing there’s beauty in simplicity.

But more importantly, the culture is growing in the backyards of Australians. You can see this in the blogs that are gaining interest on the internet and the backyard barbecue competitions they’re organizing. One guy who has won a local competition and runs an informative blog is my mate Ben. His website, Smoking Hot Confessions, is growing an audience. And this guy knows how to cook.

I was lucky enough to be the guest for his Chinese New Year inspired barbecue. After a few beers worth of grilling (not an official measure of time) the drool was running down my shirt. Fortunately this hit the table:

Now that’s a proper Australian barbecue. It does what the bastard sons of Australian culinary culture have always done. Borrowed from elsewhere and put it together in our own unique style. When we do this we’re at our best. And if we keep doing this we’ll have a barbecue culture we can be proud of.

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