There is nothing like the aroma of a BBQ. For Australians, the summertime BBQ is a time-honoured, iconic institution. All of us crave the taste of a BBQ. I know I do! Australian BBQs are usually relaxed, jovial gatherings, which everyone loves to attend. How did Australians come to love the BBQ? Let us head back in time, back to when Australia was first being settled by the British.
The only way of cooking was to use wood, fire and the meat that was brought over on the first fleet of ships and thereafter. Those who became the stockmen, drovers and swagmen (shepherds in Australia), who would drive thousands of stock from feeding place to feeding place, in remote places over long periods of time, would cook and eat meat from the land. Perhaps it was kangaroo, wallaby or their own stock, like lamb or beef.
To complement the BBQ’d meat, damper (an Australian soda bread) would be made. Traditionally, damper was made from wheat flour, salt, baking soda or Irish soda, it was cooked in the ashes of the campfire or ‘damped’ fire. It could also be used as a dessert, when golden syrup was added.
Though the term was somewhat known as a large, outdoor feast, the word, ‘barbecue,’ (or the shortened, ‘BBQ’) was rarely used in Australia. According to an Australian food timeline, backyard barbecues in Australia didn’t take hold as the social events that they have now become, until the early 1900s. The first use of ‘barbecue,’ for an Australian event is reportedly a notice for the Waverley Bowls Club’s Leg o’ Mutton Barbecue in 1903.
The term caught on for more social and civic events in the following years. It wasn’t until the 1950s though, that the idea of private BBQ's in outdoor kitchens really caught on. Since then, Australians have never looked back.
Here are a few tips when you receive that very Australian BBQ invitation:
1. Reply back as soon as you acquire your invitation. A good Australian host will need to know how much meat, sausages and salad to purchase fresh on the day of the BBQ.
2. Find out what your host would like you to bring. Your host may say either one of three things when asked: A host or hostess may ask that you *“bring nothing.” That is self-explanatory. Or a host or hostess may say, “BYOB.” BYOB in traditional Australian culture, means to “bring your own beer.” Leaving any not consumed for the host at the end of the gathering, will suffice for bringing no present at all. The third could be “bring a plate.” Don’t assume your host will be actually needing plates! It means to bring a dish of consumables to share, such as a salad, a vegetarian cold bake or a dessert.
Popular beers enjoyed at an Australian BBQ? Traditionally seen at Australian BBQs are Coopers Brewery Original Pale Ale, Crown Lager, Little Creatures Pale Ale, Carlton Draught, James Boag’s Premium Lager, Victoria Bitter, Tooheys New, Cascade Draught, Tooheys Extra Dry, Hahn Super Dry, Corona Extra, and Heineken.
Salads commonly seen at BBQs are potato salad, rice, coleslaw, pasta, lettuce based salads with avocado, Greek or even Caesar style salads.
Cold vegetarian bakes can include quiches, vegetables with cheese toppings, vegetable and pasta bakes, roasted vegetables.
Desserts to finish the night are often Pavlova, trifle, fruit salad, cheese platter, Swiss roll or chocolate cake.
3. Being invited to a BBQ is an informal affair. No need to dress up. Casual, chic and comfortable is advised. You will be possibly standing on the lawn, it’s best to leave your heels at home and wear espadrilles, ballet flats and even thongs.
4. Arrive at the suggested time. When you arrive you may find a friendly game of backyard cricket or badminton. You may be encouraged to join in or watch the kids play.
5. Assist the host or hostess if you see that help is needed. Ask though, before jumping in. Many BBQ's are informal occasions and you’ll possibly receive a casual invitation on the day itself, or the day before. Don't be scared to pitch in, or to offer a hand. It can make for great conversation and it helps you to get to know others swiftly.
6. What you will find cooking on the BBQ will most often be steak, sausages, marinated chicken, mince patties, lamb chops, onions, seafood grilled and few vegetables such as corn, capsicum or pumpkin.
Don’t touch the BBQ while hot. For many reasons, at an Australian BBQ there will always be a designated cook. They will assume responsibility for cooking the meat to perfection. Feel free to gather around the BBQ and chat with your host, with a drink in hand. The cook or host will be more than happy to accommodate the way you like your meat to be cooked. Taking over, you might find that a further invite may not be forthcoming. Complimenting the chef, however, works like a charm and you’ll probably be invited back.
7. Every good Australian household will have mosquito repellent, in the form of coils that can be burnt away from the dining setting or you can spray repellent during the night. Your host will usually store this in the laundry cupboard, however, a polite guest won’t go through someone else’s cupboards without permission to do so. If you are eating inside, all windows and doors have fly screens to keep the buzzing enemies on the right side of the door.
8. Leave your phone in your back pocket or bag. Australians love to chat and tell stories and vice versa. If you are constantly on your phone, it will indicate that you are not interested in being there and you will be remembered by your hosts and other guests for all the wrong reasons.
9. Lastly, after thanking your host and or hostess, again compliment your cook, and leave at the suggested time.
* After being told to “bring nothing,” if you feel inclined to bring a gift for your host or hostess, steer away from chocolates, which are too easily meltable in the Australian summer heat. Flowers are also risky, as the heat can cause the petals to wither and burn. What makes a great BBQ host or hostess gift? An unusual bottle opener, personalised stubby holders (bottle or can koozies), or a bottle of wine to be opened and enjoyed at a later date.
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