THEY’VE TAKEN THE SIZZLE OUT OF THE BACKYARD BARBY!
JOHN McNAMEE LAMENTS THE PASSING OF THE CHARRED CHOP AND THE BURNT SNAG…
Dad used to have an old 44-gallon drum cut in half and bedded down on some sheets of corrugated iron and rotting railway sleepers in the back garden.
He’d fire it up on a hot Sunday arvo using dried tree saplings and leaves for kindling and a great log of dead gum tree and various other hopefully combustible materials.
It’d often take the old man over an hour and several boxes of matches plus a slurp of petrol to get the mixture to catch but when fully ablaze, the whole lot rivalled the heat coming from a steam loco’s furnace.
Naturally, that meant a hell of a lot of smoke wafting up into the sky and swirling around the nearby houses.
Mum would have to close the dining room windows to stop the pungent black odours from polluting the house, smudging the curtains and killing the flowers.
Neighbours knew not to hang their washing out when they heard Dad chopping up the logs to add to his noisome cauldron.
He had an old rusty sheet of reinforcing iron he used as a hot plate which could hold over a dozen sizzling snags from Mr Pearce’s local butcher shop along with an array of lamb chops and stringy bacon.
There’s be a lot of prodding and poking and turning of the increasingly charred items of delectation accompanied by new gouts of smoke and fire bursting out of the infernal contraption and the smell of scorched hair and singed fingers mingled with the food smells.
Exciting stuff for we kids and we’d caper around the smoky mass poking the smouldering items with toasting forks and screeching when the fat took fire and blazed up alarmingly.
With a slab of bread and butter, a meal never tasted as nice as that, except of course on those other Sundays when Mum would slave over a scorching oven for hours roasting a great leg of lamb, with roast potatoes spitting and jumping in a couple of inches of boiling hot dripping.
Of course, later in life, as adults, when we moved into our own homes and raised our own families, the backyard barbecue became more sophisticated and the old 44-gallon drum was replaced by a concrete bunker affair, with iron railings fixed across the structure and a hot plate made usually of tin.
Special implements such as tongs, long brass pokers with hand guards and large sized “flippers” for turning the meat added an extra element of technology to the humble process.
But happily, for many decades, the backyard barbecue retained its rough and ready atmosphere and you knew if you were invited around to someone’s place for a weekend arvo “sausage sizzle”, you’d know to make sure the missus got to work on the bowls of coleslaw or feta salad, and you’d have to pay a quick trip to the nearest bottlo to stock up on the cans and stubbies and bags of ice.
You’d ring up Stevo to see if he could tell Nicho and Jonno and a few other mates to bring a couple of cases of VB or whatever and a few bottles of plonk for the girls.
You knew it was going to be a long day in the sun because, well barbecues in those days, were a solemn ritual, not to be hurried, and all conducted with due Aussie ceremony.
It was always handy if you had a large esky nearby, so you didn’t have to barge into your mate’s house and raid the fridge for “anothery” and get a black look from the ladies when you accidentally dislodged the bowls of mayonnaise-coated stuff inside.
Some blokes turned their barbecue skills into a real Ben Hur production extolling the virtues of the low-flame-hot briquette bed of coals method as distinct from the traditionalists who favoured the “burn buggery out of them” approach.
As long as you had the mozzie spray all over your arms and legs and a wet hanky to get the wayward embers out of your eyes, it never seemed to matter how long it all took.
Some blokes who couldn’t hold their grog, would, obviously, get a bit legless by the time the food was served up on the sagging paper plate and you’d have to keep a close check on them just in case they made an inappropriate move on a mate’s cheese and kisses.
Of course, all that down-to-earth camaraderie and rough and tumble stuff started to die out, sadly, when the gas bottles replaced the briquettes and coal blocks and there’s never a twig or stick of kindling to be seen.
The large-scale epic-sized barbies were soon replaced by smaller stainless steel and cast-iron versions you could tuck away on your unit balcony or the front veranda of the house after a quick wipe over with a scourer following the meal.
But despite this sophistication the barbecue still retained its stately aura and if you wanted a quick meal, don’t expect to get one at a barbecue, go to McDonald’s instead.
With the open hot-plate and small gas bottle affair, it could still be a companionably lengthy process with the taste buds being constantly tantalised along the way with a few cold ones shared with a laugh and a yarn with your mates. You also made sure you could see the footy on TV from outside.
More importantly, you could stand nearby and gaze upon the array of sizzling fare and breath deeply the unique waftings of meat-flavoured smoke. Bliss.
But how things have changed. I’m saddened to say that no longer do these primeval rituals hold the same appeal.
No longer can we stand overlooking the blackening hot plate with its delectable offerings and drink deeply of the flavoursome odours.
You know why? They’re put LIDS on the barbecues these days so you can’t see what’s happening underneath!
It’s ruined the whole process. We’ve got ourselves a new Weber Baby Q fuelled by an 8kg gas bottle and mobile cart. But it’s not the same.
You can roast a whole chicken or leg of lamb for just an hour and it comes out all golden brown and delicious looking. You put it in, check that you can hear some noises coming out from underneath the lid, you go away, maybe have a glass of shiraz, and whooska, next thing it’s done.
I tried to sneak a peak under the pesky lid when we were barbecuing some chump chops (five minutes each side can you believe!!) the other evening but I got sprung by She Who Totes The Tongs and told that they won’t cook properly if you keep opening the lid.
Now where’s the fun in that!
PS: OK, I admit…the barbecued food we’ve had lately, including chicken kebabs and stir-fry have been absolutely mouth-watering. Not a burnt black piece of fat or gristle to be seen. I don’t know what Dad would have thought.
Main image: Forbidden: Trying to sneak a peak at what’s happening underneath…where’s the fun in that?