When considering the breadth of similarities between America and Australia one thing scores higher than all others. Fanatical sport fans you say? Nope, that’s not what I am talking about. Vast tracts of land inhabited by swarthy men in large boots and wide brimmed hats? Not even close. An almost obsessive addiction to reality television? Very true in both countries… but not what I was thinking.
I am referring, of course, to the compulsive need the residents of both countries have to burn meat on a hot iron plate in their back yard. In a previous post on this blog I reflected on particular attributes both nations shared, and although both Aussies and Yanks certainly love a good piece of barbequed meat, each has a dramatically different opinion on the production.
Barbeque, in America, is a term fraught with danger. It can mean many different things to many different people. For example, if you were to mention to a resident of, say, Massachusetts, “Do you want to have a barbeque?” they might look quizzically at you and reply, “Do you mean grill out?” Grilling out is the typical term for throwing meat onto a hot plate to cook. Barbequing meat is an entirely different thing all together. To add insult to injury, how exactly you barbeque, and what meat you barbeque varies wildly from state to state, region to region. To suggest a dry rub for your pork in North Carolina would be akin to urinating on a crucifix in St. Peter’s Square.
So how is the visitor intent on sampling genuine barbeque in the states to make sense of all of this? Fear not, as I have developed a simple visual in an attempt to explain things.
As it must be abundantly clear from my diagram, the South eastern states profess a clear preference for the piggies. Not surprising really, given that well-cooked pork might be one of the greatest things on earth! True barbeque is slow cooked and smoked over a specific selection of wood (what kind of wood really depends on the barbequer) and the resulting meat is so tender it falls right off the bone. The end result is ‘pulled pork,’ a mass of tender meat doused in sauce. And it is the makeup of this sauce where the southern states begin to differ. So much so, in fact, that how you prepare your barbeque will mark you as clearly being from a particular geographic region. North Carolina, for example, douses its pork with a vinegar based sauce while South Carolina maintains a devoted adherence to a mustard based sauce.
Tennessee developed a smoky red ketchup sauce that tempts my tastebuds in such a way as to defy description. We love the stuff, so much so that we import the bottles whenever relatives in Tennessee are willing to mule it through customs. I’m not kidding; I have keistered bottles of barbeque sauce across the Pacific! Memphis style barbeque maintains the pork affiliation but refuses to ‘pull’ it and instead serves pork ribs with a dry rub of spices. Kansas City, the ‘barbeque capital of the world’ plays host to over 100 restaurants specializing in delicately cooked and smoked meats. Their sauce is sweet, spicy and delightful. To say they use barbeque sauce ‘liberally’ is an understatement. If you don’t end up with sauce running down your elbows, well then, you just haven’t eaten Kansas City barbeque then have you!
Georgia has both sweet and spicy sauces and unusually for a southern state, allow their citizens to make up their own mind about how to dress their pork. And to finish this barbeque tour-de-force we have the two non-conformists, the Confederate States of Barbeque if you will. Not willing to bow to the almighty pork just because the rest of the south does, Kentucky barbeques mutton and Texas (ever the independent one) is beef all the way!
Australians commit the unpardonable sin of referring to what we do with meat as barbequing. Southern aficionados would cough loudly and snort moonshine from their noses, all the while decrying what we do as sacrilege against their cultural heritage. To that I say… tough shit hillbilly! I love a good pulled pork barbeque sandwich (but only with rich Tennessee sauce) as much as the next guy, but I LOVE a good ol’ Aussie barbie. It’s not that the food is any better, it’s just so familiar. Memories of my childhood abound when sitting in the back yard, casually turning food on the barbie, sipping a cold beer and sharing the experience with friends and family. Few other places fill me with such a feeling of… completeness!
Aussie barbie food covers the gamut of worldwide backyard staples. Sausages, not hotdogs, are the ‘old faithfuls’ of the group, comically called ‘mystery bags’ as you never know what might be in them. They are akin to the America hot dog… except so much tastier. The standard method of consumption is insertion in a folded piece of bread, douse in tomato sauce (ketchup to Yanks) and go at it! A vegetarian friend of mine once admitted that if she was going to leap off the ‘rabbit food’ bandwagon, it would be for a traditional sausage. Pork loin, satay of several different varieties, steaks, lamb chops, occasionally kangaroo, mushrooms, vegetables such as onion, capsicum (peppers), tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini all feature on the Australian hotplate.
Another quintessentially Australian addition to the hotplate is the rissole. Rissoles, (pronounced like wrist- holes by all Americans I know) are small beef based patties eaten sans the bun and fillers typical in the American hamburger. The meat is mixed up pre-cooking with onion, peppers, spices, egg, breadcrumbs and sauce, and they are… heavenly.
No matter what country your traditions come from, no matter what style of barbeque you claim allegiance to, they all share common, essential traits. People gather, talk, laugh, share a beer or a glass of wine, children dart around chairs, steal a sip from their parent’s drinks, and meat is cooked. Oh, and utensils are optional.