Steaking my reputation on the barbie
When it comes to barbies girls are just as good as guys ... and I’ve done the course to prove it
Iam not having it. Not for another summer. Year upon year I’ve dressed lettuce leaves, grated beetroot and grilled peaches to make ever more exotic salads only for all the glory to go to the blokes.
So many men I know are culinary volcanoes. They lie dormant all year then erupt on the first weekend of spring in a cacophony of clashing tongs, sizzling hotplates and clinking beer bottles.
Yes, the barbecue bores. And this year I’m going to join them.
Trouble is I barely know how to turn on a barbecue. And I don’t really drink beer unless it’s a 38-degree day and I’ve just run a marathon. So, basically never.
But all that’s about to change because last Sunday I went to BBQ School which is just like normal school except with knives. The teacher was called Seamus.
“Ha ha,” I quipped. “A bunch of Aussies being taught to barbecue by an Irishman.”
Seamus didn’t laugh. Not even when I queried how he’d learned to barbecue in Ireland where 10 degrees and a light drizzle is cause to break out the board shorts. Instead he made me cut up the vegetables. Great – there’s eight blokes, two other women and a 12-year-old doing the course and I’m the one tasked with chopping. Meanwhile, two of the chaps are impaling chickens on cans of beer.
Now most blokes are pretty humble when it comes to barbecuing. From what I’ve observed they huddle round said appliance in groups, deferring to each other’s skills, discussing romantic comedies and melting their faces off purely so they can modestly present a platter of variously seared meat with a nonchalant: “Oh, it was nothing. Anyone could do it. The real work is in the salads.” Then, of course, they do the dishes.
So why are these chaps – many of them older than me – attending Barbecue School? Pushing round coals – ahem, turning on the gas – surely comes imprinted on their DNA?
For many it was a Father’s Day gift. Although one bloke was brave enough to confess that his wife had signed him up because “she’s sick of me torching the steak”. Another boasted that he liked his steak well done and took great pride in sending his meal back if it wasn’t. “Haw, haw, haw,” he chortled, in the manner of a man who wears slacks and has doubtless never ventured past the missionary position.
Seamus, who clearly had a PhD in ego management, talked us through some basics. Why are heat gauges on barbecues a waste of time? Because they don’t work. Far better to use a meat thermometer, although don’t leave it in the sun. Food cooks faster on a hot day and bottled gas is more powerful than your household supply.
Then we set to making seared scallops with crunchy Asian salad, Jamaican jerk beer can chicken, Scotch fillet and chocolate pudding. Four courses without troubling the oven.
The scallop dish (delicious) confirmed everything I’ve long suspected about barbecuing – that the chopping of vegetables and mixing of dressings requires genuine effort and concentration while a 30-second sear of sea creature is within the capacity of any numpkin. The nice bloke next to me, clearly proficient with tongs, couldn’t pick coriander leaves from their stem if his life depended on it.
The chooks basically cooked themselves standing upright on their cans of beer (lemonade is also fine). They’re done when a thermometer in the breast shows the meat has reached 74 degrees. Rest them covered in a tea towel, never foil. Again, hardly the palaver the coal kings of my acquaintance make it out to be.
But then it was time for the steak. As Seamus sliced the grass-fed Scotch fillet into 3cm steaks revealing a seam of fat and some marbling, someone asked if it was “wagyu”.
“Everything is wagyu these days,” he shrugged. “If I checked the cat he’d be wagyu.”
What you want is meat that looks real not the vermillion-hued stuff you get in supermarkets. And you need to cut it with a sharp knife. And bring it to room temperature before you cook. As for oil (vegetable never olive because it has a low smoke point) and seasoning, it’s best done in a tray. Coat your steak both sides and throw it on a hot barbie. It should be hot enough that when you hold your hand a foot above the grill you should only be able to keep it there for 4-5 seconds.
Then there’s the “don’ts”. Don’t pierce it, lift it or turn the meat more than once because it changes the direction of the juices. In other words, leave it bloody well alone. If you want the criss-cross pattern so beloved by Americans then go for your life but according to Seamus it’s an affectation employed by restaurants to charge you another 10 bucks.
I like my steak medium rare which means I need to cook it two-and-a- half minutes on each side. There’s a test you can do for “doneness”. If you press your middle finger to the tip of your thumb, the fleshy area below the thumb should be how your steak feels. For rare, press your index finger to your thumb and for well done try the pinky. But none of this matters if you don’t rest it. Resting is to steak what sane assistants are to Donald Trump. Without resting your meat, you may as barbecue dog roll.
It turns out to be the best steak I’ve ever eaten. The barbecue will be my domain this summer. Now if I can just rustle up a bloke to make a salad. email@example.com