10 essential tips for an australia day barbie

bbq steak with toasted breadcrumb salsa

Australia Day is one of my favourite public holidays. It’s not that I’m super patriotic (although I do get a little teary eyed whenever I hear ‘I still call Australia home’) it’s more that it’s a time to celebrate what I love about being an Aussie.

Our beautiful beaches, our countryside, our outdoor lifestyle, our irreverrence and love of ‘taking the piss’, our sense of humour, our fabulous meat and produce, our willingness to embrace the new food cultures of our migrants, and of course our obsession with the Great Aussie Barbie.

I’m not sure what I’m doing this Januray 26th but I hope it will involve family and friends, good Aussie vino and a barbie in some form. Happy Australia Day everyone.

stonesoup 10 essential BBQ tips

i. don’t cook cold meat
If you’re only going to change one thing about your BBQ habits, make sure you always bring your meat back to room temperature before cooking. The biggest struggle with cooking on the barbie is to get the heat from the outside of your steak into the middle without burning the surface to a cinder. The warmer things are in the middle before it goes onto the fire, the easier it is to win the battle.

ii. preheat properly
If you’re going to get a good crust on your food and that lovely BBQ flavour, you need your barbie to be hot before you start cooking. This also helps if you’ve been a bit slack in the cleaning department.

iii. thin is in
The thinner your meat, the less far the heat has to travel to cook the middle, so the easier it is to get the inside right without burning the outside. I like to start with steaks about 1cm (1/2 in) thick then push them out with my hands to about 1/2cm (1/4in). This mechanical action also tenderises the meat and increases the surface area for more BBQ flavour.

If you really must have 2 inch thick steaks, think about starting them on the barbie to sear and get the flavour and then finishing them in the oven.

iv. don’t poke & prod
It takes time for your caramelised BBQ crust to develop and this won’t happen if you’re continually flipping your steaks or burgers. Only turn once or twice. And definitely don’t squash everything down as this forces the juices to run out and leaves you with sad dry meat. Sausages are also best left alone – piercing the skins dries them out.

v. don’t fuel the fire with fat
I used to pour the marinade over my meat on the grill and wonder why the flames flared up and turned everything to charcoal. It took me a while but I finally figured it out. Now I make sure my meat is well drained of excess marinade or I cook it on the hot plate. For fatty meat like chops it’s best to either trim or cook them on the hotplate and finish them off on the grill.

vi. remember food hygiene
It’s funny how the outdoors can make some people forget the basics. Always put your cooked food on a clean plate or chopping board and never add marinade that was used for raw meat to cooked meat. Simple.

vii. rest
I recently saw a website comparing meat that had been barbequed and then rested for varying amounts of time. The ‘unrested’ sample had juices running out everywhere whereas the sample that had sat for a while before being cut looked lovely and juicy on the inside without any juices on the plate. It’s all about letting the muscle fibres relax and take back the juices after the intensity of the heat.

viii. clean your BBQ
I am completely guilty of being lazy when it comes to cleaning and my poor BBQ shows the results with rusted out grill bars and a very skankey hotplate. I used to subscribe to the theory that if you just left the BBQ to burn off any food scraps for a few minutes after cooking then you don’t need to clean. Wishful thinking Jules.

ix. earn the right to be BBQ queen (or king)
If there’s one thing that drives me crazy about Australian BBQ culture it’s when people who wouldn’t be seen dead in the kitchen think they have the divine right to commandeer the barbie. BBQing = cooking people. If you can’t make a salad, or a sauce you certainly shouldn’t be put in charge of the waguy beef. Earn your stripes.

x. expand your BBQ repetoire
A few years ago I was working in a winery in Northern Victoria. One of my fellow winemakers was building a new house. In the mean time, he and his wife were living in the ‘shed’ and all they had for cooking was a gas BBQ. Bruce was amazed at how creative his wife became. He even rocked up to work one day with a batch of delicious cookies made on the barbie.

You don’t have to go to that extreme but it can be great fun to play around with dry rubs, pre and post cooking marinades, skewers, cooking in parcels, slow cooking and even smoking.

minimalist BBQ steak

minimaist BBQ steak
serves 1

When you’re serving steak straight up like this, it’s super important to have fully flavoured good quality beef. I prefer grass fed as I find it more balance in flavour and moister and more tender in texture. My Dad tells me it’s higher in omega 3 fats or something so it’s better for you.

Of course it’s all about personal preference. If you haven’t ever done a side by side comparison I highly recommend picking up a grass fed and grain fed steak and doing a little tasting experiment. While you’re at it you could also branch out and try different cuts.

1 scotch fillet steak approx 1cm (1/2in) thick
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

Remove your steak from the fridge at least an hour before you’re ready to cook.

Preheat your BBQ until very hot. Using your palms, push steak to flatten out to about one and a half times the original diameter. Rub steaks with a little oil and season well on both sides.

Cook steaks turning once, about 2 minutes each side for rare or longer if you prefer.

Place steak on a warmed dinner plate, drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes but preferably 10. Serve with a well dressed green salad and if you’re feeling adventurous, the toasted breadcrumb salsa below.

toasted breadcrumb salsa

toasted breadcrumb salsa
serves 2

Inspired by Judy Rodgers from the Zuni Cafe cookbook.

The best steak I’ve ever cooked was served with this salsa. I’ve you’re short on time, a post cooking soak in a sauce like this is a better option than a pre-cooking marinade.

I was worried about the breadcrumbs going soggy in the dressing but trust me they don’t and you get a lovely crunchy textural contrast to your steak. When the dressing mixes in with the meat juices as it rests you’re in for beefy BBQ nirvana.

1/2C sourdough breadcrumbs
1T olive oil
2 anchovies, finely diced
3 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
1 large brown shallot, peeled & finely diced
1-2T red wine vinegar
1/3C extra virgin olive oil.

Combine breadcrumbs and 1T oil in a small bowl then toast under the grill (broiler) stirring regularly until crunchy and deep golden brown. Allow to cool.

About 10mins before you’re ready to BBQ combine all the salasa ingredients with the toasted crumbs. Taste and season and allow to stand.

Serve spooned over your BBQ of choice.


More in the mood for eating out?
Hop on over to my new restaurant review blog eat|shop|drink for some simple ideas of places to try.


  • Yay, Jules! Even tho I’m in NZ, I’ll celebrate Oz Day simply because it’s another great excuse for a barbie! And, I want to wholeheartedly underline your 10 tips, except for number 3. (Wait…) Especially the hygiene precautions, and the barbie cleaning; the best thing I’ve done lately was to upgrade to an all-stainless BBQ which is dead simple to keep clean (a brass brush on my power drill is held in reserve for the most stubborn deposits, but the rest are easy-peasy).

    As for thin steaks, I can’t buy your medicine! I buy the best aged sirloin I can find and cut it myself into 5 cm (2 inch) thick slabs. Your points about pre-warming the meat, resting it after cooking and not prodding eliminate most of the problems — but for thicker pieces of meat the key is to sear it over high heat (turning only once) and then finish it with the heat turned down quite low and the lid of the barbie closed (indirect heat).

    As for the “expand your repertoire” point, I couldn’t agree more. For one thing, there is no rule that says you’re not allowed to put a skillet onto the barbie! And mine (gas powered, as most are here) has a side burner too, so you can do steamed fish or soup perfectly well!

  • thanks lisa
    really appreciate the support

    love that there are people in nz using australia day as an excuse to BBQ. and thanks for your thoughts on thick steaks. you’re right on that the way to get them cooked properly is to sear then use indirect heat to finish them off. I’d suggested the oven but your idea is much better. you might turn me into a doorstep steak fan yet

  • That’s Tuesday’s food sorted then.. nice! Hope your Australia Day is relaxing and fun!

    Random question, I made your “beans, beans, magical beans” for supper the other day and whilst I absolutely loved it my husband said the flavour was fabulous he just would have liked a bit more sauce on the beans to soak up with the bread. I did put some rather yummy olive oil on the beans after they were cooked but they seemed to soak it up quite quickly. Any suggestions would be v well received as they are DEFINITELY going to become a staple.

  • And, as Michael Pollan reminds us, cows (or beeves, as he calls them) are designed to eat grass and are not designed to eat grain (esp corn) and are therefore healthier and happier for it.

  • under_exposed
    I haven’t read michael pollan but sounds like he’s onto something

    hope you have a great australia day claire.
    glad you liked the beans. I know what your husband means about a more saucey option. easiest would be to just increase the olive oil. or maybe you could try a little mild chicken stock or reduce down some white wine.?

  • I read his “In Defense of Food” and then went and bought but am only now reading his “Omnivore’s Dilemma” which I am really enjoying. You can read it when I’ve finished.

  • I am with Bill, I find thin steaks don’t really work on the BBQ. Obviously it depends on how well done you like them, but if you want the classic “char” on the outside with the rare inside then thick is the way to go. “Char” doesn’t meant burnt, but it is the crispy outside that contrasts with the melting inside. With a thin steak I find you can’t cook it for long enough to get a good crust without overcooking the centre.

    We buy good thick steaks from Victor Churchill in Woolhara, which has really fantastic aged and marbled meat despite the glam “meat boutique” decor, and surprisingly competitive prices given the location and quality. We cook for approx. 4 mins a side at high heat, with the lid down for the first few mins to ensure a maximum heat blast, then rest for the appropriate time.

  • phild
    we’ll have to agree to disagree on the steak thickness issue.
    but thanks for your thoughts on victor churchill. a friend of mine is obsessed with them but I’ve been resisting a visit. sounds like it’s time to take a trip to woollahra. glad to hear you think their prices are reasonable

  • Don’t want to get into the whole “how thick should your meat be” debate (but lets just say I’m a HUGE fan of Hugh Fearnley Whatchamacallit) but must admit I was surprised by Victor Churchill. But I just don’t get this whole butcher-cum-fast food pre-prepared meals thing. I can’t help but think it drives prices up … perhaps that’s just my ignorance of food economics.

  • I broke out the grill tonight for the first time since the fall. I didn’t expect much from my piece of steak that’s been in the freezer all winter, but I followed your directions to the T and holy geez – I feel like I’ve tasted steak for the first time. I even forgot I had the steak sauce sitting out. I’ll be following your tips from now on!

  • brilliant article! this pretty much sums up all my gripes about barbies. my sister insists on eating the meat right after it comes off the grill, and she uses her fork to “check for tenderness.” drives me crazy!

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