My dad and stepmom have a small ranch in a country town called Woodend in Australia. It's only 45 minutes outside of Melbourne, but as soon as you drive out of the city you see sheep and cows walking around in paddocks. On a recent visit from LA, where I live now, my family and I celebrated my return the way Australians celebrate just about everything—with a barbie.
Here, grilling is a way of life, something we do all summer long. It's a way Aussies eat day to day, and a way we mark special occasions. It's so much a part of the culture that in Melbourne most new apartments have barbecues built into their balconies.
My dad has a nice barbecuing area, set up just under the ironbark trees, a type of eucalyptus. As usual, that day there was a good mix of friends and family: my sister in-law and her kids, my brother and goddaughter, and my dad's neighbors. I started a fire in an old oil barrel that my dad had cut in half and welded some legs onto, which makes a perfect grill. I tossed in some wood from fallen trees on his property that gave off a beautiful scent as it burned.
My family grills so often that we don't want to stress about it. So we made sure to do as much as we could beforehand: By the time the guests arrived, the meat was ready to go, music was on, cocktails were flowing. I had some lobsters that I split in half and put in the fridge. There was compound butter I made with parsley, garlic, and chile flakes; it basically poaches the lobsters in their shells once it's over the fire. The Esky cooler was full of ice and cold drinks, and the table was set. After all that preparation, the grilling was the easy part.
First, I seared some prawns on the _plancha_and put them in lettuce cups for a nice first bite. In Australia, one side of the barbie is a grate and the other is usually a metal flattop, which makes it easy to fry some eggs to put on burgers or cook all kinds of fish. Here we grill lots of seafood. I grew up close to the ocean, where there are picnic areas with coin-operated gas-fired barbecues that take 20-cent pieces. It's somewhat primitive, but I can't say how many times I've come back from fishing with my mates and cooked our food right there on the beach.
Credit: Mark Roper
Of course, we also have an obsession with lamb and can grill it a million ways: in lamb burgers, lamb chops, even a whole leg. Aussies love what we call a "sausage sizzle," literally a grilled sausage, which could very well be made of lamb, too. It's served in a buttered white bread roll, slathered in ketchup. It's still my guilty pleasure. I can remember that smell as a kid walking my dog: You stroll by every third or fourth house around dinnertime and smell those sausages blistering away. Now, as an adult, when I make a sausage sizzle, I whip up my own ketchup, too, which makes it taste even better.
As the party got going, I grilled the lamb burgers and sausages and lobsters, and served them just as they came off the grill. While coordinating courses is important, we like to keep our barbies a relaxed affair. You want to be able to take a break and play with the kids. The meal went far into the evening, I'll tell you, until the sun was well gone. Of course, all the guys stood around and talked about how to build a bloody fire. It's a sign of being a man.
Curtis Stoneis the author of_What's for Dinner? (Ballantine Books, 2013)._