We may think ourselves barbecue kings, plating up the perfect steak. But most of us are committing some egregious mistakes.
We may think ourselves barbecue kings, plating up the perfect steak. But most of us are committing some egregious mistakes.

Barbecue mistake most Aussies make

Australians and barbecue are intrinsically linked in the national psyche.

From the First Australians cooking by fire for tens of thousands of years to 21st century backyard barbecues with some bevvies and a few mates, Australians love to gather around a flame.

While so many of us pride ourselves in grilling a perfect steak, most of us are making many crucial mistakes in the process, according to chef Lennox Hastie, a man who definitely knows a thing or two about cooking with fire.

Hastie is the celebrated chef of Sydney restaurant Firedoor, where dishes are grilled, smoked, baked or warmed by fire - there are no conventional ovens or gas or electric stoves in the kitchen, and definitely no microwave.

Hastie's mastery with the primal element is so recognised that he is one of four culinary figures to be featured in the new season of Chef's Table on Netflix, subtitled BBQ and streaming from today.

Sydney chef Lennox Hastie features in the new season of Chef’s Table on Netflix
Sydney chef Lennox Hastie features in the new season of Chef’s Table on Netflix

The British-Australian chef and Tourism Australia ambassador is only the second local to be profiled on the prestigious series, with its luscious visuals and reverence for food, after Attica's Ben Shewry five years earlier.

And Hastie's episode advocates for not just the many layers of Australian food culture, but all the beautiful, fresh, in-season produce in Australia, especially from local farmers, dairies and independent producers.

Now that you're familiar with Hastie's credentials, you best believe that when Hastie tells you how to barbecue something, you should be listening.

While Hastie is an advocate for a wood-burning barbecue, he still has tips for the average Australian family and their gas barbecue, and the common mistakes to avoid.

FLAME-GRILLED IS A MYTH

We've been seduced by images of flames flicking at a succulent piece of meat, most notably by the Americans - but we should all know better than now than to listen to Americans when it comes to food.

If the flames are cooking your meat and there are scorch or grill marks on it, you're doing it wrong.

"Nothing should ever be grilled on flame," Hastie said. "You should never subject an ingredient direct to the flame because it's a completely different flavour - it's more astringent and bitter.

"You go to all that trouble of sourcing the best ingredients, so you don't want to mess it up by putting it over the flame."

Lennox Hastie’s 120-day aged steak is the best steak you’ll ever taste Picture: Nikki To
Lennox Hastie’s 120-day aged steak is the best steak you’ll ever taste Picture: Nikki To

Hastie said that if you're using a gas barbecue, what you don't want to do is put what you're cooking directly on the grill. Instead, there should be a buffer between your meat, fish or veg and the grill. He said a campfire grill basket, also known as a hamburger basket, is ideal - they look like two cooling racks sandwiched together.

"The trouble with gas barbecues is the fact that it's essentially the gas is just heating up a steel hotplate with a grill on it. You want to avoid that grill mark flavour because you're literally just branding it.

"Put it on a separate rack so it's not sitting directly on the grill. We use those racks you can find in a camping shops and they're amazing because you can handle the ingredient, especially something delicate like fish which can get stuck and tear when you're trying to turn it."

He also said with not overload a gas barbecue - so turn on all the burners but only use half the surface space because gas barbecues are only half as hot as a firewood barbecue.

MIND THE OIL

Don't slather your meat or veg in oil before you place it over the barbecue.

"I use a spray which enables me to have a bit more control," Hastie said. "If you have a spray, you can load it up with whatever you want - the majority of what we use is grape seed oil because it's very high temperature and has a neutral flavour profile.

"You have a very light misting on an ingredient because what I often is a lot of barbecue books tell you to brush something with oil and people will add too much to an ingredient and then it's engulfed in flames.

"The oil's just burning, and everything is black on the outside. So I highly recommend a light misting."

Fire king Lennox Hastie warns against dousing your meat in oil Picture: Nikki To
Fire king Lennox Hastie warns against dousing your meat in oil Picture: Nikki To

INGREDIENTS ARE KING

"You're going to get what you pay for," Hastie said. "Especially when it comes to ingredients. There are certainly cheaper options out there, but you won't always find them to be particularly flavoursome.

"They're highly unlikely to be supporting your local farmer."

Hastie conceded that for most people the supermarket is the most convenient source of their ingredients but he urged Australians to seek out farmers markets in their area.

"You can look them up online, they're around, there's good people there. And you can visit them locally, have a chat to the farmers as well. No one knows more about the ingredients than they do.

"They're so passionate about it and it's nice to have a relationship to what you're eating and you'll find that what they're growing is actually worth eating."

One of those "good people" is David Allison from Stix Farm on the Hawkesbury River north-west of Sydney.

Stix Farm, which also has a shop in Sydney suburb Marrickville, is an organic vegetable farmer who is passionate about in-season organic produce, and supplies Firedoor as well as other notable restaurants such as Ester and Saint Peter.

Allison has a warning about produce in larger supermarket chains: "Stuff that looks perfect has generally being sprayed by two or three chemicals in its lifetime and it's at least 21 days old."

David Allison at Stix Farm on the Hawkesbury River Picture: Nikki To
David Allison at Stix Farm on the Hawkesbury River Picture: Nikki To

Hastie also name-checked his pork producer, Extraordinary Farms, a smallholding whose meat he said was "nutrient dense and rich, so you only need a small quantity to feel full".

"So buy better quality, less quantity and focus on the ingredient."

BUILD YOUR OWN FIRE PIT

You can shell out hundreds, even thousands for a top-of-the-line gas barbecue, but Hastie said you're going to get more flavour out of a humble fire pit built from a couple of bricks from Bunnings, some iron bark wood and a cake rake on top.

"It really changes the game when you move towards live fire cooking and cooking with wood because it's not just the heat but the flavour resource as well.

You don’t need a fancy barbecue to embrace fire cooking
You don’t need a fancy barbecue to embrace fire cooking

"Cooking with fire is primitive, sure, but it's how we all began and it should not be considered anything lesser," Hastie said. "If anything, the reverse is true.

"You should take the best ingredients you can get, because it's worthy of that, and it's a natural form of cooking. It's a natural form of energy.

"It's a beautiful process to involve friends and family, to get together and share in that experience because you're forced to slow down and appreciate each other's company.

"And while the fire is burning down to embers, you have a couple of drinks and you chat and you solve the problems of the day. That's what was traditionally done."

Chef's Table BBQ is streaming now on Netflix

Share your TV and movies obsessions | @wenleima

The writer travelled to the Hawkesbury as a guest of Netflix and Tourism Australia

Originally published as Barbecue mistake most Aussies make


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