Throwing an awesome barbecue doesn't have to involve making your own bunting and painstakingly pouring pomegranate jelly shots into hollowed-out strawberries. God (who looks like Bill Hunter if you're Australian) can see you when you do that, and he doesn't approve.
But your mates won't think you're a wanker if you make a little effort. Here's what you need for a barbecue: food, a case or two, music, somewhere to sit, some ice, and good people. We can't help you with meeting good people and making them like you, although inviting them over to eat meat and drink beer probably won't hurt.
1. PLAYLIST & PEOPLE
This is up to you, of course, but for a breezy arvo-into-evening sit-around, we suggest a vaguely chronological mix of soul and Motown, RSL bangers (we're talking Crowded House, 'Electric Blue', 'The Horses', 'Bette Davis Eyes', 'Dumb Things') and early-90s hip hop and RnB. Only invite people who enjoy all those things, don't invite anyone who hates 'Electric Blue', and there's your guestlist sorted.
Beer: buy a case. Buy at least one. Buy two if you can afford it. What, are you worried you'll be stuck with a whole bunch of leftover beer? It's not a Christmas ham. People will (and should) BYO but you should always have communals they can get stuck into. And nobody's going to complain about free beer, but if you want to step it up a notch, use one of these apps to pick yourself a solid local craft beer.
Wine: Non-beer-drinkers will usually BYO too, but you can now get an award-winning bottle of wine at ALDI Liquor for a fiver. Get two white, a rose and a red, just to be hospitable, and if you end up taking one to dinner at your in-laws', they won't be able to tell from the label that it cost less than a pub steak.
As for ice: schlep to the servo and buy a bag. It's like $4. If you don't have a tub-type thingy and don't want to shell out for one, here is a short list of things into which you can place a sturdy garbage bag to create a reasonably capacious waterproof ice bucket:
- A laundry basket
- the carton the beer came in (or literally any other large cardboard box)
- a milk crate
- a small shelf turned on its side
If you've got an old solid-metal bottle opener around, tie it to your table or BBQ stand with a piece of string. That way you'll always have one handy, it won't go walkabout in someone's pocket, and your dumbest/drunkest mate won't break a tooth trying to prove how hard he is.
Buy minute steaks, not rump. They're cheaper, thin enough to stuff into a white roll with sauce, and are much more friendly to plastic cutlery, paper plates, eating on laps and all of the above at once.
Sausages are mandatory. Buy two kinds. Make one of those kinds the standard straight-sided fundraising democracy Saturday sport sausage-sizzle beef variety (get some from a good butcher if you're not wild about where the beef in the budget ones come from). Make the other a nice spicy Italian, fat pork ones, or vego ones if lots of your mates lean that way.
The most important sauces, of course, are the holy trinity of red, yellow and brown: tomato, barbecue and American yellow mustard in big squeezy bottles. Those are mandatory. Don't get fancy about it. Heinz and Masterfoods are your friends.
Other than that, it's down to taste. A couple of hot sauces (chipotle, habanero or classic pepper), sriracha, a good brown'n'sticky like HP or A1, whole-egg mayo, onions, chutney, that Beaver brand hot dog mustard with the pickle chunks in it — line 'em up.
Bags of them. Supermarket. Buy about one and a half per diner.
6. FOOD THAT IS NOT MEAT
It exists! Barbecuing plant matter usually yields delicious results. Here's the best way to go about it:
- Classic, cheap as heck, everyone loves corn, and all you need to put on it is butter. (Spicy mayo and grated cheese works too, though.) BBQ the cobs whole (you can even do them in the husk, if you rip out most of the silk and give them a soak in salted water beforehand so they steam themselves) and pile them up on a big plate.
- Buy as much asparagus as you can afford. Snap off the woody ends, oil 'em up a bit, get some good char marks on there, chuck them in any dish that's longer than it is wide and squeeze a wedge of lemon over the top. Looks fancier than a mink bidet.
- Baked potatoes. Wrap them in foil, stick them in the hottest corner of the BBQ (with the hood down, if you have a hood) and forget about them until it's time to do the steaks; they're done if they give when you poke them with the tongs.
- The standard vego options at BBQs are portobello mushrooms and haloumi. Those are delicious things, but herbivores are usually pretty used to fending for themselves a little at social events – don't be shy about asking them if they'd like to bring something they're actually enthusiastic about.
If you want to make a salad-y thing, here's the easiest one: cook a 500g packet of risoni or orzo, and dump in a whole jar of marinated feta (oil and all — break up the big bits) and a big bag of baby spinach and some chopped fresh parsley while the pasta's still warm. The oil from the feta will become your dressing, and you can add toasted nuts or chilli flakes or roasted veg if you want.
For dessert? Fresh watermelon and pineapple, and/or Zooper Doopers.
We've already talked music, and ruled out bunting. Fairy lights are your friend: string heaps of them above head height for a star-canopy effect, drape them randomly on a wall or fence, or twine them around the clothesline for that Strayan charm. (Bonus points if you can find the old-fashioned multicoloured, full-sized light globe style.) For daytime, shade is crucial, whether it's a covered area, an umbrella or a tarp strung up bivouac-style and if you're not blessed with a truck-sized vat of chemically-treated water in your backyard, a blow-up pool is just as much fun.
Sturdy citronella candles are more practical than tea lights, smell like summer, and sometimes even keep mozzies away. (Keep a can of Pea Beu handy anyway.)
All you need to do, really, is to let the booze flow, watch the evening roll in, and feel the serenity. And if it all devolves into a raucous game of Goon Of Fortune, at least your neighbours will know who the legends on your block really are.