The Advertiser newspaper published an article recently about the work of British archaeologist Mark Horton. In a truly fabulous use of taxpayer-funded university study he’s found that the common urge of men to stand around a BBQ cooking meat has been an primal part of them for over a million or so years.
In many cultures over time, including our own Aboriginal tribes, the men hunted the animals and the women found food from plants and nests closer to the cave. Even now, these preferences are still evident: Mark tells us that it is instinctive for men to do the cooking outside and for women to mostly cook inside. Not surprisingly, a recent survey by Meat and Livestock Australia reveals that over seventy percent of men admit that cooking a steak on the barbecue is ‘instinctive’ and fifty five percent of women reporting that making salads feels ‘right’.
It makes perfect sense, especially if you’ve unobtrusively observed the males in their domain at a friend’s BBQ lunch. The blokes all stand there with their beers in hand and watch as the host holds pride of place directly in front of the BBQ with the culinary equivalent of a Ferrari – the oversized set of tongs. This Alpha Male, or King Tong - at least for today, because the lunch is at his place – will only surrender up those tongs when every last chop, sausage or marinated chicken wing is cooked black. Then and only then will he voluntarily lay down the omnipotent tongs and have a bite to eat before picking up the scraper and working on removing the crispy bits amongst the oil slick glinting on the hot plate.
His girlfriend/wife/sister/Mum, on the other hand, is never still. She has swept the pavers, dusted down the outdoor setting, wiped over the chairs, set the table, brought out the cutlery, sauces, salt and pepper shakers, paper serviettes and salad tongs (which are a very pale imitation of the BBQ ones). Inside the house – her preferred domain, she has boiled the diced potatoes for the salad, sliced and grated up the coleslaw, steamed the corn cobs, dished out the beetroot, tossed the greens and filled up several platters with cheeses, dips and crackers. Each platter she uses is a large, brightly painted arty farty pottery job that weights at least 3kg before any food is placed on it. As a result her biceps ripple like those of a young Arnie in a kind of cosmic payback – no bloke around the BBQ can match her for silent strength and none would dare challenge her to an arm wrestle.
If you’re a male guest at these events your role is simple. Just follow the smell of smoke which will lead you to the host. He will always be at the BBQ and the visiting male just has to stand at his side with eyes firmly fixed on the sizzling meat whilst they grunt about anything related to sport, politics or home renovation.
If you’re a female, it can sometimes be a lot more demanding. Do you play the role of super house guest and offer to help in the kitchen? If the answer is yes, you run the risk of ending up with the messy and un-fun jobs like chopping up onions for the rissoles (the hostess is running a bit behind), having to slide raw chicken meat onto skewers or hastily washing the dishes because they’re short of a few settings. This choice also leaves you stranded in the kitchen for most of the lunch and therefore completely out of any interesting conversational groupings.
Another decision available to the female is to just head straight for the dips, chips and deckchairs and hope that your husband brings you over a glass of champagne. This decisive action sends a clear message: I aint here to help and I’m sure as hell not going to be the designated driver either. Whilst this may be a rather relaxing option, it is unlikely to win you any new friends or be appreciated by you later when your stomach flops unbecomingly over your low-risers, almost obscuring the scary numbers shown on the bathroom scales.
The third role requires you to be the unofficial babysitter for the BBQ. Mother number one is stuck in the kitchen and her twins are throwing green lemons into the wading pool; Mother number two’s three horrors are on the trampoline with water pistols, screaming; and your own little one is peacefully asleep in her capsule. You will now spend the next four hours mediating fights – ‘Sorry Nathan, eating your Uno cards doesn’t mean that you’ve won the game’; instilling manners – ‘Emma it’s not nice to pick your nose and wipe the boogers on the sliding door’; and being their best friend – ‘Er, that’s an interesting idea James, but I don’t think I want to be a Pinata today…..’
The third role horrors aside, it is the fourth female role at a friendly BBQ lunch that is the most difficult to pull off – invading the manly huddle around the hotplate. If you ever try it, you must steel yourself for:
- All chat to stop dead as soon as you arrive;
- Being gently elbowed out by the sneaky but determined stubby holders;
- The atmosphere to become polite but chilly despite the hot fat spitting on your top and the smoke making your eyes water;
- Any suggestions you make regarding the need for some medium-rare steaks to be totally ignored; and
- For them all to look at you expectantly when the turner-overer-of-the-sausages, King Tong – asks for someone to pop into the kitchen for a dish he can load them on.
It is interesting to remember that the Aussie Meat and Livestock survey shows that 55% of women prefer to make the salads. Notwithstanding the fact that it covers over half of us, there are still 45% of us out there who do not think that staying inside and doing all of the interminable slicing and dicing for the salads is all that preferable. I consider myself to belong to this 45% group, yet I also haven’t cooked any meat on a BBQ for – well – my entire life. I know how, but I just choose not to. I find it boring, smelly and extremely messy and would hate to sit down to lunch with my family and friends immediately afterwards to find that my brand new outfit is enhanced with charcoal, fat splatters and chop grease.
Instead, Love Chunks tends to refer to me as the ‘Front of House’ in our entertaining and culinary partnership. I’ll reluctantly whip up a green salad but will ask guests to bring along any other layered fruit or vege concoction that will complement blackened food with red oozy bits inside. LC will offer everyone a drink (including me) and then head purposely over to the hotplate to lovingly cook his marinated Greek lamb whilst I chat, forget to pass around the garlic bread and avoid setting the table. Later, when the meal is ready and the shared salads are served, it will be me who’ll get the complements on the meal in a perverse kind of assumption that I, as the female, did all the hard work.
Still, Love Chunks gets a tiny bit of revenge. It’s me who scrapes the fat and meat off the plates into Milly’s dog bowl, shoves the bottles into the recycling bin and washes all of the stupid, endless, bloody &%$#ing dishes