Cooking up a great Kiwi barbie

Call it a ‘barbie’, barbeque, barbecue or BBQ – the act of cooking outside is an essential slice of the New Zealand culture and culinary experience that epitomises the easy New Zealand lifestyle.

Barbecue meals epitomise the easy New Zealand lifestyle where long summer days promote convivial gatherings and casual outdoor living.

The great Kiwi barbie most often happens at home in the backyard, but keeping the heat out of the kitchen appeals so much in summer that even student flats and chic city apartments are usually equipped with the vital accessory.

No fuss entertaining

Cooking and eating outside is no-fuss entertaining so many New Zealanders do the bulk of their summer socialising over the barbecue, and an invitation to a casual Kiwi barbecue often extends to bring "something to throw on the barbie".

Away from home, portable gas barbecues have extended the traditional Kiwi picnic to hot, alfresco treats cooked up at any time of the day on boats, beaches and in other open spaces.

Some households - having invested as much money in their barbecue as their indoor cooking appliances - choose to cook outside year round, raising barbecue food to another level of cuisine.

Award-winning New Zealand chefs - Al Brown and Steve Logan - have inspired a whole new generation of outdoor cooks with their Hunger for the Wild television food series.

Bangers and sauce

Traditionally the Kiwi barbie centred around bangers (sausages) and burgers, served with Kiwi favourite Watties tomato sauce and bread. But, while those ingredients remain staples - especially for younger fry - contemporary menus have become much more sophisticated.

Summer is salad season. By adding grilled meat or seafood plus a pot of new potatoes and sauces you have a standard Kiwi barbie - fresh, healthy and tasty for feeding the hoards.

However, with super appliances that can roast, boil and stir fry, almost any meal goes on the barbecue making a modern barbie harder to define.

Kiwi barbies are just as likely to serve up gourmet sausages, seafood kebabs, char-grilled vegetables, slow roasted boned leg of lamb and other fine treats as the ever favoured lamb chops, steak and salad.

A cold beer is the traditional liquid accommpaniment to a Kiwi barbie, but New Zealand wines - particularly lightly chilled Marlborough sauvignon blanc, or an Otago pinot noir - are just as likely to be on the menu.

Beach BBQ

For anyone who doesn’t have a barbecue, most New Zealand parks and beaches provide public barbecues available on a first-come-first-served or pre-booked basis.

Theres no greater delight for seafood lovers than catching or gathering fresh seafood - crayfish, oysters, scallops, fish - and taking it straight from the ocean to the barbie. New Zealand paua (abalone) is a popular choice on the seaside barbie.

Christmas BBQ

For many New Zealand households, Christmas dinner is a festive Kiwi barbie - better fitted to the Antipodean season, more relaxed and easier for feeding large gatherings of family and friends.

Modern hooded barbecues mean traditional favourites can now be cooked and eaten outdoors so an outdoor New Zealand Christmas dinner could still include turkey or lamb roasted on the barbecue, served with fresh summer salads, home-grown, new potatoes and pavlova with strawberries and kiwifruit for dessert.

Experiencing a Kiwi BBQ

Enjoying a typical Kiwi barbecue is something visitors can experience with friends and contacts, but more tourism operators, hotels and lodges are including the experience.

Diners taking the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak, near Queenstown, can enjoy a gourmet barbecue on the shores of Lake Wakatipu at Walter Peak Station - an iconic high country sheep station.

At Walter Peak, the barbecue is a year-round attraction thanks to an innovative outdoor kitchen, with a wood-fired bbq area, and pergola that adapts to the weather. The large pergola structure extends from the original Colonel's Homestead, offering magnificent views of the lake and mountains.  

The concept was designed by Masterchef judge Josh Emett and his Rata restaurant business partner, Queenstown restaurateur Fleur Caulton, to provide the best aspects of a Kiwi barbeque and take it to a more sophisticated level. Walter Peak offers gourmet BBQ lunch or dinner options and an internationally renowned farm show experience.

Barbecue tricks

It’s often the male members of the household who preside over cooking the Kiwi barbecue.

‘Bill’, a local village butcher from Raumati beach near Wellington, offers would-be-barbecue-chefs handy tips that include having a beer in hand and gathering chairs around so friends and family can share the cooking experience.

His other tips to achieve the perfect Kiwi barbie include:

  • preheat the BBQ well before attempting to cook
  • check heat by counting how long you can hold your hand just over the grill: 10+ seconds for low heat, 6 - 8 seconds for medium heat, 2 - 4 seconds for high heat
  • meat should be at room temperature before cooking
  • trim extra fat from meat to cut down on flare-ups, and avoid sugary sauces
  • pre-cook chicken before finishing on the BBQ
  • turn steak once, but sausages need constant rotation.