We are well and truly into the barbecue season now. Not a day goes by without catching a whiff of burning meat from one of the neighbours’ garden. Or our garden. Worse still not a day goes by without me hearing an immensely irritating radio advert for a particularly repulsive type of grill-sausage called “Bratmaxe”. The original adverts were just irritating because there was a catchy little song about the joy of this particular sausage. Trying to make 8 vacuum-packed greasy sausages sound like fun was an awful idea. Now the adverts have moved up to immensely irritating because they get a “normal” family to sing the song – badly. I can almost imagine the creatives at the ad agency meeting…”Right, we have only managed to irritate about half the population, how can we crank it up? Come on, think! I know, lets get the sort of family you might see on reality TV to sing it! That should really do the job.” Yes, well congratulations it has.
But it’s not all bad. There are other things which go on the barbecue. In Germany, almost every party, event, sporting occasion or market will have a stand selling grilled sausages or pork steaks somewhere. Every sports club and association will have a large, catering-quality gas grill for such events. Usually the variety of food on offer is very limited. You can have a Rote Wurst (Red Sausage) which is just called a “Rote” here. Or you can have a pork steak which is just called a “Steak”, or in the local accent it sounds more like “Shteak”. If you are very lucky, then there may also be Bratwurst sausages too. These will all be served on a flimsy cardboard tray with a white bread roll. It’s very simple, but that doesn’t really matter – it usually tastes good. I usually have a Rote, break it in half and sandwiched inside the roll with lots of mustard. An almost pure combination of simple carbohydrates and fat. Not exactly superfood, but tasty nonetheless.
For barbecuing at home, the choice is much greater. As spring rolls around, the butchers’ counters are filled with all sorts of marianated meats, kebabs and sausages. One of the village butchers (there are 4 in our village!) has obviously got quite a nifty marketing department. Our favourites are – “Barbarian Strips” (big beef steak), “Dynamite Sticks” (a very spicy sausage) and “Zulu Fire” (chili-marianated chicken breasts). It’s hard to go wrong, it all tastes great. Germans love their meat, and butchers are important. As well as stuff for the barbecue, people eat a lot of cooked meat and sausages too. The classic breakfast is bread rolls with cheese, ham and salami. The weekly trip to the butchers is an important ritual. If you got the bakery with a small child, then usually the child we get half a pretzel free of charge. It’s the same at the butchers – children will be given a slice of “Gelbwurst” which is a mild cooked sausage. They like to get them hooked early – my Dad compares it to the drug dealers who hang around the school gates.
For 23 of my 25 years in Germany, I was the proud owner of the “proper charcoal barbecue”. The thought of having anything else was just unacceptable. I would miss the whole business of getting it started. Too many firelighters, the frantic wafting with a bit of cardboard, more firelighters and then that great feeling of satisfaction when the fire really got going. Of course then everybody is really hungry so I had to put the meat on before the charcoal had burned down to gently glowing embers. This meant that most of the food I produced was “au Matthew” – which is a special style of cooking whereby the outside of the food is mostly black and the inside completely raw. My kids call me the “Kokelkönig” – The Carbonising King.
Last year I finally switched to gas. This was a great relief to Heiko, my neighbour, as he had endured the fallout from my ignition/cooking/burning process over the years. Whenever they noticed me getting ready to fire up the grill, there was a frantic running around and closing of windows. Heiko also pointed out that I didn’t need to communicate via smoke signals, as he had a phone. Luckily, we are still friends. And now we are on gas. It’s not the same, but we do grill and eat outside much more often now that it’s not such a hassle. The food isn’t quite as burned and the rest of the family seem to approve. Even though we are now on gas, I did insist on getting something simple which still looks a bit like a barbecue. The craze for giant gas-powered ranges has also hit Germany but I have not succumbed. That’s not really barbecuing any more, that’s just taking your kitchen outside. Must stop now – the grill beckons!