Merv Hughes is a man known for a few things: his successful career with the Australian Test cricket team in the '80s and ‘90s, his exuberant personality, and his trademark handlebar moustache. Something many would be surprised to learn about him is his passion for good, simple cooking.
In his new book, BBQ, Beer & B.S.: Food to Bowl You Over, the sporting legend focuses on food intended for cooking outdoors in the Australian summer. He not only shares recipes for the best meats to barbecue but for delicious salads, sides, dressings, and marinades as well.
“I’ve always been into barbecuing, and I don’t mind nipping around the kitchen and doing things in there when I’ve got time, but barbecuing is just simple,” says Hughes.
And it’s not just sausages and rissoles — Hughes is adamant that a good barbecue should have more than just those traditional staples.
“The recipes that I really like doing are things like fish on the barbecue, as well as a lot of South American and Mexican-style food — hopefully I can inspire people to get off their backsides and use their barbecue for something a bit different.”
One of the upsides of barbecue cooking is that there’s nothing too technical involved, but you can still make a range of mouthwatering meals, he says.
The former cricketer’s BBQ guide will bowl everyone over at your next barbecue
“The thing that I like about a barbecue is that it’s not just your red meats — you’ve got your chicken and your fish, as well as a good steak.”
And if you’re looking to try and shake things up a little at your next weekend barbecue, Hughes suggests swapping sausages for a different kind of classic catch.
“A whole snapper in tinfoil and just a few additives to keep it going, that’s what I’d be putting on the barbecue,” he says. “The only way you can go wrong is to overcook it!”
Hughes says he’s learned a lot from the many barbecues he’s been to over the years, including some basic tips that have personally been helpful to him.
“Simple things like cleaning your barbecue straight after you’ve used it. A lot of people pour water on it, but I reckon it’s better to put ice on it and let it melt so it doesn’t evaporate so quick, and you get a chance to properly clean the plates,” explains Hughes.
Another staple of Australian summer gatherings is a friendly game of backyard cricket — but Hughes insists that these days he’d rather catch a snag on the barbecue than snag a catch out on the field.
“If it comes to being on the hotplate, or bowling and batting in the backyard — I’ll be on the barbie every time. It’s definitely my place these days!” he exclaims.
Where it all began
He may prefer grilling to bowling these days, but during his career Hughes was always an enthusiastic cricketer, playing in grounds a hundred times larger than the average backyard.
Throughout his 53 Test team appearances for Australia, Hughes’ boisterous on-field personality would annoy the opposition enough to earn him the nickname “Fruit fly”’ — a reference to Australia’s greatest national pest.
Hughes shares that in his time on the Australian cricket squad, a barbecue was the team’s classic social event during their downtime. From Mark Taylor’s backyard to Geoff Marsh and Mike Whitney’s places, he says he’s never been to a single bad one.
So, what's the best barbecue Merv Hughes has ever attended? You’d think, with hundreds of choices, it would be a difficult question, but the man answers without hesitation.
“Without a doubt, the best I’ve been to was in England during the 1989 Ashes, in a part of London that — fair dinkum — looked like Gotham City. It was dull, it was dreary, but we went up to the fifteenth floor, opened the door, and it was like paradise: ferns and palm trees, waiters and waitresses. It’s still the most magnificent day I’ve ever been to.”
Having played in his fair share of Ashes, Hughes is excited for the upcoming series. “It’s a huge summer, isn’t it! The first day of that first Test match of the summer is something that I always really look forward to.”
You can bet Merv will be watching the cricket from behind the barbecue, glad he’s got tongs in his hand, rather than a cricket bat with an English paceman steaming towards him.
BBQ, Beer & B.S.: Food to Bowl You Over is available in all good bookshops and online now.
What are your favourite items to throw on a lunchtime barbecue?