Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BBQ time!

Today is a rare summer day that actually feels like summer, with clear skies and temperatures heading upwards of 30°C. (For the record, I consider June to be one of the summer months, along with July and August, whereas here in Belgium summer doesn't officially begin until June 21.) After the miserably cold and rainy spring, I'm starved for sun and warmth, so I'm suddenly feeling a bit giddy—as well as a bit stressed.

The stress comes from the knowledge that this summery weather will soon be replaced, once again, by clouds and rain. MUST TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NICE WEATHER WHILE IT LASTS!!! Quick, let's drive to the coast and jump in the ocean! Or round up some friends and try to find a café that still has a free table outside! Or, better yet, let's fire up the grill and throw a barbecue!

Belgians LOVE to barbecue. It combines some of their favorite things: getting together with friends and family, eating lots of meat, drinking, and spending time outdoors. As soon as the weather permits, everyone's weekends are occupied with either hosting or attending various barbecues, which can range from casual, simple affairs or full-blown, catered extravaganzas.

We recently attended a family barbecue that fell into the latter category. A traiteur (butcher) was hired to supply the food for about 25 adults and a bunch of kids. He showed up with his grill and was soon stoking the coals while his wife laid out the salads and side dishes. There was potato salad and cole slaw, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, pasta salad, cucumber salad and rice, along with big bowls of mayonnaise-based sauces. (And, of course, bread.)

Here in Belgium, mayonnaise--plain or in its many flavored varieties--is the main condiment for both meat and vegetables. Salad dressing as we know it (Italian, ranch, blue cheese, etc.) is a rarity. And BBQ sauce? That staple of every American barbecue, in all its glorious forms, whether spicy, sweet, smoky, or hotter-n-hell—is completely unknown. Imagine that! All those Belgian barbecues with no BBQ sauce... Kinda makes you sad, doesn't it?

My husband's favorite BBQ condiment is something called "cocktail sauce," which is a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup. Where I come from, that's called "Thousand Island dressing" and it's used on salads. To me, "cocktail sauce" is a spicy dipping sauce for seafood made from ketchup and horseradish. But I digress...

At our family BBQ, the grill man was soon churning out platter after platter of meat. No hot dogs or beef burgers—Oh no. But we had (pork-based) hamburger patties and big juicy bratwursts. We had marinated pork chops and thick slabs of bacon. We had pork skewers and chicken skewers. We had skinny sausages called chipolatas and spicy merguez. The meat just kept coming, and we just kept eating. A Belgian BBQ is first and foremost about the meat. Mostly chicken, pork and sausage, but sometimes beef as well.

The good news is, you don't have to hire a caterer or spend time prepping lots of food if you want to have a barbecue. The supermarkets are well-stocked with ready-to-cook barbecue meat, ranging from pre-marinated ribs to ready-made skewers of meat and veggies. All you have to do is pick up a variety of grill-ready meats, some pre-made potato or pasta salad, some charcoal, and you're all set.

In fact, you can probably forget about the salad, as long as you have meat and bread. According to my husband, the other essentials for a classic Belgian BBQ besides meat and bread are sliced tomatoes and canned peaches. Just don't forget the drinks. And the mayonnaise!

(A version of this post appears on the website of Fans of Flanders, an English-language show aimed at expats in Belgium. I'm honored to be one of their regular guest bloggers!)


  1. I enjoyed this post, Diana. The nice-weather frenzy always makes me smile. Sometimes it is hard to enjoy it when you know it will be gone so soon, though. I have enjoyed the warmer days lately but I find today that I'm not minding this cool weather so much. I don't quite know how to dress for warm weather anymore.

  2. hahaha nice post

    my parents in fact always made such a big deal out of a BBQ, that it became so huge to manage that in fact they hardly ever had a BBQ. Then I became an exchange student in Canada were BBQ is just a way of grilling your meat (if needed in shorts in the snow...Canadian style). A grilled burger and a bun...and you were done. I really liked the casual style & frequence of the BBQ use, then also I missed the entire excitement and details that come with a proper BBQ in my Flemish mind.

    My husband now has an in between attitude. As soon as sun comes out, he BBQ's. We often do it just for our dinner among ourselves, and yet we'll grill the whole range of meats for ourselves: some sausages, spare ribs, a little steak, some bacon, .... You must have a choice, if not it's so sad (it's ok to have leftovers for the next 3 days, but you can't just get the BBQ going for one type of meat). Then depending on how we feel or whether we have guests we toss a salad with it and some bread but if we loaded up the supermarket we'll also have some pre-bought couscous and potato salad and other stuff. And lots of sauces, always loads of sauces.

    since then we have an overload of food anyway, it's always fun to phone friends to invite them over, the more the merrier. Then there's no left-overs and we just create a new BBQ the next day.

    so yeah, fits your description :). But I've never seen peaches at a BBQ

  3. I suggest you keep your eyes on your local LIDL flier. Once (or twice near me) per year they have an American week. Last time they had one I loaded up on smooth peanut butter, BBQ sauce, Tex-Mex ingredients, Craisins, Cranberry Juice, and American style candies. It's my favorite week of the year! :)