How do you eat a meat pie? Is there an element of deconstruction? Are you ripping off the lid to distribute your sauce? Do you commit the crime officially listed in all states and territories and use a knife and fork? No matter how you do it, it honestly cannot be worse than how they were served and consumed when pies first arrived in Australia.

In the early 19th century pie sellers roamed the streets looking for unsuspecting victims. Once located, the seller pierced a hole in the top of the pie with their thumb and poured in “gravy” (which apart from the whole thumb-in-pie thing doesn’t sound too bad until you realise the “gravy” was probably just salty water). Watery thumb pies? We’ll pass, thanks.

Roving pie sellers are still a thing, at the footy at least, shouting “Hot pies!” across the Great Southern Stand at the ’G. But how did football and pies become so inextricably linked?

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Thank Footscray Football Club, who pioneered pie nights in 1921. But don’t picture raucous or debauched parties: how could they be when coffee, music, lectures and card tricks were on the menu alongside pies, instead of gallons of beer? How quaint.

Then the competition element came in with pie-eating competitions in the footballers’ training rooms. After reporting on a pie-eating competition, a local paper reported that “pie nights are still popular, and gastronomy now plays an important part in the training of our footballers.” Unsure if these two points are related, but perhaps the half-time lollies need to be replaced with half-time Four ’N Twenties?

It’s safe to say a large portion of the 12 pies Australians eat on average each per year are consumed while watching football. Our love of pies unites us across all teams, but pies – and how they’re best eaten – can also divide us.

As we discussed in the meat pie episode of Australia’s most unhinged food podcast Ingredipedia, the hands-down worst way to eat a meat pie is deconstructed. That is, when you eat the filling separate to the pastry – perhaps by digging it out with a spoon. Not only does this scream “toddler”, you don’t get to experience the pure bliss of the pastry and filling combining in one saucy mouthful.

Second worse is using a knife and fork. You’re denying the pie the ability to exercise the full glory of its design, in that it’s possible to eat with one hand. Plus, cutting surfaces are hard to come by in the outer.

Squeezing your sauce on top of the pie is the most common method, but if you have access to a squeezy sauce sachet (which is an Australian invention, by the way) we recommend squeezing the perfect amount of sauce for each bite directly into the beef (or beef-adjacent) filling. But we’re control freaks.

Don’t call the cops on us, but we reckon one of the best ways to eat a pie (or half a pie, to be specific) is in a buttered bread roll. We have first-hand experience of this being a thing at Greensborough High School in the ’90s, but it has starred on select school canteen menus all down the eastern seaboard, and South Australia too.

Was it a way for nearby bakeries to use up day-old bread? Almost certainly. Were the schools making a tidy profit by only selling half a pie and filling us with cheap carbs instead? You bet! Does tucking a saucy pie in a cosy bed of fluffy wheat enable you to kick a ball or gossip your heart out without having to worry about meat dropping down your shirt while also being truly delicious? Hell yeah.

No matter your pie-eating method, one thing we can all agree on is that if the skin on the roof of your mouth is still intact post-pie, you’re doing it wrong.

Want more weird food stuff? Subscribe to Australia’s most unhinged food podcast Ingredipedia, hosted by Emily Naismith and Ben Birchall.

Episodes on other icons of Australia such as Tim Tams, Boston Buns, Vegemite and Weet-Bix are up now.