Onions on top or bottom? A desperate search for the sausage sizzling truth

Bunnings Warehouse will now recommend that sausage sizzle onions be placed on the bread before the sausage. Madeleine Chapman went on a journey of discovery to find the correct way to assemble a snag.

Anyone who’s ever played in a sports team or been part of a community group has served a sausage to a builder outside either Bunnings Warehouse or Mitre 10. The grilling, serving, and eating of a “Bunnings Snag” is an activity that refuses to discriminate. Everyone – young and old – is welcome in the warm embrace of a collagen casing filled with ground meat. You can’t go wrong with a sausage sizzle. You can’t go wrong and it can’t go wrong.

At least it couldn’t until now.

Media outlets around the world have published shocking reports of a ‘serving suggestion’ being circulated to all Australia and New Zealand Bunnings Warehouse stores. The suggestion? When selling sausages outside the store, put the onions on the bread first, followed by the sausage. No mention was made of tomato sauce or mustard.

The reports were shocking but scarce, with only a line or two of reasoning attributed to Bunnings chief operating officer Debbie Poole. The suggestion was introduced “to help prevent the onion from falling out and creating a slipping hazard”, said Poole. It would be distributed to stores across Australia and New Zealand.

Nothing more, except to say that onions first was “a serving suggestion rather than a rule”.

It sounded to me like the higher-ups were trying to tell us how to run a sausage sizzle. So I called those higher-ups, demanding more. Instead I got Michael, who offered to send me the press release but nothing else. I asked him how he preferred his sausage, desperate for some insight into this decision.

“How do I prefer my sausage? With no onion at all.”

What sort of sadistic operation was the Bunnings support office running?

If I couldn’t get The Man, I’d get The People. I called every Bunnings Warehouse I could think of to ask if they’d be following this rule that wasn’t a rule. The locals were scared, with many directing me back to the support centre, to Michael who doesn’t even like onions.

“We wouldn’t be able to comment as a store on that,” said one manager. I could hear the fear in her voice. Another manager told me to email if I wanted to book in a fundraiser. Finally, a Bunnings worker agreed to speak to me on the strict condition of anonymity. Once she started talking, I understood why.

“I didn’t actually know that was a rule but community groups normally put the onion first, then the sausage.”

Here I was thinking a plague was descending on the beloved sausage sizzle when the plague had been and gone. We were already dead. My informant kept going.

“It wasn’t until I started at Bunnings that I saw people putting it on the bottom – I’d never seen that before – but even nowadays I see it everywhere, outside Countdown and Mad Butcher too.”

I was speechless. My mind was flooded with memories of snags gone by. Had I unwittingly eaten a sausage that was nestled in a bed of onions? Did it make any difference? How long had Bunnings been enforcing this? Turns out, they hadn’t. It happened all on its own.

“It really depends on the community group’s preference but they do either way. We don’t really enforce a rule here in [redacted] – not that I know of, anyway.”

A classic sizzle

So where had this idea germinated? Perhaps it was a simple case of one persuasive leader convincing the plebs of New Zealand that it was completely normal and fine to put onions on the bread first. But I knew I’d never find that monster so I sought out an expert instead.

Mr Bill Allen has owned and operated the Gipps St Butchery in Karori, Wellington for as long as I can remember. His Christmas hams are widely known as the best in the country. Bill knows his meat. And I knew that, having grown up in Karori and gone to primary school with his kids, I could trust him. As I hung up the phone five minutes later, I realised for the first time in my life that you can’t trust anybody.

“My opinion would be if you’re putting sausages in bread, you’d normally put the onion on the bread first. Because then it’s going to stick to the bread.”

That was Bill, hammering the final nail into the coffin of my childhood. Over the sound of his hammering, he tried to explain.

“The onion would get squished into the bread so there’s much less chance of it coming out. That’s how I would do it and I would think that would be the sensible way to do it.”

I pushed aside my prejudices, wiped away my tears, and considered Bill’s argument. Maybe he had a point. Maybe putting onions on the bread first was in fact the correct method, and somewhere along the line, half of New Zealand was led astray, to the top of the sausage. I’d experienced plenty of snag disasters when sauce-covered onions had slipped off the sausage and stained my clothing. Perhaps all those t-shirt deaths were preventable. I was starting to doubt myself and convictions, and Bill’s case was only growing stronger.

“I’ve helped out on a few school fairs and normally we would have buttered bread out with onion on it and then you just put the sausage on top and fold it over and give it to people. That way you’ve got it ready to go.”

Efficiency. Like a fool, I hadn’t even considered the nightmare that is an inefficient sausage sizzle operation. The onions are never hot anyway. More often than not they’re on a tin foil plate to the side of the barbecue. Why not speed up the service by pre-placing the onions? Bill had convinced me. There’s a reason Gipps St Butchery is the best in the country.

Inside: an expert butcher with controversial views on onion placement

But my heart still yearned for vindication. I knew deep down that the onion belonged on the sausage, and yet nobody was brave enough to agree. So I went to the snag palace itself, The Mad Butcher.

“I’ll have to refer you to the head office, apparently we’re not allowed to speak to reporters.”

Were The Mad Butcher and Bunnings Warehouse working together? I was about to inform the woman who wasn’t allowed to speak to me that there was a silenced Bunnings employee not far away and they should unionise. But she had already hung up.

I called the head office and requested comment right from the top – CEO Michael Morton, the son-in-law of Sir Mad Butcher himself. Below is the entire transcript of our call, very lightly edited for clarity.

Me: Have you seen the news about the Bunnings sausage sizzle recommendations?

Morton: No

The recommendation is that the onion goes first on the bread, then the sausage. I was wondering if we could get a ruling from one of the biggest suppliers of sausages to these sausage sizzles on the correct way to put a snag together.

Sausage in the bread first, every time.

Sausage in the bread first?

Yep, definitely.

Then onions on top?

Yeah onions. Or sauce then the onions, most probably. Sauce or mustard and then onion if you’re going to do the onion. The sauce will help the onions stay in place and stop them sliding off.

We’ve had a few people, including some Bunnings reps, say the usual thing is to put the onions on first.

Nope, never ever seen that.

Even outside your store?

Never. I’ll buy them if I go to Mitre 10 with my children and normally they give it to you and then ask if you want onions.

So you will not be adopting the –

No, definitely not. Definitely not.

A weight slid off my shoulders like a saucy onion sliding off a barely-cooked sausage. I knew the onions belonged on top. But I couldn’t simply forget what Bill had said. Maybe, just maybe, both techniques had merit. Maybe two opposing things could exist without the world imploding. Maybe the announcement of the Bunnings serving suggestion shouldn’t have led the NZ Herald for a full day. I thought back to my anonymous informant. We’d spoken only 20 minutes earlier and yet I had lived a full life since then. On reflection, I should have listened to her more closely. It would’ve saved me some unnecessary heartache.

“I prefer the onions down because it’s not too messy. In a way it’s not really a big problem. I mean, it shouldn’t be a problem, it’s just a sausage sizzle.”

If you have any insider knowledge or particularly strong opinions about this matter, please send them to madeleine@thespinoff.co.nz.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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