Brilliant Barbecue in Ten Easy Steps

Brilliant Barbecue in Ten Easy Steps

It doesn’t have to be a special occasion to fire up the barbecue. As long as the weather’s on your side, you can do it any day of the week. Don’t be fazed by the flames; live-fire cooking is a cooking skill well worth acquiring. Follow our top ten tips, and you will be smokin’ hot.

All Fired Up

Live-fire cooking is a skill well worth acquiring. The more you practise, the better you’ll get. Follow our tips, and you’ll be as confident cooking outdoors as you are indoors.

Always start with a clean grill

Clean your grill thoroughly between uses to remove any leftover grease, food and ash. Oil the bars to stop food sticking. The best way to clean a grill is to give it a good scrub with a metal bristle brush reserved for the purpose.

If you buy one piece of kit…

…make it a set of long-handled tongs with heat-resistant handles for flipping ingredients, even moving coals. Barbecue gloves made of heat resistant material for moving grills, pots and pans are useful too. Buy the best charcoal you can afford; lumpwood charcoal imparts a better flavour.

Make your menu a mix of make-ahead and last-minute dishes

Long before you hand your first guest a beer, plan the menu. What are the make-ahead sides, sauces and salads you can prep in advance? There’s no better way to elevate your barbie than with homemade chilli ketchup, brown sauce or spiced coriander chutney, all of which will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Lettuce can be washed, spuds boiled, corn shucked.

Plan ahead. Do your mise-en-place

As much food as possible is prepped, set up your cooking station outdoors. Have separate utensils, platters and chopping boards for raw and cooked meat and fish. Sharpen your knives and have foil at the ready. Set the table – outside ideally! – and get those drinks chilling.

Preheat the barbie, just like you preheat the oven

Light the barbecue at least 30 minutes ahead of cooking to get it to temperature. You’ll know when it’s ready because the coals will be white hot and glowing. Remember you’re using the heat to cook, not the flames; food cooked over flames will burn and take on an unpleasant taste and texture.

Remove meat or fish from the fridge at least 20 minutes in advance

If meat or fish isn’t brought to room temperature, it will adversely affect cooking time. It’s almost impossible to achieve a perfectly rare or medium rare steak, for example, as the exterior will cook while the interior’s still fridge-cold.

Make a “two-zone” fire

Cluster the coals on one side so you have a hot zone for direct high temperature searing and a cooler zone for in direct lower temperature cooking. Thin steaks and chops can be cooked over the hot zone; larger cuts can be started there, then relocated to be cooked through.

Put a stick in it

When pressed for time, kebabs are a great choice as smaller pieces of meat will cook more quickly than one large cut or joint. Here’s a tip: when threading skewers, use two skewers not one. That way, the ingredients won’t spin on their skewer; they’ll lie flat and cook more evenly as a result. Soak wooden skewers in water first to prevent them catching fire. Consider using rosemary branches as skewers for extra flavour.

A meat probe is your friend

For food safety’s sake, it’s worth investing in a meat thermometer. A piece of meat that looks charred and tasty on the outside, may tell a very different story on the inside. This is particularly important when cooking chicken or pork; the former needs to reach an internal temperature of 74℃, the latter one of 71℃. When using a probe, stick it into the thickest part of the meat; if you don’t have a probe, cut into it to check for doneness.

Rest, rest, rest your meat.

Whether cooking indoors or outdoors, the same rule applies: meat must rest after cooking. Smaller steaks will need just a few minutes; larger cuts might need 20 minutes. The bigger the cut of meat, the longer you need to rest it. Why? So the juices can be reabsorbed back into the meat, rather than released out of it. You’ll get a juicier steak as a result, we guarantee it. To aid heat retention, rest the meat on a warm plate and cover it lightly with foil.

Get creative with spice rubs and marinades

Smokey, chargrilled food can handle powerful flavours. Marinade the raw ingredients a few hours ahead, overnight if you can. Shake off excess marinade before grilling. You can use the marinade to brush the meat or fish to keep it moist as it cooks. This is your chance to play with flavour; there are BBQ cultures all over the world to draw inspiration from. Think Jamaican jerk chicken, Nigerian suya, and Vietnamese grilled pork.

Vegetarians like barbecues too

Put away the veggie sausages and get experimental with leaves, roots, and tubers. Courgettes, squash, sweet potato and aubergine can all be sliced or cut into wedges, before being simply dressed with olive oil and a sprinkling of vinegar. Potatoes, wrapped in foil and cooked in the embers, are a cub scout classic. Tip: when cooking halloumi, cut your slices across the length of the block rather than the width. A thicker tranche is less likely to slip between the bars. Grill lemon halves, like they do in all the cool restaurants, to squeeze over the top.

Don’t forget dessert

Fruit is delicious when cooked over the coals. Bananas in their skins, split down the middle and stuffed with a few squares of chocolate, can be wrapped in foil and cooked in the embers for 15 minutes or so. Thick slices of pineapple or mango can handle the heat well, while halved stone fruit such as apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums have uses in both savoury and sweet preparations (burrata with grilled peaches is a modern classic).

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