The Great British Barbeque.
The summer air of Britain is rich with the scents of lighter fluid, burning fat, scorched sausages, and curses about blistered fingers, scalded lips and upset tummies. It doesn’t have to be this way. Cooking on a grill over glowing embers can and should produce some of the tastiest, most succulent food you will ever eat. Let’s make the Great British Barbeque truly great.
Barbeque tip number one: The Barbeque itself.
To a great extent, this is going to depend on your budget, the space you have available (including storage space for when it’s not in use), and the amount of times you use it. Some friends and I recently had a fantastic, impromptu barbeque on the beach, using cheap, and usually nasty, disposable barbeques, but generally bigger is better. Most DIY stores sell the barbeque on wheels – the lidded tray, with its racks and associated equipment on a wheeled trolley. These range from excellent, heavy-duty bits of kit to flimsy and downright dangerous, so choose wisely. Some people have the resources to build (or have built) a barbeque pit; usually brick-built. One of the best barbeques I have ever seen (and eaten from) was made of an oil-drum split in half lengthways, sitting firmly in a framework of recycled scaffold poles, with the grill made of brick reinforcement mesh. Cost, pennies; capacity huge; results excellent.
Barbeque tip number two: The Barbeque Fuel.
Most of us will cook on charcoal briquettes, bought from a DIY store or garage forecourt. If you get a chance, and the cost is not prohibitive, try woodchips instead, such as hickory, or even sawdust (from untreated, unpainted wood) which can sometimes be obtained from your local sawmill or woodyard. Whatever you use, try to get it lit without firelighters or starter fuel if you can; to me, the smell of these things seems to linger and permeate all the food. Screw up some newspaper, cover with kindling, and get it going the old-fashioned way if you can. Once your fuel is alight, then LEAVE IT ALONE until all the flames have gone: you are looking for glowing embers to cook on, not a roaring blaze.
Barbeque tip number three: Barbeque Food
You’re not going to go to all this trouble and then use cheap frozen burgers and sausages of dubious quality, are you? Get some good stuff from your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer: tell them you are having a barbeque, and listen to their advice – they may suggest something you’ve not thought of (or, for that matter, something I’ve not thought of in the list below).
Sausages: proper butcher’s sausages, of course. The chipolata-type are ideal for barbeques. Being thinner, they are easier to cook through without carbonising the outsides.
Chicken: thighs are ideal for barbeques, as they are a more-or-less uniform thickness. Legs and wings are trickier, as by the time the thickest bits are cooked through, the thinner bits can be charcoal. Or, you could go wild and use a spatchcocked chicken. Remove the backbone of the bird, flatten the chicken, and cook in one piece. If you’re not sure how to spatchcock (it’s easy), get your butcher to do it for you. Whatever cut of chicken you are using, save it to cook when the coals have truly died down, and allow plenty of time for it to cook through. A majority of cases of barbeque food poisoning are caused by undercooked chicken.
Chops and cutlets: Lamb or pork, but use something with a bit of fat – nothing too lean. If your temperature is right, much of the fat will cook off, lubricating the meat as it goes, leaving a golden crust.
Corn on the Cob: barbeque in its husk, or if that has been removed, in kitchen foil.
Banana wrapped in Bacon: sounds weird, but is absolutely delicious. Use fairly firm, slightly under ripe bananas, and turn frequently until the bacon is crisp and golden.
Steaks: if you’ve got the budget, this could be the time for fillet steak. Fillet, although tender, often could do with a taste boost, and barbequing will certainly give it that. Otherwise, use whichever steaks you like, but nothing too gristly or tough: ask your butcher.
Fish: Whole fish, gutted, but otherwise whole (you can remove the heads if you’re squeamish). Make a few slits in the sides, rub in some salt, pepper, oil, and maybe some herbs. I’ve never been able to get on with those “fish barbeque cage” devices (whatever they are called) but use them if you like, or wrap the fish in foil if you are worried about scorching, or the fish falling apart before it’s ready.
King Prawns: thread five or six on one of those flat skewers (not the round ones, as you can’t turn the food efficiently, and not wooden ones, as they burn). A minute or two a side should suffice – as soon as they have gone pink/red they are ready.
Kebabs/brochettes: Can be meat/seafood/vegetable or a combination. A classic is bite-sized pieces of lamb, alternated with a chunk of onion and/or red pepper. See note about skewers above.
Burgers: I’ll give a recipe for some terrific home-made burgers in my next blog, but for now just remember not to use the cheap and nasty frozen ones. As always, get something good.
Marinades go with barbeque, but concentrate on the oil and the seasonings. Wine tends to dry the meat, and sugar/honey tends to burn too easily. And a cautionary note: don’t use the same marinade in which you have dressed raw meat as a sauce. Obvious, but I’ve seen it done, especially once a few beers have gone down.
And finally: the above are just a few ideas, and it’s not supposed to be an exhaustive list. If you have some tried-and-tested barbeque recipes and/or tips and tricks, why not add them in the comments box below to share with the other readers?