The Perfect BBQ

As we head towards a bank holiday, no doubt many of you will be hoping to have a BBQ. We have everything you need to get ready and make the garden look great if you are having friends and family round and we also spoke to food and drink author and journalist Neil Davey about the main things you need to bear in mind when cooking with fire

Preparation, preparation, preparation

It’s fun to throw an impromptu BBQ but you still need a little prep time. You can’t watch the grill properly if you’re still chopping veg or mixing up your sauce.

Light the BBQ earlier

Seriously. All those tales of charred outsides / raw insides? You’re cooking over flames. You don’t want to cook over flames, you want to cook over hot coals of a uniform colour. They should be white / grey. Not flaming, not glowing orange. White / grey.

Don’t use chemical lighters.

Perhaps the quickest way to taint what you’re cooking is to load up the coals with firelighters, or coat them in lighter fuel. Stack your charcoal in the middle of your BBQ. Ball up some newspaper – if you’re concerned they won’t light properly, dip them in cooking oil – and put these in the gaps when you’ve got your stack / incorporate them as you go. Or find natural firelighters, wood chips or even wool. Light the newspaper or whatever you’re using, and wait. The flames will catch and start to heat /light the charcoal.

Use the right equipment

A small sturdy kettle BBQ is better than a disposable BBQ. A chimney starter – like a bucket with holes in it – is a fantastic investment if you BBQ regularly. It will light your charcoal quicker than the stacking method, and also enables you to have further batches of charcoal ready to go when the first batch is losing its heat. Get some decent tools. You WILL need a good wire brush. You WILL need a small spade / shovel to move the coals around. You WILL need a good glove to remove the hot grill to add or move coals from time to time. As far as cooking tools go, a sturdy pair of tongs is key. A fish slice is also useful for flipping. Those long forks? For most people, they’re the quickest way of getting food from the grill directly onto the coals below, or the lawn. Tongs. Seriously. Invest in good tongs.

Buy good charcoal

As part of your “preparation, preparation, preparation”, find the best charcoal you can. There’s lots available now, ditto woodchips for flavouring if you want to go the whole hog. Invest in a few bags of lumpwood charcoal, keep them sealed in a dry place, and you’ll never have to buy a bag of mystery, chemically coals from the petrol station again.

Arrange your coals for different temperature zones

This sounds more complex than it is. Keep an area of the grill for actual cooking and one for holding / warming. Push the bulk or all the coals under the bit you’re using to cook… and a few or no coals under the “warming area”. That means once you’ve finished cooking something, you can move it to the cooler spot, until its needed.

Have some foil to hand Your veggie and vegan friends will thank you for it anyway but should burgers, halloumi, etc., start falling apart – or fatty sausages keep dripping, causing flames worthy of a Spielberg special effect – simply cook them on foil. Also, fish cooks BEAUTIFULLY on a BBQ and if you’re worried about it sticking…

Invest in a meat thermometer

Nobody wants to kill their guests. Well, not all of them. Not always. The quickest way to ensure your BBQ dishes are edible is to check the internal temperature with a thermometer.

Cook in batches, cool and clean the grill as you go

We’ve all woken up bleary-eyed on a Sunday to face a sticky, greasy grill that needs every ounce of elbow grease you can summon. Instead, clear the grill from time to time as you cook, get that wire brush and scrub the fat and food residue off as you go. Hungover you will thank you in the morning. Your grill will also get very hot during the cooking process, increasing the likelihood of burning rather than cooking. Have a water spray on hand to reduce the temperature before applying the next thing to cook. And have a bucket of water on hand as well because, well, accidents do happen.

Don’t forget the vegetables

Peppers, courgettes, carrots, aubergine, onions… Even if you’re going to chop them and add them to your salads, throw them on the grill for a few minutes, add a little char. Heat does marvellous things to these and other vegetables.

The grill is merely a heat source…

So use it as a hot plate. Or put the lid down and treat it like an oven. Get a pan, fry onions on it. Heat up beans. Boil potatoes. Bake jacket spuds. Once you’ve stopped seeing it as “just” a charcoal grill, there’s nothing you can’t do, given enough planning and time.

Still worried? Cook everything beforehand

Yes, yes, it’s the sort of statement that will get me kicked out of BBQ club but, if you’re worried about things cooking evenly, cook them beforehand and simply brown them over coals. Sausages, burgers and chicken stay fantastically moist and juicy if you poach them in stock in the oven, then it’s simply a case of colouring them / adding a little smoky flavour on the grill. It’s a great way to get people fed quickly too. And another thing that is amazing, cooks quickly and is so often overlooked on a BBQ? Bacon.

Follow Neil’s food and drink adventures on Instagram @DineHard

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