Nothing beats a good barbie
There’s something about eating outside with the char-grilled flavour of barbecued food drifting on the night air. Maybe it’s the thrill of being outside that makes the aroma of sizzling ingredients more tantalising than usual.
In Britain we are severely handicapped by the weather but more families are discovering the excitement of barbequed meats, fish and vegetables cooked in tangy sauces, rubs and marinades cooked outdoors. Not only that, with the latest gas barbeques, even in bad weather you can still cook up a storm. Eating outdoors requires a bit of atmosphere and now we are spoiled for choice.
In hot climate nothing beats cordoning off your entertaining area with flares and candles and subtle garden lights. Even in cold climates we can now brave the temperature of chillier nights thanks to the invention of patio heaters. But without doubt the most essential piece of equipment is a barbeque.
There is nothing new about cooking over charcoal. The basic method of
cooking on a fire has changed very little over the centuries, but many modern barbecues are much more sophisticated, and manageable, making the job of cleaning and cooking more controllable. There’s something about barbecuing, tongs in hand that appeals to men and even those who can’t or won’t cook in the kitchen suddenly become inspired when it comes to a barbie.
The key ingredient to remember is that outdoor cooking should be fun, easy and inexpensive. The whole appealing principle of cooking outside is to keep simple. Nothing beats a char-grilled steak but a little tampering can jazz up flavours without getting rid of natural flavours, textures and aromas. Rubbing spices into meat or fish or a marinade before ingredients get on the grill can really bring out the best in an ordinary cut of meat or an unremarkable piece of poultry or fish. Salsas and relishes can also add new flavours.
As with all good barbeques always prepare a selection of salads, potatoes, baked or simply boiled and some good crusty or garlic bread. Another great option is char-grilled vegetables, which can be cooked in tin foil and corn on the cob.
The latest barbecues are bigger, slicker and shinier than ever. Growing in popularity are the gas-fired stainless-steel barbecues. These are great for entertaining as you can keep everything hot, and results are pretty much guaranteed with the temperature control adjustments.
The more sophisticated gas barbecues have two or more separate burners, which allows greater control of heat and avoids hot and cool spots on the cooking surface. Some barbecues have optional side burners, useful for warming sauces and other dishes. Flip-up side tables give you more room for preparation or balancing marinade dishes.
Gas barbecues do cost more, but you’re not going to be buying charcoal, so the costs even out over the long term. With gas or charcoal barbecues, check the grill handles will stay cool to the touch before you buy, or someone is bound to get their fingers burnt.
Among the ever-increasing range of accessories, you can now get woks which fit on top of the round charcoal barbecues, so you can cook up an open-air stir-fry. Choose a charcoal barbecue with a lid, which you’ll be glad of on windy days.
A permanent, brick-built barbecue dispenses with dragging the barbecue out from the back of the shed, and will encourage you to dine outdoors at the drop of a hat. Brick ones can make an attractive feature built into a wall, ideally with the herb garden nearby. Look for kits to build your own in stores like Homebase, B&Q and the larger garden centres.
Whether you use a bonfire in the back garden, an outdoor fireplace built especially for the barbecue fanatic, or just a portable barbecue, this simple method of cooking could well become your favourite summer sport.
TIPS for Perfect Barbecues
Trimming most of the fat from steaks and chops will avoid flare-ups from the fat dripping onto the coals.
Marinated food won’t stick to the metal spokes of the grill so much, making it easier to clean.
Ensure barbecued meat is cooked through, not just charred on the outside, by cutting into it with a sharp knife.
Use the right utensils, including long tongs for turning, long-handled forks and barbecue mitts.
Make vegetables tastier by either marinading or brushing them with oil and sprinkling with pepper before barbecuing.
Place smaller vegetables in foil with a little water, a pat of butter and seasoning. Leave a small gap in the foil for steam to escape.
If you have small children invest in an outdoor firescreen, which you can put round a barbecue or patio heater. Pick large sprigs of rosemary from your herb garden and put them on the grill to counteract the smell of lighter fumes.
Apart from marinading the food, simply by adding ingredients to the cooking coals can also give off wonderful results. For example cut a few cloves of garlic in half and toss them on the coals when you’re grilling steak or lamb kebabs, which will add a delightful subtle flavour to the meat. If cooking pork, wait until the meat is almost cooked, before adding some orange peel for a wonderful aroma.
A roughly chopped mixture of herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves, which will burn almost immediately giving off a smoke which will impact a delicious flavour to the meat. In America hickory is often put on the barbeque to give off a smoky, woody taste.