The weather may not always agree but May is National Barbecue Month so in this week’s Time For You blog we are celebrating the great British barbecue! Barbecues are great social occasions but all too often they are ruined by charcoaled sausages, undercooked chicken or the lingering taste of lighter fluid. We’ve created the definitive guide to help transform your summer barbecues into gastronomic delights.
1. Get the right barbecue
Though there’s nothing wrong with gas barbecues, charcoal really is the best as it gives you a great smokey taste to give your cooking extra flavour. It’s also important to ensure you choose a barbecue with a lid as it will help you keep a consistent temperature and lock in flavour.
2. The importance of marinades
Marinades bring a new level to barbecue cooking. They help flavour the meat, create a delicious sticky outer coating and help protect it from the searing heat. Whether your marinade is simple olive oil and lemon juice or more complex barbecue or oriental flavours, it’s best to leave your meat to marinate overnight to ensure it really penetrates the flesh. Most importantly, make sure you set some marinade aside for basting your meat every 10 minutes while it cooks. This will help keep the meat moist, trap the smokey flavours and create a delicious, caramelized stickiness.
3. Don't forget the veggies!
Many of us are guilty of thinking barbecues are only for burgers, sausages and steaks, and if we’re adventurous, chicken. But don’t forget almost anything can benefit from the fiery smokiness of a barbecue. Fish is delicious and vegetables take on a whole new taste and flavour. Peppers, courgettes, carrots, aubergines and many more are great on the barbecue particularly when finished with a drizzle of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
4. Light the barbecue before the guests arrive
Firelighters or lighter fluid may be a quick way to light your barbecue but they can leave a nasty taste to your food. Light your barbecue naturally using scrunched up newspaper with kindling on top. When your kindling is on fire add a few lumps of charcoal. Make sure all this is done way in advance so your guest arrive to the smokey smell of a hot barbecue and a few treats already grilling.
5. Get organised
It’s important to be organised to ensure you can control the cooking of your food whilst making sure that cooked and raw meat is kept separate. Make sure you have the right equipment, a good pair of tongues is invaluable! Tongs give you the most control, and reduce the chances of dropping anything between the grills. You’ll also need a good fish slice and a pair of oven gloves to make sure you do not get burned. If you like cooking whole fish then a clippable fish grill is perfect.
6. Bring your meat to room temperature
Make sure that your take raw meat out of the fridge around 20 minutes prior to cooking. Bringing the meat to room temperature will help make sure it cooks through thoroughly, rather than being cold in the middle and burned on the outside.
7. Grill, don’t burn!
The biggest mistake most people make when barbecuing is starting to cook when the grill is too hot. Cooking when the coals are smoking or even worse, producing flames is a sure fire way to burnt food. Here’s a simple way to find out how hot your barbecue is:
Hold your hand about 12cm/5 inches above the grill and see how long you can hold it there comfortably.
- 6 seconds = low heat (ideal for food that requires low, slow cooking like ribs or pulled pork.
- 4 seconds = medium heat (best for cooking chicken, sausages or fish that require cooking all the way through)
- 2 seconds = Very hot (good for steaks that require searing on the outside, but kept medium rare inside)
- 0 seconds = Too hot to cook!
8. Control the heat
You want to be able to keep some food warm while the rest is grilling and the only way you can do that is by controlling the heat of your barbecue to ensure that some parts are hotter than others. The easiest way is to divide your barbecue in two with the hot coals on one side and none on the other. The empty side will still have enough heat to keep your food warm without continuing to cook it.
9. Make sure meat is cooked through
To test for ‘doneness’, use a small sharp knife to cut into the centre of the meat. If the flesh is cooked the knife should be piping hot to the touch and the juices of the meat should clear.
10. It’s always best to rest!
Resting meat is one of the most important parts of barbecue cooking. Meat directly off the barbecue will be tough and the juices will be released as soon as you cut into it. If you leave the meat to rest in a warm place for a few minutes, covered in foil, it will retain its juices and relax the meat fibres, making it much more tender and juicy.
Written by Mike Pye