Forget all those jokes about burnt bangers and cremated burgers; we’re a nation increasingly enthusiastic about outdoor cooking and there’s no limit to our ambition. So as summer rolls on again, how best can we beat the Aussies at their own game and make a sizzling success of every alfresco cook out? Coombe Farm has some very handy tips…
Never mind the weather. You can’t control it, it’ll do whatever it fancies and if the sun doesn’t shine we’ve got jumpers, haven’t we? So huddle round the fire as your tummy rumbles in anticipation.
Don’t panic. Eating from the barbecue is meant to be relaxed and informal. It’s not a sit-down banquet and you’re not a Michelin-starred chef doing an on-stage demonstration. So manage everyone’s expectations and let them know it’ll be ready when it’s ready. And don’t try to get everything plated up all at once. One of the joys of barbecue is having lots of little courses to sample, and always looking forward to what’s coming next.
Manage the heat. If you’re cooking over coals this means getting things started long before you want to cook. Probably an hour, maybe two hours, in advance. The rules are simple: black coals aren’t hot enough; white coals are ready for cooking. There should definitely be no flames – that way lies burnt-on-the-outside-raw-in-the-middle.
Get everyone involved. Kids will love getting their hands sticky making burgers, meatballs and koftas. There’s always a fire-raiser eager to keep the heat going, and everyone enjoys the thrilling splash and sizzle of turning a steak. And those not keen to cook? That’s what prosecco and cold beers are for.
Choose the right kit. There’s a lot of barbecue stuff out there these days. And some of it’s eye-wateringly expensive. So match your kit to your purposes, thinking about how many mouths you have to feed, how often you’ll use it, how tricksy you want to get with the cooking and whether you prefer coals and wood or gas. If you suspect a high-performance barbecue with quadruple burners, illuminated control knobs and integral chicken roaster is going to end up in the garage beside the tennis rackets and roller skates, opt for disposable trays instead. They’ll do you just as well.
Think about flavour. Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a sausage. But a smoky sausage drizzled with tangy chipotle sauce and coupled with crispy, zingy slaw? That’s what we’re talking about. So choose meat that’s packed with flavour – chicken thigh, rack of lamb, rib-eye steaks – and pair them with bold marinades and side dishes that offer an array of tastes and textures. And don’t forget about the smoke. Oak, apple, maple and hickory all have subtly different flavours that can be transferred to your food. So chuck a handful of damp chips on your white-hot coals and savour the results.
Be adventurous. By adventurous we don’t mean fiddly, complicated and pernickety. Because you’re meant to be having fun, too, remember. So triple wrap some brie in foil and cook it on the grill till it’s melted and bubbling, then dip crisp chipolatas in it. Wrap slices of mango in salty pancetta and cook over indirect heat to crisp the meat and get the juices running from the fruit. Or throw some flatbreads scented with fennel seeds straight on the coals, and use them to wrap thick slices of succulent pork belly. The juices will drip off your elbow, but who’s looking?
Top ideas that’ll impress your guests without piling on the pressure…
- Make your steaks ‘dirty’ by rubbing them with a spot of oil, tossing on some seasoning then cooking them directly on white-hot coals. You don’t get a more authentic barbecue flavour than that.
- Slow cook a shoulder of pork overnight in the oven before glazing it with mustard and maple syrup and finishing it on the barbecue. You’ll get fall-apart tender pulled pork with a sticky crispy skin.
- Spatchcock a chicken, marinade it in lemon, honey and herbs then cook over indirect heat until the skin is well browned and the juices run clear from the thigh.
- Make mini pizzas and cook them on the grill bars on a pizza stone or hot oven tray, covering them with the barbecue lid or a tent of foil.
- Coat some pecans, cashews and peanuts with your favourite mix of spices and a spritz of oil, then toss them in a heavy pan over the hottest part of the barbecue until they’re browned and spitting. Your guests can nibble them with a glass of Pimms while you get on with the main event.
- Make fruit skewers of watermelon, peach and pineapple, grill until charred, drizzle with minted syrup and serve with clotted cream.
Come and visit us on the Coombe Farm stand at Valley Fest for barbecued tasters, butchery demos and kids’ burger-making sessions.