I am male, which means, I love a good barbeque. Or frankly anything involving fire really. Barbecues, fire pits, log burners – you name it. In our new place I really wanted to have an incredible barbeque that my friends would marvel over and that I could really take care of and make my pride and joy. Things like this take research, what charcoal do I need? Is there anything else I can use apart from charcoal? Where is the best place to get this stuff from? I made my own little bible and I thought it would only be fair if I shared it with you all, too.
First rule of the day. DON’T use lighter fluid, petrol or any kind of chemicals to start your fire off. It could potentially taint food that you are cooking on the barbeque (so says the author of Guyrope Gourmet, Josh Sutton). He also says that using the old fashioned method of scrunching up bits of newspaper with some kindling and twigs works best. Apparently newspaper is very fast at spreading a flame but you need to make sure there is a small bit of kindling on top for the fire to catch. You can then build up the charcoal around it. You can buy some really good firelighters that are natural, such as Blaze from homebase.com (£2.49 for 24).
At the coal face
If you are buying imported charcoal (that’s cheap) it’s often compressed and will be very heavy and give off a dark smoke. Experts i’ve researched have suggested spending as much as possible on the best quality charcoal. One that seems to be especially popular with them is British lumpwood – it’s said to burn cleanly and brightly. The lighter the better so look for a brittle kind that is light enough you can lift it with one finger.
There is a long heritage of charcoal production in Britain, so search out local companies, particularly in forested areas. The National Trust for Scotland sells environmentally friendly charcoal from several of its properties (£6 for 3kg; nts.org.uk/charcoal).
The Dorset Charcoal Company (from £7 for 3kg; dorsetcharcoal.co.uk) and the Oxford Charcoal Company (from £7 for 3kg; theoxfordcharcoalcompany.co.uk) are both good bets.
Tish recommends Big K charcoal, which is available in restaurant-quality grade. Its larger lumps burn for longer than normal charcoal, and anyone who uses it swears it’s worth the extra expense (£25 for 15kg; ocado.com).
Wood smoke is a popular way to flavour anything from Cornish sardines to pork shoulder. It’s easy to do this on a gas or charcoal barbecue: put woodchips inside a smoker box (£10; outbackdirect.co.uk), or double wrap a handful in a foil ball and stab holes in the side so the smoke can escape.
Alternatively, a small piece of wood that has been soaked in water for an hour (to stop it from spitting) can be laid on top of charcoal to help create delicious wood-smoke flavours. Expert barbecuers choose their wood carefully, and even look to pair tree species with different dishes. The London Log Company stocks ash, beech, oak and birch (from £68 for 70kg-80kg; the londonlogcompany.blogspot.co.uk), and ProQ has eight varieties, including apple, cherry, hickory, maple and even whiskey oak chips (£4.50 for 400g; souschef.co.uk).
It takes half an hour for flames to flare up, subside and turn charcoal to the ashen-grey colour that indicates it’s time to cook. A chimney starter cuts this down to 10-12 minutes. The metal cylinder is perforated round the side, so that when it’s filled with charcoal and lit from below, the air flows through it, accelerating the process and evenly lighting the charcoal.
After 10 minutes, the contents can be tipped into the barbecue and you can start cooking. The amount of charcoal in a standard chimney starter generally provides one and a half hour’s cooking. If you need longer, refill the chimney and tip it over the old coals when it’s ready — that way, you won’t cause the barbecue temperature to drop.
Put a lid on it
When it comes to cooking cuts thicker than steaks or burgers, you need a lid to trap the heat and smoke and create a lower but more constant temperature to let them cook through. Take a butterflied leg of lamb or a spatchcocked bird — both are thin enough that the heat of a grill can penetrate the centre of the meat without burning the outside.
If the lamb still has a bone in, or the bird is being cooked whole, then the barbecue needs a lid to help create an oven-like environment. If you don’t have a barbecue with a hood, it’s possible to improvise: a metal mixing bowl or roasting tray flipped upside down will do the job for smaller cuts.
One of the commonest mistakes is the failure to make a cool spot. If the whole barbecue is pumping out heat, the food will quickly start to spit and blacken. Without anywhere cool to move it to, the carbonised sausage or singed chicken thigh will get taken off the grill before it’s had a chance to cook through.
A simple way to create a cool spot on a gas barbecue is to keep one of the grills turned off, or move it onto a higher rack, away from the direct heat. On a charcoal barbecue, it can be done by raking the coals to one side. That way, a red pepper might be cooked directly over the blisteringly hot mound of charcoal, while chicken thighs might be positioned over the raked area, which will be giving out less heat, allowing them to cook for a longer time at a lower temperature.
I hope you find at least some of this useful, I know I learnt a lot from researching all these facts. If you’ve got any cool tips that you’ve found yourself that would be useful for my new venture then please get in touch. I’d really appreciate it! Thanks!