We Brits love to barbecue, but we’ve all had our fair share of blackened burgers and undercooked bangers. Luckily, all it takes is a little know-how to become a master of cooking with fire. From setting up your coals properly to prepping ingredients before cooking and having the right tools to hand, here’s how to take your barbecuing skills to the next level.
This is a fast and effective way to light charcoal. It only requires a small amount of newspaper or firelighters to ignite, and then the heat is channelled upwards, which burns the coals more quickly than traditional methods. Once the coals are hot enough for cooking, carefully pick up the chimney and pour them into the barbecue. Weber do chimney starters from £17.99.
Long-handled metal tongs and spatula
Both of these are key for the easy movement and removal of food on a searing barbecue. The extra handle length ensures your fingers don’t get singed.
A good-quality and thick heatproof glove is useful for handling hot BBQ equipment.
Great for applying marinades and glazes to the food.
Digital temperature probe
A sure-fire way to make sure meat is cooked through – especially useful when cooking larger joints.
DIY cleaning kit
Stick half a red onion or lemon onto a long-handled prong. While the BBQ is hot, give the grill bars a good scrub. The natural acids help strip those charred bits straight off the metal.
Preparation is key
The secret to successful barbecuing is preparation. Pre-cooking some of the food can be a great way to keep to timings. Poach or bake chicken legs before finishing on the barbecue for crispy skin, and blanch vegetables such as corn on the cob and long-stemmed broccoli before lightly charring on the grill. This also allows you to add glazes in the final moments of cooking so they don’t burn easily. Allowing enough time for the coals and grill bars to heat properly before you start will ensure efficient and effective cooking. Finally, have all the salads and sides made before you start barbecuing – that way you can assemble plates of food quickly.
Hot zone / cool zone
Barbecuing can be like a juggling act, constantly turning and moving items to prevent them burning. When setting up the barbecue, put the hot coals on one side, leaving the other free, or, on a gas barbecue, leave the burners off on one side. This ensures you have greater control as it creates a hot zone with direct heat for searing and crisping, and a cool zone where indirect heat allows for gentler cooking. This set-up comes into its own for something that needs a little more cooking time, such as chicken thighs or thick pieces of meat. Use the direct heat of the barbecue to sear, then move to the cool side and put the lid on to cook through.
Use the lid of a barbecue to transform it into an oven. By trapping the heat under the lid you’re giving the ingredients a chance to cook all the way around, as opposed to one side – ensuring they’re cooked through. Most modern BBQs will have a temperature gauge in the lid so you can monitor it.
All charcoal barbecues have holes on the lid and at the base – this is to alter the amount of oxygen the coals are getting, which affects the heat and intensity of the barbecue. Have the holes wide open for hard, quick grilling and partially shut for slower cooks and smoking.
There are two main options for charcoal. Briquettes are dense bricks of combustible biomass materials such as coaldust or sawdust. As they’re so densely packed they burn hot for a long time, making them great for grilling all afternoon. Keep your eyes peeled for instant-lighting charcoal bags – briquettes wrapped up in flammable paper that ignite easily. They’re great for quick BBQs. The other option is lumpwood charcoal – carbonised wood. They burn really hot but not for that long. They will however impart a woody smokiness to your cooking, and you can buy different types of lumpwood to impart different flavours. There are an increasing number of sustainable and locally produced charcoals available – check out Oxford Charcoal and Tregothnan.
Hygiene and food safety for the BBQ
• Clean your barbecue really well before starting to cook. Let it heat up a bit – this will help get any tougher bits off – then use a wire brush (or an onion/lemon on a prong) to give it a really good scrub.
• Keep raw and cooked food separate. Keep a plate or roasting tray handy for removing any food that’s cooked from the barbecue, making sure it doesn’t come into contact with any raw food.
• Wash your hands! You may be in the garden away from a sink but make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw ingredients.
• If you’re unsure if something is fully cooked or not, cut into it or use a digital thermometer to tell you exactly what’s going on inside.