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God of fire

Alice Whitehead offers tips from the experts to help you become a master of the barbecue

30 June 2011

12:00 AM

30 June 2011

12:00 AM

Tip 1: Fire

Kettle, fire pit or gas-guzzler? These days, there’s a barbecue to suit every backyard, but before you get burned by the price, think carefully about when, where, and how you will use it. Josh Sutton, the chef/writer behind the outdoor cooking guide, offers a unique and money-saving solution: ‘My “1,600 rpm barbecue” is made from an old washing machine drum salvaged from a scrapyard and it’s perfect for cooking all the usual favourites. Once the cooking is done, it makes for a splendid and safe campfire as you throw in a few logs and get the guitars out.’

Tip 2: Fuel

Let’s be honest, gas barbecues are essentially outdoor hobs. If you’re not cooking on coals, you’re not really barbecuing, and a real fire is the only way to imbue the food with that gorgeous smoky flavour. ‘When buying charcoal, go for quality,’ says chef Mathew Shropshall, veteran of 11 international competitions as captain of the Best of British BBQ Team. ‘British is best and almost smoke-free. It gets white hot in 30 minutes, and burns at a high temperature for a good hour. Throw on some maple wood chippings and the aroma should get the party off to a great start.’

Tip 3: Meat

Whether you’re cooking juicy steaks, hand-linked speciality sausages, or burgers, get them out of the fridge to warm up first, and let steaks rest after cooking to ensure optimum tenderness. ‘Always give your grill a good rubdown with oil,’ says Shropshall. ‘This creates a non-stick surface and reduces cross-contamination. Cook over heat rather than flame (which burns food) as this gives a more even result, and spray apple juice over meat to keep it tender and moist.’

Tip 4: Fish

Celebrity ‘barbecue chef’ Ben Bartlett has a four-point plan for fish. ‘Oil your grate so the fish doesn’t stick; use a mild marinade and keep the marinating time low (strongly acidic marinades break down the flesh); keep the grilling time short to avoid overcooking, and use a thermometer to check the inside is 70˚C.’ Sutton enjoys serving his with corn. ‘I use trout, but any whole fish works, with one fish and one cob per person,’ he says. ‘Peel two or three leaves from the cob and place it over hot coals. Stuff the cleaned fish with herbs, a wedge of lemon and a knob of butter. Wrap in the leaves and pin with a cocktail stick or a couple of twigs. Cook over the coals for three or four minutes on each side. By the time it’s cooked, the corn is ready.’

Tip 5: Veg

While meat or fish might be the main event, barbecued vegetables can be sensational. Stuff scooped-out jalapeños with cream cheese, wrap in foil and grill for five minutes, or grill courgettes, sliced thinly lengthways and brushed with a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic and balsamic vinegar. Top chef and barbecue fan Antony Worrall Thompson recommends veggie skewers. ‘Onions, peppers and flat mushrooms chargrill well, and you can crisp up potato skins by brushing them in olive oil before grilling,’ says Worrall Thompson, who holds much-anticipated barbecues every summer at his Greyhound pub in Oxfordshire. ‘Chuck a handful of dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme or oregano onto the coals and these will infuse the food with delightful flavour.’

Tip 6: Marinade

Fragrant rubs or marinades can turn outdoor grilling from humdrum to yum yum – but the golden rule is never to use salt or citrus juices in a marinade if you are going to leave the meat in it for more than two hours because it toughens the flesh. Bartlett suggests a tropical marinade for chicken: ‘Combine 1tbsp ground ginger with 2tbsp brown sugar, 1 squeezed orange, 1 small liquidised pineapple, 1 liquidised passion fruit, 1 squeezed lime, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1tbsp light soy sauce and seasoning.’

Tip 7: Drink

‘Barbecues are one of the few food occasions when people think of beer alongside wine — though sadly most of them still just reach for the slab of industrial lager,’ says bottled beer expert Des de Moor, editor of beer culture website ‘A roasty dark mild or smoky stout or porter is perfect with the smoky, roasty, charred flavours of barbecued food. Wheat beers are a classic match for fish, and hoppy golden ales stand up well to spicy marinades.’

Tip 8: Afters

‘By the time you get to the sweet stuff the bbq or indeed the guests could be slightly past their best, so have a really easy dessert that requires little attention or heat,’ says food writer Wendy Veale. ‘Cut four blueberry muffins into quarters and divide between four sheets of foil. Scatter a handful of assorted soft fruit (raspberries, blueberries etc) over the top and 1-2tbsp brandy or fruit juice. Scrunch up and pop on the coals for 5 minutes, before allowing guests to unwrap and finish with a dollop of crème fraiche.’

Alice loves a good barbie – but always felt Ken was the better cook

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