BBQ’S feed our primal instinct to get outside and cook over fire. Things seared, grilled, smoked, charred and sometimes burnt are everywhere! The scent of outdoor cooking lingers over garden hedges, beaches are filled with popup BBQs. And, in anticipation of the big event fridges are stacked with ribs, steaks, burgers, sausages, potato salads, fish and so much more. Large pots of meat rubs are blended and marinades made.
We are ready and waiting for any opportunity to cook and eat outdoors. I’ve been known on many an occasion if the weather does not agree to BBQ under golf umbrella’s, awnings and gazebos.
I’ve been BBQ crazy since I was a child and it’s my favourite way to cook.
Coming from a family of BBQ enthusiasts, the Cahill Clan are ‘always grillin, never chillin’ and my brother’s essential packing for university included a very large BBQ.
I am going to share my top ten BBQ tips with you that will allow you to get you outside and BBQ with ease.
Tip One – FIRE!
This is the first thing to get right. Get the fire wrong, and your BBQ is sunk.
Most people tend to put food onto coals too early, when the fire is still flaming, the coals haven’t had a chance to heat up properly, and the BBQ is way, way, too hot. This results in burnt outsides and raw insides, and a nasty case of food poisoning.
A BBQ is ready to cook when the coals are all white, and you should not be able to hold your hand over the grill, because the heat is so intense.
When I light a BBQ I start with scrunched up paper, and plenty of it, then lots of kindling (you can pick up drift wood on a beach, or sticks from a forest) or just buy a bag of sticks.
Light the kindling first and get a good flame going, before pouring over the charcoal. Some people are fans of lighter fluid at this point – I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to use it or not. All I would say is use it with extreme caution as you don’t want to get burnt, or burn other people. Certainly if you are BBQing with children do not leave the lighter fluid anywhere near them. Do not at any point leave your BBQ unattended.
Depending on the size of your BBQ the coals can take up to 45 minutes to one and a half hours for them to be ready to cook on.
Light the BBQ well in advance of guests arriving and remember grill times and temperatures are guidelines.
Things like the type, age and dampness of the charcoal, weather conditions and the core temperate of the food all affect how long it takes to grill a piece of food.
BBQing well relies a lot on feel, touch and commonsense.
Use the best ingredients you can afford. You can make up everything from scratch but don’t be afraid to cheat by buying great products already prepared from the High Street. It’s not always practical, especially for last minute shindigs but it is easier if you can purchase your ingredients the days before – and don’t forget things like ketchup, cheese, gherkins, ice and napkins.
Think about who you are serving and how many people there are when deciding what to BBQ.
Do you want to BBQ lots of meats, chicken and fish, chops, sausages or do you want to settle on one type of meat to grill?
Different meats need various cooking times, and all meats need space on a BBQ to cook, so don’t crowd the grill, and remember not to mix everything up when placing it on the rack.
I’ve thrown parties where I’ve just cooked Steaks, another time it was burgers, and then for a Friday night BBQ with about 20 people sitting to eat, I choose to just cook marinaded butterflied chicken fillets.
Have fun when your choosing what to cook – experiment with pre and post cooking marinades, smoking, use dry rubs, cook in parcels and even slow cooking (I know people who BBQ their Turkeys at Christmas and Thanksgiving).
Think about your accompaniments to what has been BBQ’d. I always recommend serving family style with several big salads, slices of bread, jars of pickles and sauces open with spoons in the middle, and either a large bowl of rice, or a bowl of tinfoil wrapped baked potatoes which you have cooked in the fire of the BBQ (don’t forget to have plenty of butter to serve with them). If you are providing the meat it is perfectly acceptable to ask people to bring the salads. Folks want to help so let them, and be specific – please bring potato salad, coleslaw, couscous, a green salad, bread etc etc etc.
Tip Three – Be Prepared
Clean your BBQ and grill the day before, stock up on charcoal and sticks, and make sure you have plenty of matches. If you are BBQing on the beach do you need a windbreaker? Make your marinades the day before and leave the meat to soak.
Put a table beside your BBQ with everything the BBQ King or Queen will need when cooking – a knife, a tray to place cooked meats, somewhere else to place raw meat, oil and brush, BBQ tools, cloths and wipes.
Before your guests arrive prepare your salads (dress them at the last moment), set the table, string the lights, get your drinks and glasses ready, garnishes cut. Prepare everything as much as possible in advance, leaving you with more time to relax and enjoy the party atmosphere on the day, if people arrive early, set them to work! I always find it helpful to think in advance about what others might be able to do to help, so that when I am asked I am not caught off guard.
Tip Four – Oil in a cup with a heatproof brush
Food can dry out quickly if you just leave it there to grill. One of the best ways to keep flavour and in the meat, and to allow it to stay succulent is to gently brush, just the meat with a little olive oil, a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix these ingredients together before hand and place in a plastic cup. Be careful just to brush the meat, or the oil will hit the coals and flare up. You can also do this with marinade, but be careful not to brush cooked meat with a marinade were raw meat has been soaking.
Tip Five – Remember Food Hygiene
It is wishful thinking and seriously unhealthy to think it’s okay to let the BBQ burn off any charred food scraps from your last grill, and that you don’t need to clean. Nonsense!
Clean your grill – after washing I use halved raw lemons, which I rub over the metal. If your grill had a hard night last time you used it and is crusted with charred remains, rub a lemon over it before washing, you will be amazed at how easily the black food comes off. But wear gloves! I have warned you.
Have separate dishes for cooked and raw meats. Do not place cooked meats/fish/chicken etc on plates were raw meat once rested, and never add marinade used for raw meat to cooked meat.
Your grill will be hotter in the centre and cooler at the edges, use a rack system or move food around from cooler parts to hotter ones as necessary or place food on foil to prevent it burning.
Don’t cook cold meat – allow your meat to come to room temperature before cooking. Otherwise if chicken, meat, fish or vegetables are too cool in the middle the edges and outside will burn, and look done, whilst the meat remains raw.
Use a small sharp knife to cut into the centre of meats to check the flesh is cooked and juices run clear – juices virtually always need to run clear – unless you are eating blue or rare steak.
Tip Six – Marinades
Using marinades is easy, it just requires a little bit of thought to get the meat into the marinade preferably over night but at least 30 minutes before cooking. Marinades flavour and tenderise meat
For example if you have a piece of meat you have spent serious money on – its well hung, preferably organic etc etc etc – then just lick a brush with oil over it, and then a little freshly ground salt and pepper. However, if your meat or veggies are from a regular shop, then they definitely need to be marinaded in order to get maximum flavour.
Some of my favourites are –
Coco Cola, garlic, honey, soy and ginger for chicken; lemon, garlic and oil for steaks, wholegrain mustard, honey and a dash of cider vinegar for sausages, yogurt, mint, lemon, cumin, and coriander for lamb, and my sister in law’s outstanding Pork Chop Marinade – soy, scallion, brown sugar, fish sauce and garlic.
There are also some great pre-made marinades available, my favourites are Piri Piri and Smokey BBQ.
They say you shouldn’t marinade for too long, but on my travels I have seen meat marinaded for up to a week. Do what works for you and think about food hygiene.
Seasoning is essential when cooking meat. Don’t neglect it! Never add salt to an overnight marinade, it can only be added a maximum of two hours before cooking, or it will dry out food. Pepper and spices are grand overnight. Season meat with salt just before grilling, and don’t be shy about it, season well.
Tip Eight – Vegetarians
Veggies love BBQ’d food too, and there are plenty of ways to grill food that will make them smile. Think grilled corn, Halmoui and Pepper Kebabs, sticks of Asparagus served with grilled lemon wedges, veggie burgers made from lentils and chickpeas, there are also some great meat alternatives on offer, I’ve been known to enjoy the odd Linda MacCartney veggie sausage!
BBQ’s tend to be Meatfeasts so for pudding you don’t want anything to too heavy. I recommend serving a big bowl of sliced watermelon, and slices of pineapple that you have grilled for a few minutes each side on the BBQ. Samores, BBQ Brownies, toasted marshmallows, cookies and an ice cream are fantastic other options.
Tip Ten – RELAX and ENJOY yourself!
By Nicky Cahill
If anyone has any food related questions or ideas for products they’d like Nicky to try, do get in touch.
More tips: Relish BBQ with Rozanne Stevens