If the headlines are to be believed, we’re in for a summer sizzler, which can only mean one thing – it’s time to fire up the BBQ. And, while we all like to think of ourselves as fire-pit connoisseurs, we’re all guilty of serving up cremated sausages or blackened – yet somehow still raw – drumsticks.
Fear not; Phil Wood of Swedish wood burning stove brand, Contura and all-round BBQ don, is sharing his expert tips to ensure you serve up some barbecued goodness this BBQ season.
Bringing the BBQ out of hibernation
Before you even consider firing up the BBQ, give it a good wash with hot soapy water, removing any remnants of last year’s grilling. You should clean the grill after every use, but a deep clean is ideal when bringing it out for the first time after winter.
As with all outdoor cooking, you are lighting a fire, and need to ensure it’s done safely. Ensure your BBQ is placed on a non-combustible surface, positioned on a patio, gravel or paving slabs is a safe bet, rather than grass or astro turf. You also need to make sure dropped embers aren’t going to cause a fire hazard; most BBQs have a base to catch soot and anything that drops. A drip tray is also handy to catch fat and prevent it from sticking and burning.
Wood, charcoal or gas – which are you using?
There are pros and cons to all barbequing methods however, in my opinion, whether you’ve got a cast iron, wood-fired clay or concrete wood-fired oven, wood really does make for the best fire and produces the best BBQ flavours.
Different woods produce different types of burn – a mixture of birch, ash and sycamore will create a slow, steady burn that’s perfect for barbecuing. Create a stack using kindling and small pieces of wood, adding in larger pieces (under 20cm) of wood as you go. Don’t over stack a wood fire, and ensure there is airflow to generate a slow, steady burn.
If you’ve got a modern charcoal BBQ, the lighting process is a lot quicker than wood-fired, however be aware that charcoal produces a smokier burn and can therefore add a stronger flavour to meat and fish.
To light, place the charcoal onto the grate, keeping the pieces away from the edges to keep the fire contained. For a quick catch, add two or three natural firelighters, ensuring an even spread. Don’t be alarmed by the smoke – this will clear quickly once the fire takes. Don’t be tempted to put items on too early as when still too hot, oil or fat will trigger flames, which will burn the outside of the food. Allow the fire to die down until the charcoal is grey in colour – then simply place the cooking grills in position ready to begin cooking.
A gas barbecue is arguably the easiest option, however, it does mean food lacks the classic smoky flavour. Try adding wood chips on top of the gas flame, or cooking food on a water-soaked wooden plank. Fruit woods such as apple and cherry will create smoke that will permeate the food with a wonderful flavour. Pecan and maple woods would also work well.
Don’t play it safe when it comes to grilling. Steak is a classic choice and can be paired with bold flavours. Creating the perfect marinade is best done with a simple spice mix. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika will add some punch – simply rub onto your meat just before grilling. Or, once the BBQ is hot, try adding herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, directly into the embers, to create a delicious and subtle flavour.
When marinating meat, just remember one golden rule – sugar or sugary liquids like barbecue sauce have no place in a marinade. The heat from the grill will cause the sugars to burn, creating an unpleasant charred crust and burnt flavour.
For vegetarian guests, consider switching out your meat kebabs for a recipe that includes the nation’s favourite squeaky cheese – halloumi. Add crunchy peppers, mushrooms, onions and sweet cherry tomatoes to the skewers for a real crowd-pleaser. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can also toast flatbreads on the grill to serve with the kebabs.
And don’t forget about sweet treats. Choco-banana splits are a real hit with kids and adults alike. Simply slice a banana lengthways, top with chocolate and nuts before wrapping in foil and grilling on the BBQ.
Slow and steady wins
Firstly, if you’re cooking meat, ensure its warmed up to room temperature before adding to the grill. It can be tempting to constantly check on what culinary wizardry you’re creating but you’d do well to remember that if you’re lookin’, it ain’t cookin’! So put the lid on the grill and relax. Trust that by doing so everything will cook quicker, dry out slower and you’ll be less stressed.
The final golden rule is that once cooked, meat should be rested for 10-15 minutes before slicing or carving. Happy barbecuing!
About the expert
Phil Wood is Contura UK Country Manager. Contura is Europe’s leading manufacturer of wood burning stoves, offering an extensive range of classic and contemporary wood burners; from traditional insert stoves suitable for existing fireplaces, to freestanding statement models made with innovative materials such as soapstone. Contura stoves can be purchased through a network of 165 independent retailers nationwide. For more information please visit www.contura.eu