If the weather is steadily warming up where you are, you’ll more than likely be looking forward to a couple of great outdoor cooking sessions. Nothing says ‘summer’s here’ like a fabulous garden grill with tons of tasty, hot-off-the-coals snacks, a bunch of great friends and few chilled drinks thrown into the mix. Where I live, barbecuing is practically a national sport; we’re programmed from birth to be good at turning steaks and making refreshing hot-weather salads. If you’re a bit of a novice when it comes to cooking on the fire, read on: I’ve had a think and put together a list of 7 tips for the barbecue beginner.
1. Buy Quality Meats
Even though you’re cooking on a fire, you still need to go for good quality meat. Visit a department store with an excellent butcher, or, alternatively, find a small, specialist establishment. If you’re a steak person, opt for well trimmed cuts with a little marbling – this kind of piece will ensure that your meal is tender but not fatty.
2. A Good Choice of Wood
Connoisseurs of the barbecue agree that a wood fire makes for the tastiest food. Coal is effective but it can leave meat with a slightly chemical taste so if you can, go for logs ever time. Basically, you want to make sure that the ones you buy are hard and dry; if they’re slightly soft and green, move along; they won’t burn.
3. Time It Right
The last thing you want to do is burn all of that good quality meat you’ve bought, and in order to avoid making this fatal error, you need to get the food onto the fire and off again at the right moments. When your wood has broken down into fragments and these are glowing red, you should begin to consider getting the cooking process started. Hold your hand slightly above the fire; if you can keep it there for more than a couple of seconds, the temperature’s not high enough. If you can’t bring it anywhere near the coals, it’s too hot.
4. Side Fire
If your fire is taking forever to reach optimum temperature, and it insists on continuing to burn too hot, this little technique – a favourite with barbecue fundis – will help you to speed up proceedings. With a long poker and some tongs, split your fire in half so that the embers remain right under the grid on which you’ll be cooking, and the flaming logs continue to burn away somewhere on the periphery. The glowing coals from this ‘active’ side fire can be used to replenish the not-so-hot main fire if it begins to flag, and you’ll be able to get your meat on the grid quickly, without hours of waiting.
Marinade can make a great meal even better; not only does it improve taste, but it can tenderise as well. You can whip one up in just a few minutes using condiments you almost certainly have in your fridge and cupboard. Get creative putting yours together; for a really summery taste pair sharp, sweet flavours, like lemon or lime juice, with the spiciness of chilly or the zing of ginger.
6. Don’t Limit Yourself
While meat is perhaps the most common thing to come off the grill, it is by no means the only food you can do on the fire. I like to include plenty of veg and even some soya products as well. Potatoes wrapped in tinfoil and roasted in the embers make a fab side dish, and you can do the same thing with corn on the cob. Big flat mushrooms stuffed with goat’s cheese can be fab, and veggie kebabs are also a great option – make the latter with red peppers and onions and douse with a sweet and sour sauce: yum!
7. Fantastic Fish
Fillets of fish on the barbecue are absolutely amazing. Go for quite a dense, meaty variety and cook skin side down over the embers. Cover the rest in garlic, herbs and olive oil, and serve with a fresh, light summer salad: delicious.
Summer just isn’t summer without the sound of sizzling and the smell of tasty wood-fired snacks. Hopefully my list of 7 tips for the barbecue beginner will make the business of garden grilling a little easier for you; do you have any great suggestions to add?
Top Photo Credit: stevendepolo