Barbecuing for beginners
Nothing beats a BBQ. The sun is shining, there’s a smell of suncream in the air, and you’re in the mood for some alfresco dining.
If you’ve never barbecued before, it can at first seem daunting - you certainly don’t want to give your guests food poisoning!
But once you get into the swing of things, it’s easy.
Types of BBQs
There are two common types of BBQ: charcoal-fired and gas-fired.
Charcoal barbecues can give a richer flavour to your food, especially if combined with different smoke-generating woods. They generate enough heat for you to cook at a high temperature or low and slow for an authentic American barbecue experience. With a charcoal barbecue, it’s easier to cook indirectly (when you push the heat source to one side and cook on the opposite side) because there’s a lot of radiant heat, making charcoal barbecue great for smoking meat.
Lighting charcoal barbecues can be more challenging and take more work than a gas barbecue. But you can buy charcoal chimneys, which you fill with paper and charcoal and light before transferring to the barbecue. Controlling the temperature of a charcoal barbecue is harder and takes practice to get right.
Gas-fired barbecues give an even heat that makes temperature control and precision easy, so it’s a lot like cooking on a hob. They take less time to get up to temperature and can be easier to set up.
It’s much harder to generate radiant heat in a gas barbecue unless the lid is shut, so getting a crust on your food or making it crispy is difficult. Smoking meat is also pretty tricky on a gas barbecue unless you buy a smoker which sits on top of the flame.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to each type of barbecue, and it’s a debate that rages among barbecue aficionados.
Starting up the barbecue
Before you start cooking, set up your barbecue. The setup is different for each barbecue, so make sure you follow the instructions to safely and correctly set up. Make sure you have enough fuel for your cooking session - there’s nothing worse than running out of fuel when there’s still hungry mouths to feed.
If you’re cooking with a charcoal barbecue, we recommend using a charcoal chimney to get it started. You can use lighter fluid too, but this can leave your food with a petrol-y taste.
Light the barbecue and bring it up to temperature, keeping an eye on it to make sure the flame is controlled. Charcoal is up to temperature when it’s glowing red and has a light grey coating. This gives you the evenest temperature.
Tips for handling food at a barbecue
There are some basic rules you can follow to make sure that the food is safe and delicious.
- Wash your hands after touching raw meat. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget about when your busy sorting everything out.
- Don’t take food out of the fridge until you’re ready to cook it or serve it. Barbecues often run over several hours as people pick and graze, so you don’t want to bring food out until you have to. Try not to leave food out for more than two hours.
- Don’t leave food in direct sunlight. Keep it in a shady spot or indoors.
- Make sure the meat is cooked through before serving it. A meat thermometer is excellent at indicating this, especially if you can’t tell just by looking at it. Chicken, turkey and duck are cooked through when the thermometer reads 74°C; beef, lamb and veal is well done at 71°C, medium at 60°c and rare at 52°C; pork is cooked at 71°C; mince and sausages are cooked at 71°C, and fish is cooked at 60°C. Stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, ensuring that the tip doesn’t touch the barbecue. Wait until the number slows down or stops to take your reading.
- Frozen meat should be completely thawed before you cook it. Otherwise, the outside will look cooked, but the inside might still be raw.
- For beginners, cook the food in batches, so you’re not getting confused by times. Of course, if you’re using a meat thermometer, this will make the job a lot easier.
Cleaning up after a BBQ
Let the charcoal ash cool down before you do anything with it. Scoop it all into a bag and put it in the general waste.
To clean the grill, use a stiff-bristled brush to get rid of excess food. You can buy barbecue cleaning kits which will make this job much easier.
Once the grill is cool, take it off the barbecue and wash it in warm soapy water.
It’s important to clean the barbecue as soon as you can. Leaving it for weeks or months at a time will only make more work for you when you fancy a spontaneous barbecue.