In part one I talked about the different methods of cooking on a barbecue, now I’m going to give you an overview of the components and their importance for a successful barbecue.
The two main types of charcoal are briquette or hardwood lump, some purists prefer the more natural hardwood lump. Myself I like a mix because the hardwood lump lights quicker and burns faster, whereas the briquette is harder to light but burns for longer. If your barbecue runs for a long time you may need to top up the charcoal and for this I would use the hardwood lump if possible. Remember the new coals will need to temper to get well alight before you resume cooking, or you will get a lot of soot on your food.
Find a flat area of ground, think about wind direction because you don’t want it either blowing smoke in the direction of your guests or your neighbor’s clean washing. Don’t place the barbecue close to the ornamental pond or you will attract too many bugs. I find that Citronella offers excellent protection against mosquitoes whether in the form of candles or torches filled with oil. Use these in smaller areas, such as on the patio while dining or entertaining.
Is always a good idea to have a work table close by. A 6-foot table (1.8288 meters) is ideal and make sure you set it up on a stable (flat) part of the garden, so it does not tip up. I usually set up the table so as to create an L shape with grill, but not too close. If you are planning a large barbecue you might consider a second table to act as the buffet table, just make sure it is not too close to the barbecue or your work table. It is also useful to have a cutting board and a couple knives handy but remember, never cut cooked meat on a board you have been using for raw meats.
Large Cooler Bags
Good barbecuing is about controlling the heat, preparation and having things to hand. Invest in a large cooler bag (about 26-30-litre size) and cooler blocks to stop all the running back and forth to the fridge. Put your prepared food stuff into separate plastic containers which can keep cool in your cooker bag. Make sure your cooler blocks are put in your freezer 24 hours before hand. The one in the photograph above is made by Polar Gear, it has a 30litre capacity and is an ideal size to use for barbecues. I will be reviewing this cooler bag on my product review site here.
In warm weather don’t take any raw slices of meat or seafood outside until you are ready to cook. I like to prep everything in the kitchen then put the foods into plastic containers. The plastic containers then get put into a large cooler bag with 3-4 frozen cool blocks to keep the food nice and cold. This way you don’t need to keep running backward and forwards to the kitchen whilst your food on the grill is burning. If you’re having a buffet table with things like coleslaw, potato salad etc keep them cling wrapped in the fridge until you are about to serve.
Plates and Containers
Have heatproof containers to transfer cooked food into…don’t put the cooked food onto plates or bowls that had raw foods in them.
If you wish to use a barbecue sauce don’t put it on too soon. Most barbecue sauces have brown sugar, honey, or molasses all of which burn very easily. Just brush BBQ sauce on during the final minutes of cooking.
Weatherproofing your BBQ
Planning any bbq during the British summer is a gamble, so as I chef I always create a chili, curry or some kind of casserole dish that can be served if it rains and your guests have to move inside. A second reason I make a casserole type dish is because most Bbq’s can have “pinch points” where you have run out of food from the grill and you have a line forming. So the casserole option can be offered to guests that prefer not to wait.
If you wish you can reserve part of your grill top to warm sauces etc. Or if you wish to have a portable stove you might consider something like this, powered by an aerosol sized can of butane gas.
Portable Gas stove
Sometimes I like to use portable butane stove like this, to keep something warm or heat a sauce up giving your barbecue more possibilities.
If you are planning on a large Barbecue then might wish to consider buying or hiring a chafing dish to keep some of your food warm. The one in the photo has two half size pans so you can keep two items hot. The food tray sits on a deeper dish that is filled with water and kept hot by gel fuels that comes in smalls tins you place underneath.
A number of barbecues come with built in the thermometer which is useful but whilst that does tell you the temperature of the BBQ when the lid is closed it does not tell you the internal temperature of the food. So I recommend that having a accurate and sturdy digital thermometer such as a Thermapen. This is the most used brand in the world of catering for good reason and you can read a review I wrote about one of their models here. The Thermapen Classic in the photo above is the less expensive model and is currently on sale for around £36 in the summer of 2020.
You can add a great smoky taste to the food by using various types of wood chips on your grill. Probably to two best known in the UK are hickory and oak. But there are lots of others. Here is a brief list of the better know woods and the types of foods they work well with. The two important points to remember before buying wood chips are,
- The chips must be well soaked in cold water several hours before, so when they are sprinkled on top of the hot coals they smoke rather than catch fire immediately.
- Big wood chips like the ones in the photograph are meant for barbecue grills and smaller chips (that look more like shavings are meant for smokers ).
Apple Very mild with a subtle fruity flavor, slightly sweet. Good with poultry (turns skin dark brown) and pork.
Hickory Most commonly used wood for smoking–the King of smoking woods. Sweet to strong, heavy bacon flavor. Good with pork, ham and beef.
Lilac Very light, subtle with a hint of floral. Good with seafood and lamb.
Mesquite Strong earthy flavor. Good with beef, fish, chicken, and game, one of the hottest burning.
Mulberry The smell is sweet and reminds one of apple.
Oak Heavy smoke flavor–the Queen of smoking wood. RED OAK is good on ribs, WHITE OAK makes the best coals for longer burning. All oak varieties reported as suitable for smoking. Good with red meat, pork, fish and heavy game. The secret to using wood chips on your barbecue is to soak the chips the night before in cold water so they smoke rather than burn on the grill.
Most of the clean up of the grill should be left until the grill is cool. But you should definitely brush the grill bars down well with a sturdy wire brush.
Barbecues can be great social gatherings especially if yours gets a reputation for good food. With that in mind don’t allow young children close to the BBQ when it is hot. If there is any unruly kids looking likely to cause an accident designate another adult as the safety officer to keep the kids away from the grill, after all you can’t be expected to cook and watch the children.
Its a matter of personal taste which you use but make sure you have more that one and that they stay dry. A wet oven cloth gets very hot because the water turns back into steam.
A Good Pair of Tongs
Besides the Barbecue Grill the most important piece of equipment is a good pair of tongs but that doesn’t mean expensive. This particular pair are 30cm long (so long enough), they are light which makes them easy to use and best of all is the price, which is currently £1.94 from Russums plus P+P so buy a couple. Russems are a very well-known supplier of catering equipment to the restaurant business, so their prices are very competitive. I have used them for years but they also are happy to sell to the public as well. Below is a link to the tongs.
My barbecue videos on my YouTube Channel
Lots of barbecue recipes in part 3