Emma Freud: Have the best BBQ ever

Most barbecues lead to volcanic temper tantrums and fiery rows. But it doesn’t have to be like this, says our columnist Emma Freud.

Barbecue skewers over round barbecue

No culinary genre is as controversial as the barbecue. It should be the most relaxed of gatherings, but as a nation it seems we don’t have the temperament, weather, skillset or cultural history to do it without controversy.

Not to mention the way it brings out the worst aspects of the patriarchy. Actually, let’s mention it: it brings out the worst aspects of the patriarchy. I asked Twitter how they felt about this controversial subject, and recieved a BARRAGE of complaints…

‘It’s in the DNA of men to need to start fires even in an era of gas hobs. Every barbecue I’ve been to, the man insists on holding the tongs even if he hasn’t cooked a meal all year.’

‘Trying to cook while small children and dogs take an unhealthy interest in fire is not conducive to a relaxed meal.’

‘You move everything from your kitchen 10 metres outside, with multiple trips later for forgotten utensils, only to have to bring it all back in again after AND then scrub down your cooker. Also: flies.’

‘Even for good cooks, the balance of the meal is often wrong. Imagine going into a restaurant and ordering four sausages, a burger, a chicken thigh, a prawn skewer and a halloumi kebab for your dinner. It doesn’t work as a menu.’

‘Because there are such long gaps between the food arriving, you end up eating three times more than you would ever normally put on your plate. I ricochet between boredom and wanting to stab people with cooking implements.’

‘Ants in the salad, having to be nice to the neighbours, cheap sausages, burnt food, pink chicken, not enough seats, overexcited dogs, warm wine… that enough? Forgot wasps.’

‘I’m veggie and the majority of the time, end up with just bread and salad. I could achieve that without smoking my house out.’

‘So much food. Too much meat. Other people’s shorts.’

There’s not much to be done about the shorts – but in an attempt to be helpful, here are three tips, three things to avoid, and my three best recipes for a successful barbecue, none of which involve going anywhere near the coals.


3 excellent BBQ ideas 

1. Go big on veg

Salads and skewers on table

Heat a small cupful of olive oil in a pan with 1 tsp dried chilli flakes, 2 grated garlic cloves and a handful of chopped rosemary or thyme. Heat just until it starts to bubble, then turn the cooker off and let the oil infuse. Keep it by the barbie and use to slather vegetables before grilling them – try thick slices of aubergine or fennel, a halved Little Gem lettuce, a bunch of spring onions, or some corn that you’ve pre-boiled for 3 minutes. Once cooked, season, drizzle with a little more oil, squeeze with some fresh lime, and sprinkle with coriander.

2. Shellfish

Scrub some fresh mussels or clams, then lay them on the barbecue and watch them slowly open (if they don’t open, chuck them away – it means they’re dodgy). As soon as they’ve opened wide, they’re cooked. Melt some butter, stir in some chopped parsley, drizzle over, and pull a smug face.

Bowl of mussels

3. DIY Twister

First, get a bit drunk. Then take four cans of coloured paint and spray a series of circles onto your lawn to make your own instant grassy Twister board. Get one person to stand with their back to the board and shout out ‘left foot, blue’ or ‘right hand, yellow’ without looking at the players. Get tangled up and fall over. Drink more. Repeat.


3 very bad BBQ ideas

1. Don't deep-fry your turkey

I did this once for larks – it involved my biggest saucepan, half-filled with vegetable oil, sitting on top of a camping gas stove at full-blast, into which a large turkey tied to a wire coat hanger was lowered. It bubbled frantically for 24 minutes before emerging golden and gorgeous. The reason I say don’t do it is because the scene needs to be accompanied by a family member armed with a fire extinguisher, flame-retardant blankets, and a fully stocked first aid kit. The moistness of the meat sadly doesn’t justify the jeopardy.

2. Don't be the chef for barbecue pizzas

Pizza on a board

The outdoor pizza oven costs from £100 and is an instrument of joy. But… and this is a massive but… it’s impossible to work the oven without emerging beetroot red, covered in flour, and the only person who doesn’t get a slice as the job involves constant monitoring. The first time I used ours, my cheeks went a shade of heat-induced vermillion and the levels of moisture on my face had only previously been achieved in the latter stages of a power shower. Not a good look.

3. Don't get despondent that your coals aren’t hot enough

And don't try to remedy the situation with the teeniest splash of petrol, unless you are particularly fond of your local firemen, as I indeed now am!

Read other articles by Emma Freud...

The rise of the video star
What to eat on the royal wedding day
The rise of sourdough
Fuss-free baking with 2 ingredients
The day I baked for Nadiya
Food trend: Eat-along-a-movie


Good Food contributing editor Emma Freud is a journalist and broadcaster, director of Red Nose Day and a co-presenter of Radio Four’s Loose Ends.

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